In this increasingly insular and divided world, it is now commonplace to witness professed advocates of tolerance simultaneously displaying unbridled intolerance, seemingly incognisant of their own conspicuous contradiction. For all their talk, such people only truly consider tolerance to be a one way street. It is a trait others must provide within their thoughts and opinions, but which they themselves should never have to return.
In today’s direct message, Dave Rubin used the phrase that I’ve borrowed for the title of this piece then instantly revoked the sentiment, stating ‘any set of ideas that wouldn’t tolerate you isn’t worth being tolerated itself. Tolerance of intolerance is a slow death.’
Or as secular activist and Infidel author Ayaan Hirsi Ali phrased similar sentiments, ‘Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.’
Such comments do produce an appealing sound bite or meme but they amount to little more than asserting one’s own moral superiority. That superiority may even be true in certain instances but, inevitably, such assertions are to no avail as they fall on the deaf ears of another equally certain of their own infallibility. All that approach achieves is to introduce a second layer of intolerance, further compounding the problem.
If tolerance is a two way street, closing one lane obviously leads to disruption, but if the response is to close the other then we all endure conversational and intellectual gridlock.
We must tolerate even the intolerant to enable understanding and advancement, with the important distinction that tolerance is not surrender or silence. Tolerating even dangerous ideas and their advocates neither demands acquiescence nor prevents critique, but it does set standards for civil interaction with one’s adversary.
Despite the trendy sound bite and immediate rhetorical contradiction, Rubin’s actions are the epitome of tolerance. His YouTube channel is a beacon on the new media landscape. Rubin uses his internet chat show, The Rubin Report, to discuss any issue with any person of any political persuasion, and presents the result unedited for all to consume in their full context. Interviews can stretch to multiple hours and at every turn he makes a genuine attempt to understand the propositions his guests put forth, rather than merely shouting down the ideas he disavows. The only limitation imposed upon his content is that of the potential guests who decline to appear.
The opening paragraph refers not to Rubin, but to the increasingly vocal segments of society who do everything in their power to create the very problems they claim to oppose. I do hope that one day they will understand their own actions. Unfortunately, their own intolerance renders such progress unlikely.