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Paradox of tolerance (wikipedia.org)
78 points by onetimemanytime 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments



While I think this is true in some strict sense, I see a lot of people cite this as an excuse for intolerance against various groups. If a person can convince themselves that a group or person is intolerant, then the target deserves [unlimited] intolerance. And with a moral license like that, the standard for what constitutes “tolerance” basically vanishes. “Intolerance” becomes a property of groups we (especially people with powerful platforms like journalists and academics) already dislike.


It's already the case that you can ascribe any quality to any group by fiat and so therefore any criteria for being intolerant can be abused in the way that you say. There is nothing you can do to preclude dishonesty and sophistry.


I don’t know; we didn’t used to have such a problem with dishonesty and sophestry. Integrity and morality generally was sort of rewarded with social currency, but that was considered old-fashioned and we did away with it. It wasn’t a perfect system, but I think we may have taken a wrong turn.


I'm pretty sure Plato had been complaining about this stuff. I suppose we didn't use to have those problens before civilization became a thing.


To be clear, I wasn't arguing that never before nor anywhere in the world was there ever issues with sophistry and dishonesty. Plato didn't live in America in the 1990s and 2000s.


And that is the reason why the definition of free speech is in the US is so encompassing and has so few exceptions.


The issue you seem to have with it is that people are convincing themselves a group is intolerant, so your implication is that the group isn't really intolerant. I actually only rarely see people argue for "unlimited" intolerance of some groups - often, for instance, they don't pursue a legal amendment to absolutely stop these people speaking, but rather suggest a valid tactic would be to not give them platforms.

So the issue here ins't tolerance itsef, but rather its demarcation. I'm sure we would both agree that there are intolerant groups in society, and if the paradox holds any imperative force at all, then we ought to put our best philosophic and critical work towards finding in what cases that's true. That doesn't mean we should simply tolerate groups and stop looking into the matter.


> The issue you seem to have with it is that people are convincing themselves a group is intolerant, so your implication is that the group isn't really intolerant.

The phenomenon I’m describing is one in which people invent reasons post-facto for why their target should be considered “intolerant” and why they deserve the hate and harassment levied at them. If an example helps, consider Damore or the Christakis.

> I actually only rarely see people argue for "unlimited" intolerance of some groups - often, for instance, they don't pursue a legal amendment to absolutely stop these people speaking, but rather suggest a valid tactic would be to not give them platforms.

I didn’t mean to imply that people were calling explicitly for unlimited intolerance, but rather that it is implied when someone “punished” severely a member of their outgroup for an alleged infraction that would be considered minor by any reasonable person if it were true at all. For example, a racist journalist doxxing a teenager in a slanderous piece, rationalizing the treatment as warranted because the teen was wearing a t-shirt for a musician who had one vaguely misogynistic song.

> So the issue here ins't tolerance itsef, but rather its demarcation. I'm sure we would both agree that there are intolerant groups in society, and if the paradox holds any imperative force at all, then we ought to put our best philosophic and critical work towards finding in what cases that's true. That doesn't mean we should simply tolerate groups and stop looking into the matter.

I’m not sure if I agree with this or not, so I’ll just rephrase—this paradox is used to justify mobbing, harassing, threatening, and assaulting a lot of innocent people (or people whose infractions were trivial). We should do our best to minimize intolerance, but mobs virtually always do the opposite and we’re seeing a lot of that these days.


>this paradox is used to justify mobbing, harassing, threatening, and assaulting a lot of innocent people (or people whose infractions were trivial)

I don't think it should be used that way, since it should apply to things which are threats to democracy in the strongest sense, so I'd say it should probably include Nazis and anti-Semites but not include someone like Damore (for instance), as abhorrent as a person I think he is. Or rather, how Damore is treated shouldn't be covered by a rationalization on the paradox of tolerance.

I think our approaches differ in that I don't have so much of a problem with a non-value neutral society.


I think your approach is reasonable even if I don't see how anyone could possibly have a problem with Damore. Also, I'm perplexed about why you think I have a problem with a non-value-neutral society?


> true in some strict sense

But it's not! Many intolerant societies became tolerant, whereas the paradox implies something like that is impossible!


