Tag Archives: intolerance

Abusing your tolerance

There are four standard ways of turning a tolerant person’s tolerance against them. This is how they are presented:

Method 1) You have to tolerate my intolerance or your tolerance is a lie. Hate speech is freedom of speech, silencing hate is dictatorial, oppressive and intolerant.

Method 2) Your tolerance is allowing terrible people to do terrible things. Most typically at the moment, if you are tolerant of Muslims, you are tolerating anything that can be pinned to a Muslim criminal, if not actively encouraging and endorsing it. It’s because of people like you that a Muslim gang was able to sexually abuse white teenagers in the north of the UK.

Method 3) Your tolerance is, in a round about way, causing people to do terrible things. People becoming fascists, perpetrating hate crimes and voting for psychopaths is basically a reaction against your dangerous, oppressive tolerance.

Method 4 ) Your tolerance is oppressing me. I want to celebrate Christmas, but your tolerance means it’s not politically correct for me to be straight, white, Christian, affluent, safe. Your tolerance is not really tolerance, your tolerance is a means of oppressing innocent majorities.

I see these go by regularly online, and I think it’s important to publically flay their dodgy hides off. These statements are used to silence and confuse people who are tolerant, inclusive, compassionate and generally decent human beings. It fails to recognise that what we want to do is extend those basics of human decency to anyone who is quietly minding their own business and not doing any harm. Tolerance doesn’t embrace violence, criminality or hate, regardless of who is doing it. That would be apathy. Tolerance doesn’t stop people from going about their own harmless business – tyranny does that.

Genuinely tolerant, inclusive people aren’t afraid of not ‘being PC’ if a person is acting dreadfully. We might want to talk about the context, but understanding the reasons is a whole separate issue. Being told you can’t do things because they aren’t PC, actually tends to come from people who are not PC. Like the whole celebrating Christmas thing – the idea there’s even a problem here comes from the anti-PC brigade and seems to be a self perpetuating myth.

The idea that inclusive people who don’t need everyone else to conform to their preferences are in some way the cause of people becoming Nazis, is one of the most curious bits of double think I’ve seen in a while. It recognises that the Nazi bit really isn’t good, or desirable, but rather than blame the Nazis amongst us, is blames the people who are doing most to try and resist that very thing. At this point I can only shake my head in confusion and point you towards my recent post on gaslighting.

This isn’t about logic, or reason, it’s about forcing other people to shut up. The kind of people who attack tolerance and inclusivity don’t, I suspect, really care if the logic holds up. It’s not about the logic, it’s about the winning – which is why arguing and reasoning is likely to be a waste of your energy. Tolerance is not obliged to embrace the intolerant in order to still count as tolerant. It’s not a freedom of speech issue. It’s not a question of oppression. It’s a matter of drawing a line, and saying that violence, the call to violence, and harming people for no other reason than your own hate, isn’t acceptable. An it harm none, do what thou will. Go round trying to cause harm, and there should be no room to demand the tolerance you would deny to others.


Practicing intolerance

It would seem more reasonable to assume that we should be practicing tolerance, with a hearty side-order of peace, love and goodwill. When it comes to recognising that something is merely different, tolerance is a great thing. However, I’ve tried being tolerant in all things, and what it got me was a lot of trouble. So I’m now studying the methods and mechanics of intolerance.

I’m not interested in drama, in upsetting people or causing offence (outside of politics!) so I am not going to manifest my intolerance in ways that will always start fights. That said, if there’s an important cause to stand up for, if I think a person needs arguing with, I’ll pile in. I’ll say what I think needs saying and then do my best to remove myself. I’m not offended by differences of opinion, but I am deeply offended by hypocrisy, flimsy arguments and people who have nothing with which to back up their assertions. “I imagine this and therefore it must be true” is not a line of argument I have any time for.

