I suppose I’m an ideologue. According to the dictionary that makes me “an impractical idealist.” In other words, I have a strongly developed set of values and ideals that I wish were reflected in the world around me. But of course, they’re not. At least not as thoroughly as I’d like. I cope with that dichotomy as best I can. And where I’m able, I work to bring my world into alignment with my values.
Of course, I'm not the only one who feels this way. And not everyone's values are the same as mine. So, clashes are inevitable. In a civilized society, we work these kinds of things out through public discussion, debate, and politics. But the more drastic the conflict of ideas, the more we tend abandon our civility. In the social media universe people seem to leap from indifference to hate-splattered vituperation in a heartbeat.
Funny thing is: the people who speak with the most venom, the most hate - are usually demanding that everyone else just be more tolerant. If they don’t like your values, they will demand, screaming in your face, that you be more “tolerant”. The irony seems lost on them. Their definition of tolerance, it seems, amounts to: “Shut up and agree with me already!”
So, would we all just get along fine with our differing values, world-views, and religions if we were just more tolerant? I can’t help wondering how we could retain any semblance of law and order if we all just tolerated everyone else’s preferences. Who would decide what was right and what was wrong? How would we determine whether murder and theft were horrific crimes or just a different set of values? What if you held pedophilia as a religious right but I could only see it as a most despicable crime against an innocent life? How could I ‘tolerate’ you acting out your values without completely betraying my own? How could two such conflicting standards ever coexist? If it tolerates things that directly threaten its existence, how can any society endure? Common sense tells us that such unqualified tolerance must result in unmitigated chaos, and chaos eventually succumbs to tyranny. Give them enough chaos and people will gladly embrace the sense of order that tyranny promises.
So, is more tolerance the answer for our morally fractured society? Fortunately for us, this isn’t a new problem. Mankind has wrestled with these very issues for thousands of years. More often than not, it’s just the guy with the biggest guns who gets to make the rules. But somewhere along that blooded pathway to modern civilization, a few more enlightened souls proposed a better way: let the majority make the rules, with the proviso that the rights of the minority would be respected insofar as they did not break the rules set by the majority. I think they called it democracy or something. It allows people of all kinds of differing viewpoints to live and work together in comparatively peaceful cooperation.
Tolerance then, has its limits. Beyond those limits, certain behaviours simply cannot be tolerated in society. It seems self-evident that if we are to have rules, those rules should benefit the majority of us. Those who hold contrary opinions (values, beliefs, and consequent behaviours) must accept that as long as they are in the minority – they must learn to practice... well… tolerance! Until they form a majority, the onus is on THEM to tolerate the values and preferences of the majority. Their wishes can only be accommodated up to a certain point, after which they must simply adapt themselves to the wishes of the majority. I think they call this civilization.