That's a good point. It's true that societies can lapse briefly (relatively) to intolerance, but on the whole, we seem to be constantly improving and moving towards a stable tolerance. People forget how brutal life has been historically, compared to now.


I can't think of any examples where a group is falsely labeled intolerant as a pretext to discriminate against them.


There are plenty of conservatives unfairly bucketed with the extreme right and regularly called Nazis. Due to this, discussion between the left and the right has pretty much disappeared as conversation is always shut down by calling them fascists. Mind you I am a leftist, but also a strong proponent of free speech and open discussion so this trend is disturbing to me.


I keep hearing this, but every time I dig in to the details, I find that the person or group in question is actually intolerant by any reasonable definition of the word.

I've yet to see any example of a truly tolerant individual or group being unfairly labeled as intolerant as a pretext to discriminate against them.

If you have examples, I'd love to see them.


It happens almost every day. The Catholic school boys vs the native American drummer for instance. Surely you saw the vitriol around that. If you watch the entire video of what transpired you'd find that it wasn't as clear cut as it was made out to be. See:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jVvpVRJ-NH4


Very aware of this. A viral video looked bad, but on further research, the story is much more complicated.

It appears the people who jumped to conclusions admitted their mistakes and within one day they're falling all over themselves to admit, apologize and disseminate the truth.

Looks to me like the system is working, and these outlets are not using fake intolerance as a pretext to discriminate against this group.

NYT - "Fuller Picture Emerges of Viral Video" (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/20/us/nathan-phillips-coving...)

The Atlantic - "I Failed the Covington Catholic Test" (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/01/julie-irwi...)


Certainly many people have recanted and that's great, but many others haven't; lots of influential people (including celebrities) are doubling down on their demonization of these teenagers (in some cases, including calls for doxxing and physical violence) to the tune of tens of thousands of upvotes and likes per post/tweet/etc.

Worse, virtually every mainstream publication that wrote about the story led with misinformation, and many failed to publish a retraction or an apology of any kind. And the retractions that actually do get published will never be circulated as widely as the original sensationalist publication ("lies travel faster than the truth" and all that jazz). The entire journalism industry failed at its principle responsibilities--to defer knee-jerk reactions in pursuit of the truth and to see past stereo-types and identity to the individual and the nuanced context. And the consequence was that dozens of students, family, and school faculty were harassed, slandered, and threatened. The only relief in all of this is that no one has acted on their threats.

I don't know how any decent person can call this a passably-functioning system. This is the textbook example of a deeply broken system.


Yeah I noticed that this one is getting called out as well. It's good that the whole video was released; also as it was children getting the brunt of it, it was necessary to correct the misconceptions.

Unfortunately this sort of retraction doesn't occur in the thousands of daily online discussions where the same sort of pre-judgement and labeling occurs every day. The media in it's clickbait culture has successfully divided the two sides, and they believe the other side is the epitome of evil, which leaves no room for discussion.

Edit: there could be a filter bubble effect going on here too. We all see different slices of online life. Pretty much all my follows are extreme leftist, so I see a lot of the behavior I'm discussing


Ah, no.

Black Israelites (weird sect) yelled racist stuff at the kids, which is not ok. Phillips moved in, drumming and chanting. The kids smugged up and started racist chants and dancing.

The black Israelites and the kids were the assholes.

The kid is obviously doing the whole "I'm not touching you" thing, but he is very much antagonizing Phillips in the (full) video.


I don't really want to get into a debate about the details around who was right and wrong during this conflagration, but to the point of this discussion, the teenager is not a fascist nazi for being quietly smug to someone who got up in his face with a drum.


People can be intolerant without being "fascist nazis" which is the entire point of this thread.

The initial assessment of the viral video were incorrect, and there's been an outpouring of mea culpas from media personalities.

But that error does NOT mean these kids are tolerant and accepting of differences in race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, etc. Indeed, the actions of these kids shows a high degree of intolerance.

The paradox of tolerance means that tolerant people should NOT tolerate the intolerant.


Why are the kids guilty until proven innocent? Why are so many people so desperate to rationalize intolerance toward children? They probably got their first dose of hostile, overt racism and, presumably having never been taught how to handle such a situation) thought this Native American guy was trying to antagonize them as well, and they responded in kind. Not the best way to handle it, but not the worst considering their age and the circumstances.

