The End of Tolerance?

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.

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lawyermommy
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 12:24:08

    A part of Christianity is to seek to convert others. In other words, Christians have to adhere to the tenets of the word by sharing their beliefs and lovingly bringing others to see the Christian view point. I do not think tolerance is a part of the teachings of Christianity, although love is. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” etc etc.

    Although, I do agree that Conservatism is a farce. It has become a political tool for chest thumping and gaining political browning points from unthinking wanna be zealots–most of who never even read the Bible or understand its teachings.
    This Conservative concept of Christianity is also used to get attention from the “left” who time and time again fall for the politics of “Christianity”. Christianity is a religion… a way of life … it is an outrage to use it in the political arena in the way that it has been co opted by politicians most of whom have no real understanding of what it is to be C H R I S T I AN… Politicians many of whom do not know, understand or believe in the teachings of Christ i.e. Christianity.

    Reply

  2. Sidney Carton
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 12:42:09

    Good point. Tolerance is no longer a question of allowing differing viewpoints, but a demand that there be no open airing of difference whatsoever. Instead of the free exchange of ideas, we are given a sanitized exchange of slogans. In essence we are taught that it is too dangerous to openly espouse any idea or ideals, and that the price for having an actual opinion is ostracism, to be painted with the stripe of extremism and denied access to so-called “polite society”

    We no longer need to jail ideosyncratic thinkers in this society, we just characterize them as the “crazy guy on the corner with the “The End is Near” sign around his neck.” After that, nothing they say, no matter how true, ever manages to overcome that initial impression.

    Reply

  3. Zayna
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 12:49:43

    Hey Nebcanuck,

    I agree with your take that in our current culture it seems that political correctness is confused with tolerance.

    In my view, it was Perez Hilton who was being intolerant by suggesting that the Miss USA contestant “gave the totally wrong answer” to his question when she answered it honestly.

    You can’t ask someone their opinion on something and then say they gave the wrong answer just because it doesn’t jive with your beliefs.

    Reply

  4. billarends
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 14:03:17

    I may not agree with Miss California, and to be honest I don’t, but her answer was the correct answer to the question asked. The original question was prefaced with “do you believe.” She gave the only answer she could even if we think her answer to be wrong for the nation. That said the judges also had every right to say that her beliefs are not that of the nation and thus she does not qualify to be Miss America, a representative of the nation. The problem is it has to be first determined if the nation accepts homosexuality, I think it does but others disagree. Without this answer the question was unfairly asked. Perez was being intolerant, as intolerant as anyone that would ban Gay marriage. But Miss California gave an honest answer.

    That said Beauty Pageants are displays of intolerance to begin with, and for those that claim this is anything more than a beauty pageant had better clean thier glasses. Do you see any crosseyed women, any scarrs, any moles, or any wrinkles? This whole thing is about intolerance of what we believe to be ugliness. It defines young as pretty and old as ugly. The pageant is a social joke, and my opinion is, they really should go the way of the dodo. Nebcanuck is right this is a great example to use as an example of tolerance and the right to disagree. A beauty pageant says this is the best American woman, and “we all agree,” which we obviously don’t. Enforcing a stereotype of beauty is just another form of intolerance.

    Reply

  5. billarends
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 14:10:01

    Sorry Folks I was a bit polemic on the issue of pageants. I find them (as you can tell) offensive. Why? because I am still waiting for the day when a person with a great personality and disfiguring scarrs wins the award, then I will know we are free of intolerance based on looks.

    Reply

  6. Juggling mother
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 09:10:01

    I doiagree with both the notion of beuaty pageants as either a good thing or a productive way to represent the USA (or any other country), and that tolerance is necessarily a good thing.

