Limits of Tolerance

by practicalspactical

“Tolerance ends where harm begins.”

The essential ethical quandary of the 21sts century was brought into stark light by the actions of the morning of September 11, 2001, when ten men hijacked four airplanes full of civilians and piloted two of them into two of the the largest office buildings in the world, one into a government office-building serving the military of the largest military power in the world and crashing one into a field in western Pennsylvania. All this they did to advance their geopolitical goals. They were steeled by a particular conception of their religion, and their religion’s historical role, and the changes the world had undergone in the previous two hundred years, in which European peoples were able to dominate the rest of the world and imposse their cultures and political structures on these other peoples.

As European political philosophy neared the end of its own rationality, brought into rigorous objectiveness by the dialectic between its two predominant 20th century strains, communist authoritarianism and liberal capitalism, the own unfairness of its dominance which reflected power relationships Europeans and the others were increasingly uncomfortable with and unable to justify resulted in the rise of postcolonialism and postmodernism. The Death of the Western God led to the Death of All Gods — the removal of the curtain to reveal naked power politics (on both right and left) led to the great Crisis of Faith in our institutions and ethics. The devaluing of other cultures was replaced with a culture of tolerance — maligned as moral relativism, it was really a form of cultural relativism that admitted that our ethics and morals were the product of our histories, that they were contingent and could not be justified based on belief in some higher power or ultimate truth.

Yet, the lessons of evolution and of Marxian dialectic do propose another justification for certain of our ethical considerations: that the contending of many parties for their desires results in a dynamic consensus that is the best way we know how to approximate justice.  That justice, true justice, though the daughter of particulars, is the mother of all. That harm and waste are difficult to justify. That benefits should outweigh costs.

Can we be tolerant of intolerance? Why be tolerant? One reason is uncertainty — we are uncertain that our way is right even for us, how much more so should we not take away some one else’s way. Another is the prevention of monocultures — the process of evolutionary justice that brought the West to where it is requires many voices, all seeking their own good. This preference against monocultures is a preference — hard to justify intrinsically if our first value is tolerance.

Hence, our first value should not be tolerance. It should be humanity, with the freedom to pursue their own ends, since we are mortal and uncertain. Everyone must choose for themselves. A Choice that hurts others must be made susceptible to the pressures of others. We are all free, but also responsible to guarantee the freedom of the others, for loss of freedom to one jeopardizes our freedoms. However, we are not free to take away freedoms.

What about tax? It is a restraint by government to correct externalities of our actions.