A charitable and likely interpretation is that Phillips and the kids mistook each other’s intentions. Neither the children nor the adult handled it perfectly.


They jumped around in mock tribal dance, doing mock chants, while laughing and jeering. They were quite obviously mocking his heritage, his culture and his religion, adding to a long history of oppression that includes literal genocide.

No matter what these kids heard from the black Hebrew israelites, there is no excuse for their behavior.

Add to this the videos that have surfaced of these kids (including many of the same kids from the first video) unprovokedly jeering at young women that "rape doesn't count if you like it" and similar misogynistic statements, it is abundantly clear that these kids are indeed bigots and should be strongly reprimanded for their behavior, not given speaking time on national TV.


His attitude and the actions of his schoolmates, while wearing MAGA hats (well-connected to white privilege and racism now) are evidence of enormous and smug privilege. He knows that he is pretty much untouchable, as a white male coming from a wealthy family with connections, the system has been rigged in his favor for centuries. His look is one of bemused contempt, "look at this silly man with his drum, doesn't he know that I can do whatever I want?"

There are centuries of racial and cultural tension at play, which must not be ignored.


This is the most racist thing I think I’ve ever read on HN and directed at a minor...


A better discussion of the issue:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjV7EDuL21M


That was a really interesting, insightful analysis. Very relevant to the thread. Thanks for sharing.


Eric Weinstein at evergreen state university. but if you’re an sjw you’ll probably think he’s also a nazi so idk


True but honestly anyone with established views is not likely to change views in a debate on a march, or street. Family, life, things that happen etc can change views.


It's funny that this paradox can be used to justify extremism on both sides:

left - we're intolerant of unfettered free speech because it leads to spreading ideas that destroy our specific version of tolerance

right - we're intolerant of certain cultures because the proliferation of those cultures leads to spreading ideas that destroy our specific version of tolerance


I have no idea why this is being downvoted.

Logically, that both these arguments can be made is a truism. Practically, we see versions of this on both sides every day.

It doesn't mean that the left and right are both wrong, or both absurd. It means that this issue can't be settled by principle alone.


Perhaps considering "tolerance" purely by itself is not the best approach?


> Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

-- Mosiah 29:26

It's not a paradox, it's just how democracies work. As long as the voice of the people are tolerant, it should be okay. You only need to start worrying if the intolerant are no longer a lesser part of the people and have an ever growing share of the voice of the people.

The thing I hate most about the "paradox of tolerance" is its ability to be weaponized to further political goals. All you have to do is re-categorize what your opponent(s) are doing as "intolerance" such that you can now safely be intolerant of them. Your opponent is religious? Find some aspect of their religion that could be considered intolerant by your target audience and now you can safely label your opponent a bigot and its all good since, after all, you are only being intolerant of intolerance!


This is a risk, but the risk cuts the other way too. From the Popper quote in the article:

> for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

Both things are true:

- Intolerant zealots (religious or otherwise) can weaponize tolerance against itself.

- Bigots can weaponize the paradox of tolerance for purely hateful aims.

You must contend with both of these realities. There's no avoiding judgment and practical considerations.


> Find some aspect of their religion that could be considered intolerant by your target audience and now you can safely label your opponent a bigot and its all good since, after all, you are only being intolerant of intolerance!

While there is a risk that this works in practice, it's not really coherent. Being intolerant of intolerance does not necessitate being intolerant of the intolerant.


> Being intolerant of intolerance does not necessitate being intolerant of the intolerant.

How does it not? At some point things come into conflict. As an example, religious views that condemn homosexuality as evil. Adherents of those views will, given the power, happily prevent gay marriage by force, or much worse. If you want to defend tolerance, you will have to stop them from doing that, also by force (political or otherwise). There is no way out of that.


"happily prevent gay marriage by force or much worse."

This seems to neatly capture the problem. If you can paint the other side as irrational, it excuses almost any pre-emptive bad behavior.

Believing something is wrong does not mean the adherents are out to kill people or use force against them. The adherents also think gluttony is an evil, yet candy bars and refined carbs remain freely available.

And so, at that level of careless prejudice, it does not justify the use of "force (political or otherwise)" to "stop them." The President might as well announce that Karl Popper supports the idea of a Muslim ban.


