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Friday, December 15, 2006

What Tolerance Really Means

I had summarized the concept several times on this blog (such as here):

Tolerance means getting along with others despite real or perceived shortcomings.

In his article, Greg Koukl puts it like this:

Be egalitarian regarding persons.
Be elitist regarding ideas.

"Egalitarian" was a new word for them. Think "equal," I said. Treat others as having equal standing in value or worth. They knew what an elitist was, though, someone who thought he was better than others. "Right," I said. "When you are elitist regarding ideas, you are acknowledging that some ideas are better than others. And they are. We don't treat all ideas as if they have the same merit, lest we run into contradiction. Some ideas are good, some are bad. Some are true, some are false. Some are brilliant, others are just plain foolish."

Moral relativists use the reverse formula:

Be egalitarian regarding ideas.
Be elitist regarding persons.

If you reject another's ideas, you're automatically accused of disrespecting the person (as the coed did with me). On this new view of tolerance no idea or behavior can be opposed—even if done graciously—without inviting the charge of incivility.

He goes on to point out the self-contradictory maxim that others have summarized thus: there are absolutely no absolutes."

What he doesn't point out is that most self-proclaimed relativists really do believe in absolutists. It just takes some questioning to find out what those absolutes are.

Usually one can appeal to general rules of civility to make an effective point. Back in my days at the University of Texas at Arlington I wrote to the campus newspaper in response to a pro-relativism editorial, stating that relativism allows for everything, including (my exact words) "beating up gays for fun and profit." Oh, did I mention that the editorial had been written by a member of the Gay Lesbian Association?

Since a consistent relativist will have no opinions regarding government policy - and nobody entertains such neutrality - politically neutral, the quickest way to find out what those absolutes are is to talk politics. Odds are those political absolutes will be well into the left side of the spectrum. Including the doctrine "The absence of absolutes must absolutely be taught in school."

Update: There's another part of the article that really puts tolerance into perspective:

Notice that we can't truly tolerate someone unless we disagree with him. This is critical. We don't "tolerate" people who share our views. They're on our side. There's nothing to put up with. Tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong, yet we still choose to treat decently and with respect.

Read the whole thing.

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