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Old 11-08-2006, 12:35 AM
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Tolerently intolerant

The Trouble With Tolerance

By STANLEY FISH
11/10/06
Some years ago, just after Salman Rushdie was made the object of a fatwa, I found myself at an academic conference listening to a panel address the issues raised by his situation. A member of the audience rose and, without a trace of irony, gave voice to this question/accusation: "What's the matter with those Iranians? Haven't they ever heard of the First Amendment?" The empirical answer to the question was maybe yes, maybe no. Some individual Iranians and many members of the Iranian legal community would have heard of (and studied) the First Amendment, but even those who had read it could not have been counted on to affirm the assumptions informing it — the assumption that expression as an abstract category is to be valued over the content of what is expressed; the assumption that no content is to be either stigmatized or embraced in advance of its having been subjected to the test of rational scrutiny; the assumption that contents (ideas, ideologies, opinions, hypotheses) are equal before the law, and none is to be prohibited unless it is put into (dangerous) action; the assumption that religious pronouncements, even those that issue from revered authorities, are in no way privileged, exempt from criticism, or entitled to a place in the policy deliberations of the state; the assumption that the holding of views, however unpopular or even sacrilegious, cannot be a reason for the denial of rights, the withholding of privileges, or the distribution of rewards.

Each and every one of those assumptions was seen by the person who asked the question to have been flouted by the government of Iran, and that government, accordingly, was regarded as backward, retrograde, myopic, and hopeless. (How little has changed.) Ignored was the possibility that what appeared to be an entirely negative and unprincipled act might be the product of an alternative set of principles — preferring community to individual rights, positive morality to respect for all points of view, truth to tolerance, the sanctity of God to the sanctity of choice.

Earlier this year, pretty much the same scenario was played out around the publication in Denmark of cartoons poking fun at the person and beliefs of the prophet Muhammad. Many Western commentators were simply unable to see why mere words or pictorial representations could be received as grievously wounding — after all, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but..." — especially given that those who reacted most vehemently (and, on occasion, violently) were not directly the target of the cartoons (they were not being libeled, so what's the big deal?). The idea that you could be so identified with a religious creed that criticisms of it would lead you to actions that might be appropriate if you were being physically assaulted (there is, after all, the speech-action distinction, isn't there?) is simply inconceivable to those who have been taught (by everyone from Locke and Kant to John Rawls) that tolerance of views you oppose is the highest morality.

This has been going on for a long time, at least since Locke declared (in A Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689) that "every Church is orthodox to itself" and concluded that, in the absence of an independent mechanism for determining which among competing orthodoxies is the true one, toleration is the only rational policy. Locke then asked, What about the churches and orthodoxies that value tolerance less than they do the truth and political supremacy of the faiths they espouse? Do we tolerate them? The answer he gave is still being given today by the guardians of Enlightenment liberalism: "No opinions contrary to human society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society, are to be tolerated."

But the question of which opinions are "contrary to human society" does not answer itself, for if it did, if there were universal agreement on what views were simply beyond the pale, tolerance would be unnecessary. The category of interdicted opinions must be established by an act of authority and power, an act Locke performed later in the tract when he made his own list. He thus made it clear that in the liberal tradition he initiated, tolerance, rather than being a wholly benevolent and inclusive practice, is an engine of exclusion and a technology of regulation.

The triumph of toleration as the central liberal value, and the attendant inability of liberals to see the dark side of their favorite virtue, is the subject of Wendy Brown's insightful and illuminating new book, Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton University Press). Brown sets out to understand "how tolerance has come to be such an important justice discourse in our time." The "conventional story," she reports, goes this way: "[T]he combined effects of globalization, the aftermath of the cold war, and the aftermath of colonialism have led to the world's erupting in a hundred scenes of local and internecine conflict, roughly rooted in identity clashes, and tolerance is an appropriate balm for soothing those conflicts." In a world where difference seems intractable and irreconcilable, parties are always poised for conflict (Brown notes the Hobbesian antecedents of this picture), tolerance appears to be a "natural and benign remedy"; natural because, given what men and women are (irremediably) like, it seems the only way to go, and benign because while it reins in differences, it accords those difference a space in the private sector. You know the commonplace aphorisms and slogans: Live and let live, different strokes for different folks, can't we all just get along?

