Intolerant of “Tolerance”

by David King on March 26, 2009

tolerance Although originally used in reference to minority religious sects, the term “tolerance” has found broader applications in Western society.

Today, tolerance is used to describe a moderately respectful attitude toward any social minority group that has been previously disapproved of or rejected by the majority. We hear of “racial tolerance” and tolerance of “the gay lifestyle.” Websites and organizations abound who wish to teach tolerance to young people. Thefamily.org (a Christian movement) emphasizes the importance of racial tolerance for the success of society. George W. Bush urged that Americans show religious tolerance following hate crimes against Muslims in 2001. And, in case you missed it, Sarah Palin tolerates gay people. Yup, she really does!

This past week, I saw a TV interview with a sociologist who stated, with pride, that tolerance had become an American value. So there we have it people: according to Western pop culture, it is a GOOD thing to be tolerated. We (i.e., all those who occupy some minority nook or rejected niche of the new world) should revel in the majority’s ability to tolerate us. In fact, what better condition to be in? Not only does tolerance offer a lack of government-sponsored assault or persecution, but it also places minorities just below the masses on the social hierarchy (or, viewed alternatively, just above the lowest rung). In fact, the word tolerance does nothing but support the power of the majority to “permit” or “allow” the only somewhat undesirable behaviours of a particular out-group, maintaining the social hierarchy which its users claim to combat.

Perhaps this is all a matter of semantics. After all, the basic definition of tolerance is quite clear: to tolerate is to endure or sustain. Who wants to be endured or sustained, likened to a fractured tibia or a rocky divorce? Clearly, we must mean a different kind of tolerance. As luck would have it, there exists a definition which is specific to our case: tolerance is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own” (from Random House English Dictionary). Much better, right? No! Fairness, objectivity, and permission do not require acceptance, and it is acceptance which every out-group has ever longed for, ever fought for, and ever died for.

To representatives of the majority, I ask: When was the last time you enjoyed being tolerated? Perhaps it is time to return to semantic basics; to realize that novel definitions and interpretations of words do not remove their original meaning. I am intolerant of any majority that reinterprets language in order to maintain its grip on the social ladder. Do not be fooled…and do not support tolerance. Try acceptance instead.

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