When one takes upon themselves the challenge of imagining the wisest person to have ever lived, attributes such as empathy, kindness and a willingness to forgive are traits bound to define such an idealized sage. This is due to the fact that the more one engages with the human experience, the more likely one is to comprehend —perhaps even relate — to their fellows. A simple act such as an attempt to see a foreign worldview with a gentle, nonjudgemental gaze could be one of the most human things to do. A silent recognition of the inherent humanity of them all and how, despite it all, they are of the same value once the day comes to a close.
Nevertheless, the diverse nature of humanity presents an unparalleled problem when empathizing. Since everyone’s perspectives are birthed from the unique path they have traversed, some will inevitably conflict by nature. Perhaps, some perspectives may not realize the intrinsic import of others. Some may even threaten the very core values of humanity. Not necessarily out of hatred but an induced ignorance. That is to say, an inhumane human holds the same value. Their flare shines as bright as any other, yet, should their voice too be equally regarded?
Though an acknowledgement of the equitable worth of every singular human experience is in order, there is — without a doubt — a fundamental difference when discussing an offensive, self-centered perspective, one which does not regard human dignity. It is only logical to seek to listen. One can even sympathize with the arguments offered by such a person, but when words evolve into actions one cannot stand aside and allow them to have their way. To do so, to permit through inaction the immoral to accomplish their whims and the suffering of others, is where tolerance digs its own grave.
Tolerance is a virtue of the wise, that is not to be misconstrued. Still, when tolerance is left unchecked and allowed to be absolute, problems will arise from those that refuse to play by its rules. That is because absolute tolerance tolerates intolerance, it breeds and perpetuates intolerance. When tolerance is taken to the extreme, it will attempt to empathize and comprehend viewpoints which simply do not even consider tolerance to be a value worth pursuing, fomenting their existence and transmission.
Misguided people who hold inhumane viewpoints may even believe that it is not only necessary but moral to be intolerant. This is due to the fact that, contrary to popular belief, morality can be subjugated to flexibility in the eyes of the beholder. Some people who wield disproportionately cruel points of view may not find themselves to be anything but saviors of the world. One need only glance back at history to see countless examples of this. So many wars have been waged and deaths have been caused through the grand excuses of justice, of defending merely what is right or what one’s faith or culture demands. Does the fact that they offer a reasoning and wish to be tolerated suffice as justification for their actions? Should one not intervene so long as the one infringing human dignity demands respect?
Then, should the Nazi seeking to protect his nation from inferior races be tolerated? After all, he only seeks to do the correct thing from his point of view, no? His personal experiences, be those caused by the self or external, have successfully convinced him of the necessity to eradicate all that is evil from the world, all that is impure. One can deconstruct his entire life, comprehend every step he took to reach such a conclusion and even recognize that he is the victim of a tragic system and that such disregard for human decency is not part of human nature but the result of his circumstances. Besides, since he asks so nicely, we must surely tolerate his opinions, no? Who are we to judge? He was simply from a different background, from a different context. Are diversity of opinion and freedom of speech not safeguarded values of our nation? We must always listen to both sides, for surely they are both of equal value, no? Two sides to every story, no?
The answer that has become increasingly complicated to explain to the intolerant who wish to exploit the mercy of the tolerant is: no. No, not all points of view must be tolerated. No, not all of them have equal value, even if every individual human being does.
The truth is that absolute tolerance brings forth the death of tolerance and the birth of intolerance. When widespread, it allows for the collapse of democracies and the reign of the intolerant few, for they will be the only ones willing to brutally force their way into power.
We must come to realize that the tolerance we should extend should be one characterized by restraint. We must tolerate the differences that flourish our individuality, but not at the cost of accepting cruelty. We must not tolerate hatred nor bigotry, no matter how close to home or heart. We must not tolerate heartless acts under the guise of cultural relativism, of humor or of misguidedness. We must not tolerate intolerance.
Otherwise, we will bare the consequences of the suicide of tolerance.
Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).