So far as I know, I only get this one lifetime. Beyond it, there are no certainties, only ideas and beliefs. I am therefore assuming this could be a one shot deal and trying to make the most of it. Time I give to being bored, irritated, upset and frustrated to no discernible purpose, is not time well spent. Every hour that I let someone else suck up with pointless melodrama is an hour I do not get back. Every day I have ruined by dealing with someone who is dependably shitty towards me, is a day I have lost. It is around these issues that I have been carefully and quietly practicing intolerance for some months now.
I’m finding it incredibly liberating. The power to say ‘I do not have to put up with this’ gives me a sense of autonomy. It is my life, and I do have some right to choose. In giving myself the power to discard that which does not suit me, does not please me, does not interest, engage or enrich me in some way, has increased the amount of joy in my life. It’s also freed up a lot of my time. One of the things that offends me is having my time wasted. If I boot out the time wasters, I have more time to deploy where I want it – time for the people who need me, for the people doing fabulous stuff I want to support, for the people I like and whose company I enjoy.

I’ve learned to shrug, walk away and say ‘not my problem’ and that’s such a lovely feeling. Not all problems are automatically my problem. I have the right not to engage. Asserting that protects me from all manner of miserable things. Most of the time I do not formally announce my intention not to participate in something. That can be a way of continuing the problem, not solving it. Time spent telling a person that they make you really unhappy and you don’t want to have to deal with this or that, is actually time spent engaging very specifically with them and inviting more attention from them. I’ve had rounds of people who wanted to spend a lot of time telling me how they can’t cope with me and are upset by me, and who wanted to hold me in a place of being the guilty, useless albatross around their necks. It wasn’t until I realised the power of walking away as a choice I could make, that I also recognised that sticking around to complain about how much of a problem I am (or anyone else), is also a choice. They do not have to stay and I would rather people feeling that way left. Staying specifically to have a problem with me is not a choice I have to respect.

Martyrdom, real or self-constructed, is not a healthy way for anyone to go. A good dose of well-considered intolerance seems to me to be the best antidote to this.


Suppression is failure

Right now the UK government are talking about filtering the internet, so that people have to opt in to be able to see pornography. Now, I’m no great fan of porn, but I have a lot of time for erotica as a genre, and I think a free and open discussion of all things sexual is really important to combat abusive behaviour. So, my fear is simply that in shutting down access to porn, we will also shut down access to other, far more important things.

However, it doesn’t stop there. We’re hearing noises about restricting access to sites about suicide, alcohol and smoking, anorexia, bulimia, and things esoteric. I realise that just by writing that stream of words I may be condemning my blog to invisibility, and that’s not a comfortable thought. There’s no certainty here, but a great deal that is uncomfortable. The only way to do this will be by blocking words. How do we differentiate, using a computer program, between a site that encourages suicide, and, say The Samaritans, who help people to live? How do we not filter out support groups for victims, sufferers, families dealing with alcoholics, and those who want to quit smoking?

What are we doing, cutting down our rights, as adults, to access information as we see fit? I do not like the idea that a government has the right to restrict access to perfectly legitimate information, and the ‘esoteric’ in the mix sets alarm bells ringing. That’s going to mean Pagans. It’s also going to mean businesses, authors, Harry Potter, and Disney, for how do you tell between one kind of magic and another? Someone is going to sue. Assuming it happens, and of course it may not because it is both silly and unworkable.

There’s also the small, practical consideration that suppression does not work. Even regimes that kill people do not manage to stamp out ideas, silence dissent, and eradicate unwelcome minorities. Hitler failed. China has failed to entirely subdue Tibet. Every country and culture that has ever tried to crush homosexuality has failed to do so. Every dictator who has ever tried to silence dissent and destroy opposition, has failed. Every last one. Freedom of thought prevails. Compassion survives, even in the face of violence and hatred. Ideas survive, even in the most authoritarian regimes. There are always those willing to face imprisonment and death for the sake of freedom and ideas. Always.

And on the other side, no amount of law making has stopped people from raping each other. No amount of public abhorrence makes child abuse go away, or stops people killing themselves, or poisoning their bodies with drugs. Look at prohibition America to see how that works in practice.

Suppression is failure. It is an acknowledgement that you cannot win the argument by rational means and/or that you do not have the will or the manpower to tackle the actual crimes and injustices. Making it harder to access porn does not make porn go away, it just sends it underground. You will not end pornography by banning it. Only a culture shift could do that.

