The cases before the Supreme Court recently have once again placed a focus on the idea of tolerance in our country. Tolerance is a funny thing in the political sphere and is increasingly used by the left to denigrate anyone who opposes them. If we were to open up the New Progressive’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, you would probably see the following definitions:
Knuckledragger: A Christian Conservative.
Racist: Anyone who did not vote for Obama or even disagrees with an Obama administration policy.
Bigot: Everyone in the GOP; also every Christian.
Pro-life Conservative: Code word for justifiable misogyny
Second Amendment Proponents: Slack-jawed yokels who hate children.
Intolerant: Anyone who believes something we do not.
That’s not to say conservatives are not guilty of similar arguments, but I’ve noticed recently that as the right is trying to reassess and address its problems, the left’s talking heads cynically dismiss the debate and reassert hateful stereotypes. When discussing the politics of hate, we must be careful that we are not simply using an ad hominem attacks–attacking the character rather than the substance.
Of course, political operatives know very well that they are making ad hominem attacks. The problem comes when the character assassinations are internalized by society to the detriment of honest debate.
More than anything, I think that technology has led to the demise of intellectual discourse. Go to the comments setion of any online article or blogpost, and you’ll see it devolve into a flame war of insults and shouting. Hiding behind a computer means we don’t actually interact with those that disagree with us. Instead they are the “other,” an anonymous avatar representing everything we detest about those who disagree with us. Each combatant claims to hold the moral high ground of tolerance while admonishing the character of all who oppose their views.
To truly proclaim oneself as the epitome of tolerance, one must be tolerant of all, refusing to judge any for their beliefs. That means the truly tolerant can never make a stand against hate, bigotry, abuse, etc., because, by their own belief system, they cannot openly judge the actions of others as right or wrong. Rather, they must accept all.
Obviously, few people are capable of truly pursuing this … “virtue.” And just as rare is the person who applies the tenant of tolerance objectively, rather than haphazardly using it as a subjective judgment. As noted, I tend to find that those most loudly decrying the virtue of tolerance tend to be practicing intolerance themselves, many times more so than those they rebuke. This is true on both sides of the political spectrum.
Many conservatives today who happens to be Black are insulted constantly as a race traitor, being called “Uncle Tom” and much, much worse. By labeling Black conservatives with such slurs, dissenters are attempting to invalidate any opinion they hold rather than addressing their arguments on their merits. Is that “tolerance”? However, I must admit that rarely do I personally experience these ad hominem attacks. The reason is that our TV and radio shows and columns are heavily concentrated in these communities and many have gotten to respect and understand my reasoning. The attacks are more about the lack of understanding by many minorities that conservatives are principled in what they believe and are entitled to another school of thought. Freedom should never be restrained and always expressed. This is how any community grows authentically and makes substantial progress.
In our current politically charged atmosphere, anyone who disagrees with the president is a racist. Anyone that objects to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is a bigot. Anyone who goes to church is a hate-filled Christian. Sometimes those accusations are correct, but unless they talk to and get to understand someone’s beliefs, the accusers are just as guilty of hate and intolerance.
Perhaps their policy disagreement with the administration is just that–a policy disagreement. Maybe they disagree with Obamacare not because it’s socialized health care, but because they believe it is a poor law, clumsily enacted and failing to address the issues it purports to solve. What if they think that same-sex marriage should be passed by the legislatures rather than through judicial fiat? For them, this is a case about judicial certiorari. What if they take to heart Jesus’ teaching to love your neighbor with all your heart, regardless of their neighbor’s actions? Are those hate-filled sentiments?
It does no good to simply point the finger. It is more helpful, more tolerant, more loving to try to “walk a mile in their shoes” and attempt to see things from another person’s perspective. When we do that, we open ourselves up to new ideas and understanding. If we truly believe that holding a nuanced position is a virtue as well, then we must constantly guard against jumping to conclusions.
The Civil Rights Movement relied on people realizing that color made no difference. As more interracial friendships and relationships developed, it became harder for society to deny the institutional inequality that existed. This took people actually getting out and interacting with one another. This meant that both Blacks and whites had to move past their preconceptions of each other and find a new path, together.
In a healthy democratic society, the key is rational discourse rather than insults. Conservatives are legitimately evaluating themselves, but as long as the left continues to demagogue its opponents as less than human, we cannot come work together as a society to solve our problems.
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