The False Value Of Tolerance

Jeff Goldstein has a great piece on the ongoing flap over the Mohammed cartoons that begins with this brilliant WaPo op-ed by William Bennett and Alan Dershowitz. There’s one statement in there that is so incredibly, utterly, and hopelessly idiotic as to quite possibly be one of the dumbest observations ever made:

The Boston Globe, speaking for many other outlets, editorialized: “[N]ewspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance.”

This statement deserves the following:

The Perry Head O'Shame

Which Allah (the blogger, not the deity) returns with:

The ultimate Enlightenment value is tolerance? I thought it was, er, knowledge. Free inquiry. With a dash of secularism. Which would seem to point in favor of publication of the cartoons.

Or am I being intolerant again?

The idea that the Enlightment was all about "tolerance" is one of those one would expect from a pseudo-intellectual college student trying to impress his way into some doe-eyed co-ed’s pants with a bunch of meaningless pop philosophy. The fact that the Boston Globe is the one issuing such idiocy makes me wonder about what they put in the water over there. Goldstein observes:

And nothing makes that more clear than this frankly stunning admission by the Globe and its major media allies that tolerance is the “ultimate Englightenment value,” especially when “tolerance” has clearly become, to the press’ way of thinking (and this thinking now permeates the academy and has insinuated itself into vast swatches of public policy), an unwillingness to offend those whom they believe they have no right, as cultural outsiders, to offend.

Can this really be? Is Edward Said the new Alexander Hamilton?

The thought of that makes me weep for Western civilization.

The fact is that “tolerance” is an empty virtue. Tolerance of what? The suppression of free speech? Barbarisms such as bride burnings, honor killings, and female genital mutilation? Tolerance of death camps? Tolerance of the violence that has resulted in the publication of a few cartoon images? Tolerance of an ideology that would stifle all dissent? Should we “tolerate” an ideology that demands that we all follow a strict interpretation of shari’a law or be killed?

The “virtue” of tolerance is a virtue for the cowardly, the craven, and those too weak to defend their values. It has no intrinsic moral worth to it – quite the opposite, in fact. To tolerate acts of evil is to become complicit in evil.

Is the mainstream media and the academy tolerant of dissenting values from their mainstream? Just ask Larry Summers what happens to dissenters in the cloistered halls of academia. What makes Piss Christ free expression but a cartoon of Muhammed an affront against the sacred virtue of “tolerance”? The idea that “tolerance” is the supreme virtue of the Enlightenment coming from such a group is not only puerile, but hypocritical as well.

The fact is that “tolerance” doesn’t mean that we should close our minds to anything that challenges the sensibilities of “oppressed” groups. The fetishization of “tolerance” and the laughable argument that it is the supreme value of the Enlightenment only shows how intellectually vapid the media has become. This stupidity wouldn’t be so bad if it were not so pernicious and so dangerous to the ideological war we’re fighting. We can’t win a war if we’re worried about merely offending the enemy. We should build bridges with moderate Muslims, but doing so by compromising the very values we’re fighting for is an act of surrrender, not a step towards victory. As Goldstein writes:

To win the war on terror, we must continue to push the message—as the administration has done all along—that freedom is universal and belongs to each individual. That is, we must push back against the clannish tribalist impulses of our enemies with a message of inalienable individual rights.

But to do so, we must first believe in it ourselves. And for that to happen, we must return to our strong roots in classical liberalism—which elevates the individual and stresses personal freedom.

And free press that actually believes in these things would be a good start.

4 thoughts on “The False Value Of Tolerance

  1. Now normally I’d tend to agree with you, but in this case I want to play the devils advocate, somewhat. Tolerance is a mighty virtue, one that many sadly see as weak. To tolerate something is to allow it to exist, regardless of ones personal feelings towards it. In this case it is the highest form of good imaginable. To allow something to exist that is so amazingly opposite, so radically different from yourself, is a great example of the ultimate in religious values “Treat others as you would wish to be treated”.

    However tolerance does not extend to allowing them to act as they see fit, which is something that many have forgotten. In a rush to promote understanding and tolerance we have allowed many to persist in acting in ways that are not tolerant. It has sometimes been pointed out that the greatest threat to a tolerant society is intolerance. I say no, the greatest threat to a tolerant society is forgetting how to act tolerant. Acting tolerant means allowing other forms of thought to exist, to not restraining ideas, it does not mean submitting to violence, or not acting to provide a counterpoint in debate about your virtues.

    So tolerance can be said to be the highest virtue, however to call upon it as a reason to not publish the cartoon is a farce. Claim respect for those Muslims who may not be violent, but who still may be offended, Claim a desire to limit the amount of ill will already directed at the US by radical Muslims, Claim whatever, but don’t claim tolerance

  2. The primary difference between a radical and a moderate Muslim isn’t their attitude towards religion or morality, but their attitude towards the use of violence. Neither Sistani or Zarqawi would like anything that I stand for, but Sistani wouldn’t kill me because of it. In the same way, Pat Robertson wouldn’t find much to like about me either, but I don’t stay up at night worried that fanatical evangelicals are going to bomb my apartment or decapitate me on video tape.

    Tolerance- agreeing to disagree- ends where violence begins.

  3. Tolerance that is defined as kneeling before your betters is neither a virtue nor a demonstration of integrity. It is submission. This is a trait usually valued by people who have few or no values and can find no greater goal in their existence than to survive than to stand up for their beliefs. What is the difference between someone who tolerates the immoral and the unacceptable and a craven coward?

  4. I don’t feel the need to tolerate anybody’s religion. I don’t feel the need to alter my life to fit somebody else’s version of morality. Feel free to live like a dried up old prune, it’s not my job to run your life. I, however, am going to:

    A) Have sex purely for pleasure.

    B) Consume alcohol for pleasure.

    C) Play violent video games.

    D) Watch sex and violence on the TV.

    E) Conduct experiments using the Theory of Evilution.

    F) Make fun of your magical sky man while I do these things.

    Neener, neener, neener.

    Tolerance means that you just don’t go see the movie where Kira Knightly shows her tits. It doesn’t mean that you prevent her from showing them in a movie or prevent other people from seeing the movie. Likewise, I’m not going to go see “Jesus: The Movie”, but I’m not going try and prevent you from seeing it. I live my life, and you live your life, and we’ll all be a bunch of happy campers.

    P.S. Tolerance – agreeing to disagree – ends where your desire to run every aspect of my life all the time begins. Violence is what comes after that step.

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