We can make culture shifts. We can learn to tolerate differences of skin colour and sexual preference. We can learn to live alongside people who use other names for their gods and pray in unfamiliar ways. Or we can shift towards fear and hatred, and desperate attempts to create and maintain a power base. We can move towards control and restriction, narrow-mindedness and intolerance.

But here’s a thing. To be afraid, narrow-minded, bigoted and full of hate, is to be a bloody miserable person. No win there, either.

Where there is deliberate cruelty, where there is harm caused, where pain and suffering are real possibilities, we need laws to hold our cultural boundaries, and some means to tackle those who refuse to live co-operatively with those around them. We need to be careful not to mistake difference for offense, and we need to be less afraid of each other.

Dear government, please don’t blow an obscene amount of money making internet filters that restrict the free access of citizens to important information. Spend that money on police officers to hunt down child abusers, rapists and killers. Spend that money on education and improving attitudes to women such that the appetite for porn is reduced. Spend that money supporting the alcoholics, smokers, anorexics, bulimics and the mentally ill. Leave the esoterica alone. Thank you.


The mocking of pagans

It’s a popular sport in certain British newspapers. I won’t name them, they do not deserve any more attention than they already get. Paganism has become an emblem of ‘political correctness gone mad’ taking it seriously in any way is seen as the government bowing ot the loony fringe, upholding the rights of a few superstitious and misguided idiots. Then a few spurious and usually inaccurate ‘facts’ are chucked in as proof, feet are stomped, self righteousness expressed.

I think what infuriates me most is that these reporters aren’t stupid, just prejudiced. They cannot see beyond their own very narrow and frightened world views to consider anything else at all. Which is not healthy. We live in an age where the dominant philosophy is that there is one true way – which is ’rational’, consumerist, middle class, conformist, a bit like how we imagine the nineteen fifties might have been. We live with a consensus that trumpets the superior, rational, reasoned and scientific nature of its own thinking. The trouble is, it doesn’t bother to check the facts. I’ve read enough science to know that once you get past school-level content, science is big, scary, and often a bit insane. We’ve taken apart atoms enough to know that most of reality is made up of nothing in particular. Hard facts are never as hard as people want to believe they are.

Pagans are still an easy target for anger and resentment. Not least I suspect because we don’t tend to produce the kind of fanatics who may kill a person whose words they do not like. That’s very much to our credit. We will fight stupid writing by trying to offer something better, or by ignoring it. I’m not ashamed to be seen as a ‘soft’ target in that context.

It tickles me that people still default to the assumption that paganism equates to an irrational, superstitious belief in impossible things. The majority of pagans I’ve met are far less interested in belief than they are with engaging with the world in a meaningful way. The one we live in. The one our species seems hell bent on destroying. Given the choice between a pro-planet movement and a mindset that say ‘no, we can use all of this with impunity’ I know what looks like irrational belief to me. We have solid science for the existence of the placebo effect. What is placebo but the power of positive thought and belief? We know that the single biggest indicator of survival in life threatening situations, is belief. There are plenty of logical reasons to assert that belief, is not inherently irrational, it is a very powerful survival skill. Not necessarily belief in a deity, but belief in self, in ideas and ideals, in possibility. There’s not a huge practical difference between belief and hope.

There are tones that are easily audible in the articles that mock pagans. Resentment is there by the bucket load. There’s also a lot of fear, because any suggestion the world is not as you believed it to be, threatens many people. I suppose if it’s in your nature to mock, persecute, harass, denigrate and otherwise abuse, then not being on the side of the powerful is going to be a terrifying prospect. What if paganism took over? What if all those snide and cynical journalists found themselves in the vulnerable minority? They believe in tormenting vulnerable minorities, and they’ve seen The Wicker Man, so of course they’re worried.

The other thing I frequently hear in the words of people who live by mockery, is loneliness. I get a real sense that these are folk who don’t have a great deal of warmth and joy in their lives. The trouble with being cynical, is that it limits your scope for enjoying anything. You can’t celebrate, or cherish in the same way with a cynical heart. If you look at the world through cynical glasses, its very hard to form deep, trusting and emotionally satisfying relationships. The urge to mock and pick, the urge to put down in order to bolster up your fragile ego, is a ticket to sure fired loneliness. Human relationship calls for a bit more… well… humanity.

