The paradox of tolerance

The paradox of tolerance

Gabriel Skunda

Most people consider themselves tolerant, but do you really accept everyone else’s beliefs to a fault? Or, if someone is threatening your beliefs, and your way of life, do you fight back? Most people defend their points of view if they feel reasonably threatened, but by definition, that makes them intolerant.

We live in a society entrapped in this paradox. According to the paradox of tolerance, society must accept the hateful and narrow-minded, for if they don’t, they themselves are bigoted. However, accepting the views of intolerant groups blindly would erode rights and liberties, and threaten life as we know it. We as a society cannot tolerate the intolerant. If we do, society will tear itself apart.

Philosopher John Rawls outlined this paradox in his book, “A Theory of Justice.” The paradox goes as such: a society must accept the intolerant and unjust, for if they did not, they themselves would be unjust.

As an example, say you really love pineapple on your pizza. No harm, no foul, you’re just an eccentric individual. However, a group of pineapple-pizza haters disagrees with you, and proceeds to assault you on sight, and burns down any pizzeria that offers pineapple on pizza. If you were to fight back against the oppression, you would be just as bigoted as the group burning down pizzerias. That is the paradox in a nutshell. Society as a whole must accept any hateful, vitriolic group, or society is intolerant. However, in accepting intolerance, they put their very society at risk.

In Karl Popper’s work, “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” it states, “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.” What Popper means here is if we are completely, unflinchingly tolerant of injustices perpetrated in our society, that tolerance, as a whole, will become a thing of the past. This is another part of the paradox, and the most concerning part of it. Relating this to our earlier example, if the pineapple haters continued to hurt the cause of pineapple-pizza, and nobody did anything to stop it for fear of being narrow-minded themselves, pineapple on pizza would cease to exist. If society, as a whole, is fine with intolerant persons or groups of people, rights and liberties will be eroded.

We should not, as a society or as individuals, tolerate the intolerant. We have a right to self preservation, and if us or our ideals are threatened, we should fight back. If someone is attacking you physically for the way you decide to live your life, that is horridly unjust and should never be accepted. When truly threatened, we mustn’t worry about being intolerant. This is where the script flips, and we should become the intolerant in this moment, to defend the ideals we live for.

As a society, we cannot allow our rights and liberties to be torn down by the unjust. When a group is trying to infringe upon our rights, we need to speak out. People should be able to live the life they want, as long as they aren’t infringing upon others rights to do the same.

The only way to avoid this paradox is to consciously avoid becoming so intolerant to one another that we all become unjust. To disagree should be to have a discussion. Disagreements on the way people decide to live are all too common, and shouldn’t necessarily be frowned upon. Discourse is the best way to find common ground. Everyone should be open to criticism and be willing to voice their opinions with one another. Nobody infringes upon the rights of others by having a good talk.

Problems only start happening when violence is incited. Then, in response, others become justly defensive, and the whole well is poisoned. Avoid all of this by unabashedly discussing your
differences.

We as a society should only allow narrow-mindedness to a point. Debate and heated discussion should be welcomed to settle disagreements. Violence, or the threat of, is where the line is drawn. It isn’t intolerant to stand up for what you believe in.