(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)
(Welcome to the second installment of The Chart Project!)
I’m hardly the first person to observe the ironies surrounding intolerant, hate-filled people. Typically, they scream at relatively moderate people, then when they’re challenged, they scream about their intolerance not being tolerated.
(Needless to say, in the context of this discussion, “tolerance” refers to social tolerance of differences of culture, ethnicity, politics, ideology, religion, gender, sexuality... or anything else I’ve missed. It does not refer to permissiveness toward clearly criminal and destructive acts such as murder, corruption, etc.)
The easiest examples of intolerance are the religious right and other social conservatives, who constantly offer false equivalencies and traffic in hypocrisies. Let’s take Focus on the Family, for example. They insist that other people, not in their group, must live their lives the way Focus on the Family says they must live. Meanwhile, most of the people Focus on the Family target are not trying to get Focus on the Family to change the way they live, apart from wanting them to chill out and leave everybody else alone.
This is, of course, because authoritarians and zealots not only believe in one absolute truth, but they believe that they possess it and others do not. They view the world in highly hierarchical terms, which places them at the top of the hierarchy due to their superiority. For them, free will and choice are inconveniences or irrelevant — people cannot be trusted to choose anything for themselves, because then they might choose something the intolerant group doesn’t want. For the intolerant group, how you want to live your life and how they want you to live your life should carry equal weight, and if you don’t feel that way, you’re “intolerant” of them. Actually, that’s too generous, because they actually believe that how you want to live your life is much less important than how you they want you to live your life. This is the heart of the false equivalency and hypocrisy they practice, even if they’ve not consciously aware of it. They want control of your bodies, your behavior, your thoughts, your very beings. The tolerant people say, “You live your life the way you want, and we’ll live ours the way we want.” The intolerant people say, “We’ll live our lives the way we want, but you must also live your lives the way we want.”
This is why, legally, socially and morally, we need a tolerant society. If we look at this graphically, we might get something like this:
A tolerant society allows room for both intolerant people and tolerant people. However, the tolerant people are protected to some degree from the intolerant people. (Of course this chart is not proportionately representative, since in America more people are basically tolerant than not — although when if comes to anti-gay marriage laws, one could certainly argue this point.)
This chart doesn’t quite capture the dynamic of zealotry and intolerance, however. Let’s take a look at this one:
(Click for a larger image.)
This is more accurate, even if the groups are still not represented proportionately. It’s important to remember that intolerant groups are not all unified. They hate other intolerant groups as well. While different intolerant groups may join together on some issues for political gain (as would be the case for religious fundamentalists of different denominations or even faiths banding together to squash them homos, for example), in their natural state they are oppositional. Luckily, as a general rule in America, there are more socially tolerant people than all the people in intolerant groups combined.
It’s also important to note what strident, intolerant groups really want — a hierarchy with themselves at the top:
This is authoritarian rule, in whatever form it may come, be it an oppressive theocracy, Stalinism or some neocon/authoritarian conservative dystopia they would view as heaven on Earth. Everyone other than the dominant dogmatic party is miserable and/or severely restricted in an intolerant society. Again, intolerant people can live their lives just fine in a tolerant society. Who cares if they’re unhappy since they’re not allowed to meddle in everyone else’s life? These societal models are why the policies and goals of authoritarian conservatives are not equally as valid or valuable as those of liberals, moderates, and non-authoritarian conservatives. If we believe that society should benefit the majority of people, but also protect the rights of minorities (in any sense), there’s simply no question that a socially tolerant society is superior to an intolerant one. (Put another way, the American system of equality for all people is superior to an authoritarian hierarchy of superiority for a few.)
As the Declaration of Independence states, all men (and women) are created equal. Religious theocrats and other authoritarian conservatives wish to upend the core principles of our country’s founding to impose the rule of Animal Farm: Some are more equal than others. Let’s be honest — intolerant people can be extremely obnoxious. But tolerant people uphold the principle that ‘I may hate what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.’ (In contrast, intolerant people will fight for you to burn in hell.) Ironically, intolerant groups use their freedom to try to strip it from others, and seek to destroy the foundations of the very system that grants them freedom. Part of the price of a free society is that intolerant people must get their say — if they did not, their cause would win even if their individual group did not. However, the best way to oppose dangerous speech is to speak out one’s self. Authoritarian conservatives cannot be trusted with power, and must be challenged each and every time they speak or act.
None of this is particularly original or profound. However, it may be useful to rebut some of the usual bullshit flung about by authoritarians.
(Tomorrow, we take a look more specifically at religion.)