> This seems to neatly capture the problem. If you can paint the other side as irrational, it excuses almost any pre-emptive bad behavior.

I'd argue that this response neatly captures the flip side of the problem.

To quote my other post:

---

Both things are true:

- Intolerant zealots (religious or otherwise) can weaponize tolerance against itself.

- Bigots can weaponize the paradox of tolerance for purely hateful aims.

You must contend with both of these realities. There's no avoiding judgment and practical considerations.

---

So yes, you are right that "believing something is wrong does not mean the adherents are out to kill people or use force against them."

But sometimes it does mean that. You don't get to take the high road until you address what to do in those situations.


>Believing something is wrong does not mean the adherents are out to kill people or use force against them.

Most of human history disagrees, especially in the case of gay rights.


Yes, but the point is that you should be targeting the idea, not the person. That doesn't mean that what you do can't affect the person, only that you shouldn't do anything that affects the person beyond what is necessary to defend tolerance.

So, you enforce that gay people can marry, but you don't go after people who oppose gay marriage for their opinion.


Sure, I agree with this.

> you shouldn't do anything that affects the person beyond what is necessary to defend tolerance.

This is the tricky part. What if violence is necessary? You can claim it should always be a last resort, and I'd agree. But you can't claim that it's never necessary.


I don't think I did claim that? Yeah, it might well be necessary, sure. In particular, when someone is themselves using/threatening to use violence to prevent you from doing something that doesn't harm them. But the point is you (or rather, the state) then apply/ies as much violence as is necessary so that you can do what you have the right to do, but you don't beat them up to teach them a lesson. Or rather, if you do punish them in this scenario, you punish them for their use of violence, not for their idea.


Then we agree.


Almost every position can be framed as a demand for tolerance. I just want to drive above the speed limit. I'm not hurting anyone. You can drive in whatever speed you prefer. Everyone who tries to stop me is intolerant.

So implicit in calling someone "intolerant" without qualification is "intolerant of these things, that I think should be tolerated". This is how "I can tolerate everything except intolerance" becomes "I can tolerate anything except the outgroup"[1], that is, those people that have different ideas about what should and shouldn't be tolerated.

[1] https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/30/i-can-tolerate-anythin...


I think there is definitely a bit of sleight of hand going on in order for people to describe whatever outgroup they want as intolerant. In the footnote where he describes the paradox, Popper describes the intolerant's actions as:

1. being unwilling to engage in rational argument

2. forbidding their followers from listening to rational argument

3. teaching their followers to answer rational argument with violence

Usually when I see someone bring up the paradox of tolerance it is because they do not want to engage in rational argument and instead seek to justify pre-emptive violence against a person or group that is at most expressing intolerant opinions.


An idea not often discussed around this quote is that tolerance isn't actually virtuous, and, is perhaps itself a racist/classist/otherwise-exclusionary idea.

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior (in whose honor I had a day off of work today) never once called for 'tolerance', the boycotts and sit-ins were not a demand for tolerance - they were a demand for integration. To tolerate is to "otherise" - you are _allowed_ to continue being as your are, but on the outside. To integrate, you do not require permission, but you do not continue as you are - both "sides" are transformed by the process.

I think that we should abandon the idea of tolerance as an inherent virtue and look for pathways for mutually acceptable integration, rather than building rigid islands of tolerance.


I think this suggests a problem on how we use the same word to tolerance to describe accepting people and accepting ideas. And it's unfortunate that this word suggests an almost begrudging acceptance.

Obviously we should all make every effort to include people who are different from us. I think most intelligent people recognize that it's wrong to exclude or mistreat people because of race, religion, gender, sexuality etc. We should treat people with empathy and ensure that we accommodate their differences.

Ideas, in my mind, don't deserve the same standard of respect as people. In fact I don't think ideas deserve any sort of special treatment. Wrong ideas should be challenged and excluded and good ideas should be brought to light.

The problem with using the word tolerance to describe accepting people and ideas is that too often we conflate the two. I think the best example of this was when someone punched Richard Spencer and the internet broke out into debate on whether it's okay to punch a nazi. It seemed a misconnect between accepting people and ideas, like people couldn't recognize that we should be intolerant of Richard Spencer's ideas but still be tolerant of Richard Spencer the human being. And while it's good to attack his ideas, it's wrong to attack and harm the person.