Sounds good, but Brown isn't having any. Her critique of tolerance challenges the common assumption that the differences the sharp edges of which tolerance is supposed to blunt "took their shape prior to the discourse called on to broker them." No, she insists, those differences are produced by a regime of tolerance that at the same time produces a status quo politics built on the assumption that difference cannot be negotiated but can only be managed. When difference is naturalized, she explains, it becomes the mark not of an ideological or political divide (in relation to which one might have an argument), but of a cultural divide (in relation to which each party says of the other, "See, that's just the way they are"). If people do the things they do not because of what they believe, but because they are Jews, Muslims, blacks, or gays, it is no use asking them to see the error of their ways, because it is through those same ways — naturally theirs — that they see at all. When President Bush reminds us of '"the nature of our enemy,"' he is, in effect, saying there's no dealing with these people; they are immune to rational appeals; the only language they understand is the language of force.

More at: http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=f2281gdy909q6jfczpj22f7gtkg3cqft

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Last edited by Botnst; 11-08-2006 at 12:36 AM. Reason: web link
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Old 11-08-2006, 08:20 AM
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Hah hah! Love it! Tolerance is just a way of saying you're wrong but we'll let you have your own clubhouse.

Actually, I find that tolerance is more of a nod to every human being's right to self determination...

however wrong a path they may be headed!
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Old 11-08-2006, 08:35 AM
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That's why I never cottoned to the word"tolerance"since it does not denote acceptance but simply implies you will "tolerate"your neighbor's loud music late at night,your in-laws neanderthal advice and opinions and all manner of spiritual,moral and actual repugnancies hurled at your psyche and assaulting your repose,but then everyone has,to a greater or lesser degree evolved their own comfortable set of hypocrisies,just keep'em to yourself,and if the assaults upon your placidity and sang-froid become noisome then take action. I have found sarcasm and irony highly underrated skills...........
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Old 11-08-2006, 08:37 AM
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Definition of Minnesota nice.
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Old 11-08-2006, 08:54 AM
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Tolerance is a byproduct of over-crowding.
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Old 11-08-2006, 09:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by raymr View Post
Tolerance is a byproduct of over-crowding.
Then if you gotta nail her put a raincoat on it,THAT should solve your overcrowding,might take a generation or 2.....
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Old 11-08-2006, 04:36 PM
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I am completely sympathetic to the view that the virtue of tolerance is overemphasized in our society, resulting in people thinking that they can believe whatever nonsense they want to with no justification whatsoever because everyone else has to tolerate their idiocies. Truth has been pushed out the door as tolerance has been pushed in.
I prefer to view tolerance as a virtue on a sliding Aristotelian scale. There's a portion in the center where toleration is good, and there are portions on either end where both tolerance and intolerance are bad. There's no way in advance to determine whether a specific act of tolerance or intolerance is appropriate.
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Old 11-08-2006, 04:51 PM
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Here's one that is intolerant of intolerence.


Friday 27 October 2006

Brendan O’Neill
‘The left has been infected by the disease of intolerance’
American free speech warrior Wendy Kaminer on liberals, hate speech and how students have become 'Young Authoritarians'.

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spiked is the online partner of the Battle of Ideas, the two-day festival of debate that will take place in London on 28 and 29 October 2006. In the run-up to the Battle, we will publish a series of taster interviews with some of the speakers and participants. In the eighth in the series, Brendan O’Neill talks to Wendy Kaminer, who is speaking in the session Reassessing Liberty: Is John Stuart Mill still relevant today? on 29 October.

‘Asking why academic freedom is important is like asking why love is important, or why it’s important to eat when you’re hungry.’ Wendy Kaminer is momentarily stumped. For her, the need for free thinking and free speech in universities, both on campus and inside the classroom, is so obvious, such a no-brainer, that: ‘You know what? I’m having trouble articulating a defence of it!’

A social critic and former member of the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whose latest book is Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today, Kaminer says it should be apparent to anyone who has ever set foot in a university that ‘freedom is essential there’. Yet today, in some universities on both sides of the Atlantic, academic freedom is in danger of being corroded from within – by academics and administrators intolerant of colleagues who hold unconventional, unpopular views, and students who rush to ban anything that offends their sensitivities, be it right-wing rags, Eminem or Kit-Kats (more of which in a minute).