    Why anyone would think that someone who defines themself by the way they look is the ideal representative of a country is quite beyond me, and why you assume that person is likely to have a good understanding of what the majority of said country thinks/feels is just baffling IMHO.

    regarding tolerance, we should not tolerate everyone’s views – if someone believes we should kill all red-heads, I would not tolerate them going out and doing so, or even advocating those views as a valid lifestyle choice! equality is not about accepting and tolerating all viewpoints, but about ensuring all people have the same access to a reasonable lifestyle.

    Reply

  7. Stephen
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 16:51:13

    If I might take issue with something Bill said: I think Miss California would be a perfectly adequate representative of America no matter which side she took on this issue. Plenty of Americans disagree with her; plenty of Americans agree with her; and America elevates freedom of conscience as one of its core values.

    On the other hand, at some point tolerance leads to practical policy choices. Homosexual couples are actively discriminated against by the U.S. government.

    And I don’t just mean gay marriage per se. For example, if I have been living in a conjugal relationship with my same sex partner for 25 years, and he is in the hospital at death’s door, I have no legal standing to make end of life decisions on his behalf.

    Now that’s intolerance! It goes way beyond questions of political correctness.

    Reply

  8. billarends
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 08:53:59

    Stephen is right to disagree with my assertion that I think Miss California is not represtative based on her beliefs as I said “The problem is it has to be first determined if the nation accepts homosexuality, I think it does but others disagree.” Freedom of conscience does make her representative of American values, but the trend toward political correctness is making that less true than it has been in the past. That said political correctness seems concentrated in those in office thus skewing values based on social or political strata. Is society creating its own form of aristocracy via democracy? In other words if having flexible values allows you to win are we going to be ruled by only those that are overly tolerant? An oligarchy of those that are most likely to be elected, a political electable hegemony?

    Reply

  9. billarends
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 14:16:19

    Looks like Miss California is going to take her message to the country see the attached news article below.

    Miss California to campaign against gay marriage
    Updated Thu. Apr. 30 2009 8:45 AM ET

    The Associated Press
    NEW YORK — The reigning Miss California has gone to Washington to help launch a campaign opposing same-sex marriage.

    Carrie Prejean told NBC’s “Today” show Thursday that she’ll be working with the National Organization for Marriage to “protect traditional marriages.”

    The 21-year-old says that marriage is “something that is very dear to my heart” and she’s in Washington to help save it.

    Reply

  10. nebcanuck
    May 04, 2009 @ 16:40:12

    Zayna:

    You can’t ask someone their opinion on something and then say they gave the wrong answer just because it doesn’t jive with your beliefs.

    That was what jumped out at me right away too. It was just set up ridiculously by the judge. One has to wonder about some people’s state of mind. 😛

    Bill:

    That said Beauty Pageants are displays of intolerance to begin with, and for those that claim this is anything more than a beauty pageant had better clean thier glasses. Do you see any crosseyed women, any scarrs, any moles, or any wrinkles?

    I think that’s an excellent point. Sometimes, intolerance is embedded into the culture. But I reserve the right of people to uphold these women as their standard of beauty regardless of my own thoughts — although were they to ever attempt to actually enforce it through violence upon others it would obviously be unacceptable.

    Admittedly though, to play devil’s advocate, I do find a point made by the TV show House interesting. When one of his hired doctors makes the comment that she was offended by the fact that he may have hired her for his looks, he responds “It offends you that I may have hired you based on your genetic inclination towards physical beauty rather than your genetic inclination towards intelligence?” What is a reasonable criteria to judge people based on? Is it possible to set up tolerant ideals?

    Juggling mother:

    regarding tolerance, we should not tolerate everyone’s views – if someone believes we should kill all red-heads, I would not tolerate them going out and doing so, or even advocating those views as a valid lifestyle choice! equality is not about accepting and tolerating all viewpoints, but about ensuring all people have the same access to a reasonable lifestyle.

    The concept of tolerance, though, is not about tolerating actions, but tolerating opinions. Can someone legitimately believe that all redheads should be killed without attempting to enact it? If so, then perhaps they should be tolerated? If not, where do you draw the line? Are we allowed to have preferences of hair colour in that case?

