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.