This is just semantics. When people say that we need "tolerance," they don't typically mean that we should start to tolerate the intolerable; only that we should question whether or not our own definition of "intolerable" is perhaps too restrictive.

Here are a couple of MLK quotes... these clearly indicate a desire for tolerance, together with a desire for change:

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

Further, one can be tolerant and still desire (and work for) change. The world is not so black and white.


You've reminded me of David Brin's "Dogma of Otherness".

http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/dogmaofotherness.html

Basically this dogma of otherness is that in any discussion or situation, there is always room for another viewpoint. Everything is potentially valid. (This relates to tolerance, obviously).

This dogma is thoroughly the product/manifestation of western liberal elitism. To borrow your words, it's not actually virtuous, but an exclusionary idea.


Is this really something different than / opposed to tolerance? Or just a stronger state, of tolerance plus integration? I would argue that tolerance is one necessary part of integration, not some exclusionary alternative.


I think tolerance _alone_ is a "failure" scenario, and should absolutely not be considered a goal. Tolerance is, quite literally, a ghetto. We allow bad things to continue in the name of tolerance every day.

I might even go further to say that integration paradoxically _requires_ some degree of intolerance - the integrated whole should be intolerant of "negative" aspects of the unintegrated, even if they are things that would be seen as protection of "positive" tradition/cultural values by those in a strictly "tolerant" camp on either side.


Maybe we just need a new word for the phenomenon which prevents tolerance from progressing towards integration?


It's called ignorance. Ignoring the bad sides of any given thing. It implies being unreasonable - ignoring good reasons to not tolerate a given behavior.

Of course then there's camel nose/slippery slope fallacy so liked by intolerant. It is best to ask for evidence.


That's an excellent idea!

"Integration-preventative tolerance" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue though.


I forget where I first heard this, but "Tolerance is a peace treaty, not a suicide pact." As soon as one side has broken the treaty by being intolerant, they are no longer protected by the treaty. There is no requirement in a tolerant society to tolerate intolerance.


That sounds like a rephrasing of the quote, “The constitution isn’t a suicide pact.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Constitution_is_not_a_su...

It is most often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, as a response to charges that he was violating the United States Constitution by suspending habeas corpus during the American Civil War. Although the phrase echoes statements made by Lincoln, and although versions of the sentiment have been advanced at various times in American history, the precise phrase "suicide pact" was first used in this context by Justice Robert H. Jackson in his dissenting opinion in Terminiello v. Chicago, a 1949 free speech case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The phrase also appears in the same context in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision written by Justice Arthur Goldberg.


You're right. I seem to have been paraphrasing a blog post[0] I read a few years ago.

[0] https://extranewsfeed.com/tolerance-is-not-a-moral-precept-1...


That was a very interesting read. It occurred to me as I was reading that “peace” as a moral precept is ostensibly central to Christianity, right down to not defending yourself. Obviously that doesn’t describe the actual history of the religion, an probably doesn’t describe any extant group. Any group that was so unwilling to defend itself was probably destroyed or absorbed centuries ago.

His descriptions really resonated with me, especially as regards the usual framing of the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Israel, so the usual rhetoric goes, is much more powerful than Hamas or the PLO, so they shouldn’t respond using that power. In essence they should suffer a death by a thousand cuts, because of how it makes people feel to see a weaker group lose to a stronger one. Of course it’s also a convenient bludgeon to rely on schoolyard logic to try and restrict people, groups, or nations from defending themselves.


Probably https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14964006

I remember seeing this comparison and finding it quite profound as well.


In a society where interests conflict I realize there can be no absolutes. My freedom to swing my arm ends where the other fellow’s nose begins. But the other fellow’s nose doesn’t begin in my brain, or in my soul either, as the religionists would have it.

-- Arthur Garfield Hays, "Democracy Works" (1939)

In a very Russell's Teapot way, it's fairly trivial to blow up absolute statements by recursing. This doesn't say much about the content of the idea, per se.


