The Myth of Tolerance

In the wake of Donald Trump’s visit to Springfield, there’s a huge mistake constantly recurring in the rhetoric on the right. People keep saying that the left is hypocritical because they preach tolerance yet don’t tolerate opposing viewpoints, otherwise they wouldn’t have protested Trump’s visit to Springfield. So let me clear this up:

First, the left‘s goal is not “tolerance.” The left’s goal is justice, equity, and dignity. The left protests policies — not necessarily persons — that are intolerant toward others: policies that take life, rather than give life (i.e., policies that perpetuate patriarchy, racism, cishet normativity, economic injustice, etc.). If our society is tolerant of policies that destroy life, then we serve gods of death. The left’s commitment is to the flourishing of life and sometimes that means protesting policies that take life rather than give life.

This isn’t hard to see — just think about protests down through the years that were unequivocally intolerant of slavery, or women being denied the right to vote, or Jim Crow laws. The ethical integrity of each of these movements was directly linked to the level of intolerance for slavery, patriarchy, and racism. In these situations, being tolerant of slavery, patriarchy, and Jim Crow were the worst ethical positions possible, not the best. Again, this really isn’t hard to see.

Tolerance is the lowest common denominator and basically means that you can speak your mind without fear of arrest or danger to your life. But it doesn’t mean for one second that the value of your beliefs must be accepted, or that the import of your policies should go unchecked. Especially when support for such policies is precisely what leads other lives (black lives, women’s lives, LGBTQ lives, migrant lives, non-white lives, etc.) to be in danger.

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