Tolerance is a Two Way Street

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.


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  1. #1 by helen scully on September 23, 2016 - 6:39 pm

    Hi Steven,

    what ever happened to the saying ……..”I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” -. Evelyn Beatrice Hall

    and have you ever noticed the more we try to control the actions, words or indeed thoughts of others the more chaos we create!!

    maybe we should be minding our own business and keeping our noses out of everyone else’s. you know Live and let live ……..

    like your thoughts on things keep it up !!



    • #2 by Steven Williamson on September 24, 2016 - 12:52 am

      Thanks Helen! Nice quote, and it’s accurately attributed for a change. 😉

      You wouldn’t think it would be that hard, would you? My favourite example on tolerance is the Westboro Baptist Church. When my ‘tolerant’ friends learn of their existence, they recoil and reject their own core principles. Given my stated opposition to religion, many would assume it should be me taking the hard-line ‘anti’ stance, but I’m exactly the opposite. They don’t possess the world’s most progressive belief structure by any measure, and clearly say some cruel and hurtful things, but for the most part they are perfectly harmless. They’re non-violent, and their activism is borne out of trying to help those they believe to be misguided. They actually do mean well, they just happen to believe silly things. When ‘tolerant’ people fail to see this and simply declare them to be inherently evil, then respond with verbal tirades and physical abuse, it doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

      I do believe we are past effective media/political manipulation. Information is too freely available to impose a single perspective on the masses. I’m sure it would have been possible pre-internet, but not anymore. The harder they try, the worse it gets. Think of Brexit, Donald Trump, Pauline Hanson or Adam Goodes, shouting people down always induces a protest vote stronger than the reactions to the issues themselves.


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