An interesting take on the idea expressed in your quote is Steven Smith's paper "The Hollowness of the Harm Principle"[0]; in it, he argues that the harm principle is regarded as so powerful because it seems to be just intuition - when a teacher on the schoolyard tells us "your freedom to swing your arm stops where Billy's nose begins" seems just such obvious common sense. However this can't be used for a justification for the harm principle, because as it turns out defining harm is the real issue. Smith argues that the harm principle is "hollow" - it is used as a vessel to carry the content of our ideas no matter what they are - so long as we can say they're harmful. Smith uses the example of someone who can be said to experience "harm" simply by knowing that someone is watching pornography, for instance. Smith actually takes up J.S. Mill himself - on utilitarian conceptions, what these anti-pornography people experience really can be said to be meaningfully harm.

The quote dosen't get to the point that law isn't (or usually isn't) about policing thoughts, even as the "religionists" would have it, it's about preventing action, and it is of course no secret that speech really can be harmful - assault, child pornography and threats, for instance - or to take it to the extreme, when I defraud someone's bank account online, aren't I just sending messages to the web server? Surely to stop me would infringe on my right to free speech, no?

>Richard Arneson observes that “emotional reactions to what one’s neighbors and fellow citizens are doing can be powerful and can be virtually unavoidable for persons who have not detached themselves from all personal concern for the quality of life in their community.” Arneson suggests that “we should think of citizens who would be appalled at the thought of living in a community that tolerates Roman-style gladiatorial spectacles as harmed by the bareknowledge that such events are occurring...”

[0] https://digital.sandiego.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=102...


To pithily recapitulate personalism (and what an appropriate day for it, too), I'm fond of this exchange in Carpe Jugulum as a rough heuristic for what constitutes harm:

There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example,” said Oats. “And what do they think? Against it, are they?” said Granny Weatherwax.

“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”

“Nope.”

“Pardon?”

“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.

“It’s a lot more complicated than that . . .”

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes . . .”

“But they starts with thinking about people as things . . . ”


What a wonderfully Kantian exchange, thank you for sharing that. Even if what she says is true, though it seems that there are instance of treating people as objects which some (most?) people do not consider to be harmful, at least in this society - employing someone under a wage, for instance (covered by Frederic Lordon in his great book on Marx and Spinoza) or pornography which some commentators deem to be identical to the objectification of the people it portrays (particularly women). Ironically, though, many thins which are harmful actually depend on recognizing (thinking) of people as human, and then denying that humanity - there must be something to deny. An insult comparing someone to dirt is only ever said because they recognize firstly that the person isn't dirt - and that's why it's effective. The principle is same with objectification. In pornography, for example, it's only appealing because the viewers know on some level that the people portrayed are more than objects, and the degradation they experience is part of the show, precisely what makes it so titillating.


I was thinking more of Martin Buber. What little I recall of Kant right now is probably on point, though -- as i recall, he was on board with "humans have intrinsic worth".

"treating people as things" doesn't necessarily mean that you believe that people _are_ things -- as you note, a willful blurring of that line in the knowledge (even subliminal knowledge) that you're acting in bad faith is, perhaps, where "it" starts in the first place.

To your examples: Employing people does not necessarily constitute treating them as things; many sharp critiques of the labor market basically center around the idea that treating your employees as things is both unnecessary and harmful.

I don't necessarily agree that pornography is obligate depersonalization -- c.f. The Stranger's HUMP fest, for example, which seems pretty person-ful to me.


With regards to employment, I see there being a continual trend towards making people as fungible as money when it comes to running an efficient business, this fungibility is predicted by the fact that when it comes to money, a form of wealth in capitalist society, labour is its source, and the most "rational" decisions thrift-wise are made with regard to only labour in abstract rather than concrete form. The theory of commodity fethishism plays a role in this too - but yes, in these theories the labour is objectified but the worker is not. As much as it is not necessary to treat the worker as a human as opposed to a machine you turn on during the time you are allowed to rent it, the necessity can often become quickly apparent even to the most sympathetic employer[0].

I think the point with porn is similar to the previous one, in the sense that porn which resists commodification is often the sort in which the people portrayed are doing it for their own sake as much as they are some kind of artistry. The critique of pornography is framed around porn defined as a kind of inequality while the rest could be better termed erotica. I don't personally think the distinction holds up to much scrutiny (there's half on an entry in SEP going over this issue) but it's reasonable to say that objectification is common in industrial pornography in particular - which despite its diversity of themes tend to boil down to this rather simple idea.