    Stephen:

    I think Miss California would be a perfectly adequate representative of America no matter which side she took on this issue. Plenty of Americans disagree with her; plenty of Americans agree with her; and America elevates freedom of conscience as one of its core values.

    Great point!

    And I don’t just mean gay marriage per se. For example, if I have been living in a conjugal relationship with my same sex partner for 25 years, and he is in the hospital at death’s door, I have no legal standing to make end of life decisions on his behalf.

    I also think that’s a good point. The question was about gay marriage though. Policy decisions naturally get into an area apart from tolerance, though. I would argue that inevitably a policy decision is going to have to be intolerant of some set of actions. But should policy be able to restrict thoughts and opinions?

    In other words if having flexible values allows you to win are we going to be ruled by only those that are overly tolerant? An oligarchy of those that are most likely to be elected, a political electable hegemony?

    Bill (again):

    In other words if having flexible values allows you to win are we going to be ruled by only those that are overly tolerant? An oligarchy of those that are most likely to be elected, a political electable hegemony?

    Aren’t we already? When was the last radical politician who stood a chance of winning an election? Like it or not, politics is currently about appealing to the majority in most Western nations.

    Reply

  11. Bill
    May 06, 2009 @ 12:16:32

    I guess my last point is that we are slowly working toward a situation were, If you stand for nothing you stand a better chance of getting elected. We are electing a type of person regardless of what they actually stand for? We are making decisions on the most arbitrary social points. The least harmful, the prettiest, the most friendly, etc…
    Is politics becoming a type of beauty contest? Are we deciding based on superficial not substance?

    As for the social Idea of Beauty up held by these pageants, I would argue it is sexual attractiveness not beauty that they up hold. I find more beauty in Mother Theresa, than Ms. California, but Mother Theresa, isn’t sexually attractive.

    The same follows for objects as well a new house is more desirable but a weathered Shack can make a better photograph. I may like the shack but I can’t live in it.

    The definition of beauty in this was leads to ridicule and bullying, and then we wonder when those deemed less attractive get mad. Because judging someone based on something as stupid as the height of their cheek bones or the size of their chest is not entirely rational. The fashion world favours women with slim hips, biologically / Reproductively this is far from a good thing. We have an epidemic of children with low self esteem. Why? because we say they have to fit this definition of beauty we idolize. Hollywood idols from a practical point are far from worthy of idolization in many cases.

    Reply

  12. Stephen
    May 06, 2009 @ 12:41:08

    Bill:
    Reading your comment, I immediately thought of the news on CNN this morning. Fans of porn star Stormy Daniels are trying to “draft” her to run for Senator in Louisiana.

    Stormy was interviewed on CNN this morning. She doesn’t have any actual, you know, policy positions. But she presented herself as the people’s candidate: they’re encouraging her to run, and she’ll get her policy positions from them.

    Part of the joke is that she’ll be running against David Vitter, who was caught fraternizing with prostitutes. “I’m hearing the word ‘karma’ a lot,” said Stormy. “I remind people that what he did is illegal; what I do is legal.”

    Democracy in action!

    Reply

  13. billarends
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 15:55:17

    Donald Trump to Miss California: You’re fired
    Updated Wed. Jun. 10 2009 3:39 PM ET

    The Associated Press

    LOS ANGELES — It’s official: Controversial Miss California Carrie Prejean has heard the words “you’re fired” from pageant boss Donald Trump.

    Trump issued a statement Wednesday saying he sacked Prejean for failing to honour her commitments as Miss California USA.

    Pageant officials say Tami Farrell, the first runner-up to Prejean in the Miss California USA competition, will take over those responsibilities.

    Prejean created controversy during the Miss USA competition, where she was first runner-up, when she answered a judge’s question about gay marriage by saying marriage should be reserved for men and women.

    Reply

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