The Tolerance Paradox

Photo by daria lisovtsova on Unsplash

The concept of tolerance has become a priority topic as the world begins to modernize. When faced with a global world, we’ll have to tolerate some things we haven’t needed to tolerate before. However, a big paradox arises in all of this: how do you tolerate the intolerant?

While universal tolerance would lead to a very nice global society (as well as likely world peace), it is, unfortunately, a little bit too much for our small human brains to handle. Tribes, countries, and ethnicities will always have inner conflicts and squabbles that the remainder of the world won’t be able to understand. They will remain intolerant. So, how do you tolerate those people?

Well, there are two different ways you can go about it. The first is by means of objectivism, which is mostly where the world has gone thus far. Essentially we can all get together (or rather, the most powerful of us) and decide what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. So, when we see something like a civil war or a genocide we jump in and they say “Oh, well they should/shouldn’t do that” and assist the side we think is good. Of course, there are quite a few problems with this. The first is that you’re ostracizing an entire group of people who may or may not actually deserve to be ostracized, in one grand sweeping motion. Secondly, it is very hard to know true, concrete information about what is going on in a place, or who started what, or whether it’s all really right or not. While it would be very, very nice to write up a simple codebook (such as what the UN already has) and be done with it. But that’s just not the way our small human brains work.

On the second path, we have relativism. We can understand that intolerance is intolerance, and tolerance is tolerance. Now, that does not mean that we have to sit back and allow civil war and genocide to happen; by all means, the relativist approach does call for intervention. But it calls for informed intervention — understanding that things might not be exactly as they seem, and that there are many different overall pieces to the pie and stories to be told and shared.

So, can we tolerate the intolerant? Truth be told, it’s a bit of a trick question. But there are methods of solving it if you put your head to it.

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