[0] "To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose [i.e., seen through rose-tinted glasses]. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them." (Karl Marx, preface to the first German edition of Capital)


This is the same problem that utilitarianism has. Assigning things based on who gets more pleasure from having them is awful from a systems perspective, as the incentive it provides is to want things more and shriek more loudly when you don't have them, not to do anything useful.


I don't see the paradox.

If intolerant speech turns into violence, extant rule of law gets triggered. I believe most countries have conspiracy laws to deal with groups that plan out a path from speech to violent destruction. So unless this is a "bootstrapping" thought experiment, I don't see the problem.

On the other hand if intolerant speech doesn't generate violence, then the speech should not and cannot be curtailed without being unconstitutional-- at least in the U.S.

Now, think of the common modern case which does an end run around what I've said. That is-- large sums of money paying for a) public relations to manipulate the public into voting/acting against their own interests, and b) using the resulting power to further corrupt the democratic process.

Where does intolerance come into play in that scenario? AFAICT not at all.

Now suppose society believes the paradox of tolerance is a thing. They will attempt to use intolerance as a kind of "emergency tool" to combat what they perceive to be an anti-democratic PR manipulation campaign. But the PR manipulation campaign already beat them once-- otherwise the democratic process wouldn't have gotten corrupted. It's like playing a chess game against a team of 10 grandmasters who corner you, and then you agree to let them add ten queens to their side if you can add one to your side.

So a) I don't see the paradox, b) anti-democratic forces don't need intolerance to prevail, and c) introducing intolerance into the defense of democracy gives the enemies of freedom a force multiplier.

Edit: clarification


Cornell law professor Robert Hockett argues that "to tolerate" and "to not tolerate" are infinitives (verb forms) that require a direct object to make any real sense.

Some infinitives don't need a direct object — like "to dance" or "to sigh."

Other infinitives do — like "to hit" and "to give." No one simply gives in the abstract. They always give something.

Likewise, Hockett argues, no one simply tolerates in the abstract. They always tolerate (or don't tolerate) something.

A consequence of Hockett's way of speaking about tolerance is that no one can ever really be said to be "tolerant" or "intolerant" generally — that is, without any qualifiers. They can be tolerant of this, they can be tolerant of that, but they can't simply be tolerant. Indeed, the only direct object they can't be tolerant of is "everything" — which would mean the same as being tolerant with no direct object, which would encompass intolerance, which would be paradoxical.

Oh, sure there might be some people who are intolerant of just about everything ... but even "just about everything" constitutes a direct object, if a broad one.

As long as it's "just about everything" and not "everything" (which would encompass intolerance itself), then there is no paradox.

---

Catholic archbishop Fulton Sheen on the false understanding of tolerance that permeates our culture, from his 1932 book:

"There is no other subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance.

"Tolerance is always supposed to be desirable because it is taken to be synonymous with broadmindedness. Intolerance is always supposed to be undesirable, because it is taken to be synonymous with narrow-mindedness.

"This is not true, for tolerance and intolerance apply to two totally different things. Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons.

"We must be tolerant to persons because they are human; we must be intolerant about principles because they are divine. We must be tolerant to the erring, because ignorance may have led them astray; but we must be intolerant to the error, because Truth is not our making, but God's."


I've seen this many times, but I've never really bought it.

I will draw an analogy: "The Paradox of Democracy".

---

"In order to maintain a democratic society, the society must prevent undemocratic members from voting.

"Unlimited democracy must lead to the disappearance of democracy. If we extend unlimited democracy even to those who are undemocratic, if we are not prepared to defend a democratic society against the onslaught of the undemocratic, then the democrats will be destroyed, and democracy with them."

---

This is in fact, what many have believed for centuries -- that of evils of populism will overwhelm democracy egalitarianism.

I understand the view, but on the balance, I believe it to more false than true.


It's implemented; in germany we call it "Defensive Demokratie" (defensive democracy); a democracy with the institutions to defend it from itself to ensure that democracy continues. It's a product of post-WW2 germany, so it's quite understandable on the why of it's existence.


I think your analogy is kinda missing the point. The point isn't that you somehow have to sort people into "tolerant" and "intolerant", and then remove the rights of those you have categorized as intolerant. The point is the simple observation that tolerance is not unconditionally a virtue, but rather lends itself to its own destruction when regarded as such, and therefore you should have a limit on your tolerance if you actually care about it.