And of course when they publish the anti-pagan tripe, we roll in, we argue with them, we talk to them, we pay them attention. I fear it feeds the monster, and when you’re talking to someone who is selectively deaf, you can be sure they will only pick out the couple of things they wanted to hear. I don’t think there’s much to gain by arguing with them directly. It’s not what we say to these people that will change their minds, if anything can, it’s what we do. I have a great deal of faith in what the pagan community can, and will do into the future.

And no, I neither danced naked for Beltain, nor sacrificed any virgins.


The limits of tolerance

On the whole I think there’s a lot to be said for a ‘live and let live’ outlook. I prefer to think the best of people unless I have a very good reason to do otherwise. I don’t imagine everyone should think, eat, act, dress or believe exactly the way I do. But there is a line that can be crossed here. A point at which tolerance ceases to be honourable. It’s very easy for tolerance to become indifference, and mean turning a blind eye to the immoral, unacceptable and downright evil.
There are things it’s easy to point at and say we should not tolerate. Child abuse. Murder. War. Lying. Cheating. Anything dishonourable. For most of those (the exception for me being child abuse) it’s possible to think of scenarios where they would be acceptable. Lying is dishonourable, unless Ann Frank is in the attic and Hitler is at the front door. Life would be so much easier if there were clear cut lines about everything. I think much of the potency of honourable living stems from the sheer difficulty of doing so. And some of that has to do with how challenging it is to even figure out what an honourable course of action would be in any given circumstance.
Where do we draw the lines for tolerance? How accepting should we be? The only real measure we have for deciding if we find something objectionable, is our own subjective, emotional response to it. Our culture, personal history and beliefs will colour that.
I think if you encounter something you don’t like the first question to ask is, why? Be as precise as you can about what bothers you. The more you question yourself at this stage, the easier it is to work on the issue. It’s easy to identify a group of people who seem to personify something we don’t like – foreigners, teenagers, the poor, the rich, the religious, the non-believers, and ascribe characteristics. Most people reading this blog will be conscious of prejudice and guard against it in their own thoughts. But, there is a world of difference between saying ‘all teenagers are evil’ and ‘bored teenagers who have no self esteem can behave in ways I really don’t like.’ The more precise we are, the better. Sometimes, in the process of scrutiny we can find what makes us feel intolerant has far more to do with our own feelings, things we dislike about ourselves even, than anything external.
What harm does it cause? If no one, and nothing is suffering as a consequence, then it really doesn’t matter. And at the same time, if you look hard enough, pretty much every human behaviour can be construed as harmful if you can get to it from the right angle. Especially when beliefs get in the mix. Think of the fear of social and family breakdown that homosexuality seems to inspire in some people. Plenty of intolerance has to do with fear. So if you aren’t sure if it is fair to judge someone else, ask what, if anything, you are afraid their behaviour means, or could lead to. Ask what kind of judgements you are making about their right to choose, and the willingness of any perceived victims.
When is it ok to judge someone else? When would it be dishonourable to accept an action, statement or belief? How tolerant should we be, for example, of intolerant faiths and political stances that would, if given power, supress the very tolerance that allows it currently to continue? How much should we be guided by the fear of causing offence?
One of the hardest challenges facing a liberal society, is how to deal with illiberal elements within it. To force liberal values onto others makes a nonsense of the very values liberals cherish. And equally, to empower those who will use that to disempower us, is madness. If we want to embrace everyone, understand everyone, make room for every perspective, how do we do that without the most aggressive voices coming to dominate? How do we do that without giving a big, fat, useful platform to the people who most want to make everyone else conform to their view?
What can’t you tolerate, and why? It’s informative to make a list. Aside from physical abuses, I think the thing I’m least tolerant of is dogma and assertions of certainty where there can only be opinion. My personal feeling is that if people could reliably discriminate between facts and interpretations, facts and beliefs, facts and emotions… the world would be a much better place and most of these other tolerance issues could safely be left to evaporate.
What can’t you tolerate? Please do comment.