‘Okay, why is academic freedom important? Because in order to think, in order to exercise your freedom, you need to be educated – and in order for people to be educated they need to have the freedom to consider a very wide range of ideas, to have their own preconceptions questioned, and questioned vigorously’, says Kaminer. ‘They have to learn how to tolerate ideas that are really abhorrent to them. They need to learn the difference between ideas and actions. They need to learn that people can have very different ideas, and they can debate them without coming to blows.

‘You know, in our world today, one way you can stop people from coming to blows about their conflicting ideas is by teaching them how to argue, and teaching them not to be afraid of argument. There’s an important difference between being embarrassed or feeling intellectually or emotionally wounded because you’re at the losing end of an argument, and actually being physically assaulted. I think it’s incredibly important for students to learn how to argue, and to learn how to appreciate and even enjoy argument.’

Kaminer believes that the need for this kind of attitude in universities – where people are encouraged not only to swot up on facts and figures but also to be open-minded, robust, self-critical – goes hand-in-hand with a Uni’s traditional role of guarding and imparting knowledge.

‘Being exposed to other ideas, being challenged, being put on the spot, being made to examine their own most basic beliefs – for students that is at least as important, if not more important than learning the fundamentals of their subject. What good is it to learn facts if you don’t learn how to think and how to defend your ideas? John Stuart Mill talks about this. When he talks about freedom of speech and freedom of thought, he talks about the importance of having your ideas tested and learning how to defend them. If you don’t know how to defend your ideas, then they can’t mean very much to you.’

Kaminer, a free speech warrior of the Noughties, has been brushing up on Mill, that free speech warrior of the nineteenth century whose On Liberty, first published in 1859, remains a guiding text for defenders of freedom. On Sunday she will speak in the session ‘Reassessing Liberty: Is John Stuart Mill still relevant today?’ at the Battle of Ideas in London, alongside human rights barrister Michael Mansfield, Observer columnist Henry Porter, and me. Kaminer has been referred to as a ‘First Amendment Fundamentalist’, in reference to her impassioned defence of the First Amendment of the American Constitution, which prohibits the government from infringing freedom of speech and freedom of the press or limiting the right to free assembly. She cut her teeth in the ACLU, and was a national board member until June 2006: she declined to stand for re-election to the board in protest at a proposal by the ACLU (discussed but never adopted) to limit public criticism of its staff by board members. Kaminer called that an attempt to ‘squelch dissent’ and said it went against everything the ACLU stands for (1). She has since become embroiled in a very public spat with ACLU executive director Anthony Romero and president Nadine Strossen.

Kaminer has also worked as a lawyer, at the New York Legal Aid Society and the office of the Mayor of New York City, and has written extensively on law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture. She is a scathing critic of ‘contemporary irrationalism’ and also the rise of a therapeutic culture that treats adults like fragile beings – as detailed in her books Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety and I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions.

Kaminer’s description of a free university, where challenging and even confrontational ideas are batted between and among teachers and students, sounds very appealing – but all too often today, the reality is quite different. She says: ‘There are still a lot of very good schools and very good teachers, who try to stimulate their students and expose them to different ideas.’ No doubt that is true. But in some universities there is also a creeping culture of conformism, a sense that certain ideas are beyond the pale and thus must be crushed by the long arm of the censor (often, these days, a university-appointed ethics committee or a self-righteous students’ union).

Increasingly, university administrations restrict what academics can talk about. In the US post-9/11, some academics were chastised for speaking out against America’s war in Afghanistan. Trustees of the City University of New York made ‘formal denunciations’ of faculty members who criticised US foreign policy at a teach-in, and similar measures were taken against academics at the University of Texas at Austin, MIT, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (2). In both American and British universities there has been a proliferation of ethics committees that judge what are suitable and ‘appropriate’ areas of research for academics, and even advise teachers on the minutiae of how to communicate with their students. Durham University in England recently decreed that lecturers should obtain approval from an ethics committee if they want to give tutorials on difficult or potentially heated topics, such as abortion or euthanasia. Universities even prescribe what kind of language to use. The University of Derby, also in England, has a pretty Orwellian ‘Code of Practice for Use of Language’, which advises teachers that their ‘use of language should reflect the university’s mission and support relationships of mutual respect’. As Frank Furedi has argued on spiked, such illiberal policies are not ‘simply the handiwork of a few philistine zealots. [They are] the inexorable consequence of an academic culture that is increasingly prepared to censor itself and others.’ (3)

More at: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/2031/

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