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The Distinction Between Toleration and Tolerance
And How it Can Help You Realize a Deeper Sense of Purpose
One From the Ages:
“We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal."
Source: The Bhagavad Gita
One From Today:
“What would you risk dying for—and for whom—is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves. The vast majority of people in modern society are able to pass their whole lives without ever having to answer that question, which is both an enormous blessing and a significant loss.”
Source: Tribe, by Sebastian Junger
One From Us:
Hello, good people! Today I want to highlight an article I recently wrote for Merion West called, “When Tolerance Goes Too Far.” Here is a quick look at the abstract:
A commitment to tolerating different values and engaging in a competition of ideas is fundamental to Western democracy. However, when societies lose their common sense of norms and values, people struggle to connect and find a sense of meaning. By exploring the costs of dogmatically pursuing “tolerance,” we can come to a more nuanced view that avoids the pitfalls of both relativism and dogma.
This was a hard one to write, but I really like how it turned out. As is so often the case, I learned a ton from the writing process, but even more from the post-writing feedback from my father. Among other things, my dad is a doctoral philosophy professor who thinks about ethics and political theory on a level surpassing most of us mortals. I’ll share his perspective on this article as I believe the points he makes are tremendously insightful, yet will be novel to most. They were to me.
I recommend that you read the article first to best understand his perspective. Also, you’ll notice that at times my dad refers critically to “left wing scholars” and “liberals” (not to be confused with liberal values or the liberal tradition). To put this in context, most of the ideas I take aim at in my article are rooted in far left dogmas that were not subjected to enough critique by the academic institutions where my father spent decades working. He’d be equally critical of far-right dogmas. He takes issue with unclear and/or lazy thinking. Now, without further ado, critiques from Dr. Griffin Trotter and his thoughts on Tolerance and Toleration:
As I've mentioned in the past, being a moral pluralist epistemically (i.e., believing that moral values are not susceptible to being proved, and hence that different patterns of moral value can, without offense to reason, emerge and sustain themselves in different cultures and societies) is entirely consistent with rejecting moral pluralism in a practical sense. One can be a moral pluralist in the epistemic sense and still be oriented practically towards a common good, characterized by a coherent set of moral values that reinforce and sustain one another. Of course, to have a positive moral value implies that you also have a negative moral value (i.e., you morally disfavor things that infringe or thwart your moral value). Studying patterns of moral belief that seem to sustain themselves across cultures (as you do in this article) is useful, whether or not one is a moral pluralist in the epistemic sense.
Often, you seem not to distinguish moral pluralism in the epistemic sense from moral pluralism in the practical sense. This unnecessarily invites disapproval, since moral pluralism in the epistemic sense is a strongly warranted belief, and rejecting it is regarded by most moral theorists (including me) as unreasonable.
Also, you could be a little more clear about another critical distinction (though you do make this distinction, sometimes to great effect). That is the distinction between what I'll call "toleration" and what I'll call "tolerance" (these are often taken as synonyms, but left wing scholars have so thoroughly bastardized the word "tolerance" that I've decided to let them keep it for their own).
First, let's consider toleration. To tolerate something one must find it noxious. We don't ask: "Have you been able to tolerate the sunny, mild, climate and all the good food?" But we might ask: "Have you been able to tolerate the frigid winters and the diet of raw grubs?" Toleration is a fundamental liberal value; it is the virtue of not using force to quell things—including moral visions—that one finds noxious. Toleration, like all liberal values, is not absolute. It must be balanced with other liberal values that sometimes oppose it. Sometimes, for instance, the need to ground our children in a coherent moral vision (such as the liberal tradition) will override toleration. In raising children, the virtue of toleration is gradually introduced, mostly in the later stages of moral development, after the child has largely assimilated other moral values (in the morality of younger children, "kindness" often serves as a proxy for "toleration"). Moral dilemmas, such as the occasional clash between toleration and the maintenance of an effective moral tradition, are inherent to moral life and cannot be eradicated.
Second, let's consider tolerance. "Tolerance" has come in the language of leftists to be synonymous with "approval." Tolerance toward homosexual lifestyles, for instance, requires that one no longer finds them objectionable or noxious. Hence, it has nothing whatsoever to do with "toleration" or with traditional understandings of tolerance…. Liberals loathe toleration (and they loathe "tolerance" as it was previously defined), but regard themselves as supremely tolerant—just because they currently approve of certain things that people didn't approve of in the past.
Another benefit of having two words for "approval" is that one can use one word ("tolerance" in this case) in reference to affirmations (such as the affirmation of LBGTQ politics), and another word ("disapproval" instead of "intolerance") in reference to rejections (such as the rejection of "systemic racism"). Liberal double-speak produces, on this basis, contradictory sentences like "I am a thoroughly tolerant person and thus I disapprove of everything racist or homophobic, which, as it turns out, includes pretty much every traditional value in our racist and homophobic culture." The literal meaning of this sentence is more clearly expressed as "I am a thoroughly approving person, thus I disapprove of pretty much everything I see."
The distinctions I've just discussed are hard to introduce and maintain in a short essay for a popular audience. But I'd urge that you keep them foremost in your consciousness.
These are the sort of conversations that were common around our dinner table growing up. For this and so many other reasons, I feel lucky beyond words for my upbringing.
Still, I don’t want the original intent of the Merion West article to be lost in all of this. As I argue, I believe we are better off for our commitment to including previously excluded groups. The problem is that this has been unnecessarily coupled to the rejection of many other virtues that would have helped facilitate deeper connections and create people who are better able to transcend their impulses. Given the alienation and impulse overload that characterize modernity, living best requires taking steps to actively correct this trend.
Which brings me to a great article that I’ve wanted to share for a while, boldly titled: Everything is Broken and How to Fix It
Among the many great arguments here is that people need to invest deeply in the communities in which they live, to connect with tradition, and to find groups of shared values to dig into. This has been particularly hard for me to do over the past few years as I’ve tried to devote every spare moment to writing my book. But, whenever I allow myself to invest in this way, I always feel like the world is right again. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of meditating on this idea. Perhaps you’ll find it as thought-provoking and encouraging as I do.
Thank you for reading today! I hope that you have a great week.
Life is too short to be normal,