Post by nebcanuck, Stephen’s son:
One of the fascinating recurring realizations I’ve had throughout my university career is that culturally, we’ve lost an understanding of what it means to be tolerant. The word, one of the most overused ones in our society, is amusingly twisted in the face of true tolerance. And one recent example demonstrates it perfectly: The recent controversy over Miss California in the Miss USA pageant.
Consider the following video:
Without entering into the foray of whether the sentiment about gay marriage is right or wrong, I think this video is interesting because of what it shows about our culture beyond the specific values. It brings up questions like: What does it mean to be tolerant? What role do Truth, faith, and opinions have in politics? Is it possible to be the “perfect Miss USA?
These questions are important for our understanding of politics. They were foundational considerations when the United States and Canada were being formed, but in recent years the answers that were then reached have been largely pushed aside by an odd new political philosophy. What it amounts to is that what we see today isn’t tolerance. In fact, in many ways it is intolerant. And before the deliberation is pushed aside, this isn’t the ranting of a right-wing nut who wants to be able to advocate for the freedom to hurt others. That’s part of the whole illusion that has been put forth.
Today, what we understand to be tolerance is summed up well by the pagent judge in the above video. To “tolerate”, one must hold that anyone can make their own decisions, and it is always right. Politically, the only form of “tolerance” which is accepted is one which encourages individuals to act in whatever way they seem fit. The goal is, as he states, to make people “comfortable”, to leave your own thoughts at home and pander to as many people as possible. If you’re not pleasing as many people as possible, you’re not tolerating well enough.
In contrast, my own understanding of toleration is this: One can hold to whatever opinion they desire (or close to it), including that others are wrong. This comes with the qualification that your opinion should not be violently enforced on others, and that hopefully you deliver your thoughts as respectfully as possible. This leads to a very different picture of society. Rather than individuals trying to make statements which encompass the opinions of everyone listening, they instead will all hold to their opinions and do so in a way which openly accepts that others may disagree. The deliberation which ensues will likely result in poles forming — some to the “left” and some to the “right” of “the norm”. Different reasons can be given for the beliefs, including her opinion that the Bible’s Truth holds authority over voters’ preference.
The end result of this cultural shift? I believe that instead of tolerance, in today’s culture we see political correctness. This political correctness is an unspoken set of cultural norms which must be followed for risk of being shunned — or losing a pageant, as is the case here. The mandate is to conform to the proper set of statements rather than stating your opinion. This is, at its root, intolerant, rather than “tolerance”.
It’s important to note that I don’t think this is actually a “leftist” phenomenon. A lot of religious conservatives hold that this entire “tolerance” movement is part of a hidden agenda being set by communists and atheists as they attempt to take over society. This is ridiculous, and it doesn’t capture the real political vibe. Rather than being associated with “leftist” ideals, it really is a centrist movement. The goal is to see as many people fit perfectly into the middle of the pack with their opinions as possible, so that neither left nor right is insulted. Politically it’s a successful strategy as it gets more votes than alienating half of the population. Culturally, it’s boring, since it removes the possibility of any real deliberation.
And so, without name calling and flinging out terms such as “liberal” and “conservative”, I think our culture needs to reevaluate the way that it perceives differences in opinion. Religious, sexual, and political freedom is based on the right to disagree, and we’re losing that when issues like this arise.