Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is Tolerance Always a Virtue?

It's widely believed that tolerance and patience is a virtue that most of us need to cultivate. Liberals, especially, like to pretend they are supremely tolerant, especially on issues such as free speech. Now, my friend The Professor sometimes argues with good merit that this is a bit disingenuous, because liberals can be shrill indeed when it comes to verbal intolerance of conservative political ideals. He says, with some justification, that had a conservative president made the kind of recent public policy faux pas of the Obama group, the outrage would be deafening. But I'd argue that political discourse exists on a different level that everyday moral tolerance or intolerance that occurs outside the realm of political discourse.

After all, vocal though they might be, it's rather rare for liberal social intolerance to reach the level of violent reaction. You really can't imagine, for example, that right-to-choose proponents would routinely murder church leaders who preach against abortion, or those who argue against birth control.  No, the intolerance of liberals is generally political, and is of the verbal, passive, argumentative type. The last time liberals seemed really ready to physically fight for their beliefs, it was 1972 or so. Since then, we've elevated passivity to a virtue. 

Yesterday on Nicollet Avenue, one of those extreme evangelists on a soap box held a placard that said "God Hates You," printed on the back side with by list of bullet points enumerating the behaviors that made each of us worthy of Yahweh's loathing:  

"Fag thoughts" 
"Dressing like a whore"
"Loving animals"

(Yep. He was actually arguing that recycling is a sin).

This guy was, as far as I can gather, of the same ilk as those people from Westboro Baptist Church who picket the funerals of fallen soldiers, arguing that God has killed them in retribution for society's evil ways. 

As the crowds waited for stoplights to change at crosswalks, this fellow screamed insults at everyone in the most blatant display of intolerant hatred you can imagine. If a pretty girl walked by in a short skirt, the abuse was cruel indeed, as it was for a couple of fellows who may or may not have been gay. It was not mental illness we were witnessing; this fellow was well groomed,  had professionally printout hand-outs, the whole nine yards. But the civilized, and oh-so-tolerant response of the liberal downtown Minneapolitans was....complete non-response. To a person, the good citizens ignored the hate monger utterly. I watched for 20 minutes, and not once did anyone confront this fellow. There wasn't so much as a disgusted shake of the head. Only supreme, utter tolerance for extremely bad behavior. 

Now, perhaps this sounds like a mature, responsible citizenry respecting the right of all to speak their minds. But where is it written that a crackpot's right to speak hate is more important that our rights to a peaceful walk along the streets at lunchtime?  I wonder, really, if it is really responsible and wise, as citizens, to make such a Herculean effort to tolerate the intolerable. 

How long would this jackass continue his effort if people expressed more outrage when people behave so badly? When did we come to believe that when faced with unacceptable, intolerable behavior, the correct thing to do is tolerate it?

Maybe our moral imperative is swift, decisive intolerance of some things.


  1. Love this. Especially because I run into a similar situation nearly every day in Santa Monica. Except in this case, the man screaming hate clearly IS struggling with mental health issues and seems to hold the potential for violence.

    Yet thousands of people pass him every day, including police officers and city "ambassadors," and no one--including me--does a thing to stop his shrieking or help him.

    The truly intolerable thing there is the lack of services for mental illness. Different aspect of the same issue, I think.

  2. Re the above comment: Since Ronald Reagan unlocked the doors, many patients with mental illness walk the streets.

    As for The Geezers, I don't think tolerance is always a virtue. However were one to confront the sign carrier and shouter on Nicollet Avenue, could we be sure he wouldn't pull a gun to enforce his point? The streets are dangerous these days.

  3. "Maybe our moral imperative is swift, decisive intolerance of some things."

    I agree...."some" things. Pick your fights carefully. Too often these people just want recognition. Don't give it to them. They are their own worst enemy. But at some point, on some topic, you're right. You do have to stand your ground.


  4. Ignoring a hate monger might be the ultimate form of contempt, but hate unchallenged seems to be unfinished business.
    Few with such a rigid set of stupid motivating principles would be open to any real dialogue or even susceptible to logic, but it seems important to marginalize that kind of hatred.

  5. If anything, the shouty man on his soapbox is a powerful argument in favor of higher taxes for better mental health services. Freedom of speech includes the opportunity to be an object lesson: theo-cons perceive tolerance as weakness, yet here the strength of public civility is nicely demonstrated.

  6. I don't care if the guy was wearing a tuxedo. He is a whack job of the first order.