And that is obviously true of democracy as well: Democracy can be used and has been used to put dictators into power, and if you actually care about democracy, you therefore should have a limit on what democratic decisions you are willing to accept, and not just go with whatever the majority has decided as the supposedly "most democratic" way of making decisions. So, yes, you kinda have to "prevent undemocratic members from voting", but you may not need to sort people into "democratic" and "undemocratic". You can do it by banning undemocratic parties, for example. Or you may not need to really do anything at all, except for watching out for when something does need to be done.

Noone is saying that "populism will overwhelm democracy". But it obviously can, and has, and you should not discount that possibility, and refuse to prevent it just because it is superficially "anti-democratic".


[flagged]


nearly 50% of the population either doesn't pay any taxes and/or are primarily subsidized by government entitlements.

Five Myths About the 47 Percent

https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/five-myths-about-the-47-p...


The more precise statement is that 45% of U.S. households pay no federal income tax. [1] [2]

There are other kinds of taxes, such as sales tax, payroll tax, gas tax, etc. But talk about raising taxes usually focuses on income tax since nearly half of Americans don't pay it anyway.

In fact, the top 1% of taxpayers pay 39% of the federal income tax burden.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/beltway/2015/10/06/new-estimate...

[2] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/81-million-americans-wont-...

[3] https://taxfoundation.org/summary-federal-income-tax-data-20...


>> "the US has become where nearly 50% of the population either doesn't pay any taxes and/or are primarily subsidized by government entitlements."

I don't know if this is true (probably not), but let's pretend it is.

Framing is everything.

Try this: "50% of the population is too poor to be taxed."

The judgement shifts from those with the least to those with the most.


The root word of tolerance is toler -- to endure.

The dictionary definition is a bit different, to accept.

The "working definition" goes even further, to affirm.

Those who do not affirm my beliefs are therefore, intolerant, and we can purge them from society.


Pure post-modernism, distilled.


Nietzsche touched somewhat on the paradox of tolerance with the last men; a society in which everyone is pacifist, living comfortable. Conflict and challenges have been eliminated. Individuals are tired of life, take no risks. A life where no intolerant people exist.

Suffering is necessary for life, he argues ("That which does not kill me makes me stronger") and that likely includes the tolerance we extend to others.

How much suffering should society endure by intolerant members to ensure it grows into something better? A difficult question (there is probably no answer).

IMO some intolerant individuals, must exist in society for society to progress and grow, to drive progress for the sake of leaving the intolerant behind and to show us a mirror of our worst selves and a starting line we must grow distant to.


I guess the meta consideration for Nietzches world is that it also must be that case that everyone tolerates that world and that no one is intolerant of it, because if any individual is intolerant of that particular world and that particular life they will chose not to live it and break that world.

What I take from this is that there is just an endless dialectical loop that will play out ad infinitum where one group will vie for power over another and at some point succeed and they in turn will have the same thing happen to them.


Possibly, yes. The senseless up and down of society has, however, driven humanity to land on the moon, so I guess it's good enough to keep us going.

So as long as it keeps going ad infinitum, that's also progress; constant change.


I disagree it's progress. I think it is just constant change. I also think it's likely unavoidable, so I don't lament about it too much.

Actually when I read Why Nations Fail was the first time I realised that things don't only go in the direction of progress and that sometimes all the progress a society has made is erased and things revert. That got me to consider that it will happen to us at some point too.

Actually, though this is an interesting point to philosophise on and I find Nietzsche a fun thinker. I guess what you are alluding to saying that this endless loop is always driving forward progress (or maybe your distinction is that it is always progressing and that isn't necessarily a value judgement on whether the 'progress' is good or bad, just that the situation is always becoming different), is that perhaps and I think that in some way this is the case that our actions and the record of it sort of acts like a ratchet. That is, it turns one way and once it turns that way it doesn't turn back the other way. That's analagous to 'some things can't be unseen' I suppose. Even if it's all reset you can't negate how far we did come this time.


>or maybe your distinction is that it is always progressing and that isn't necessarily a value judgement on whether the 'progress' is good or bad, just that the situation is always becoming different

That would be part of it, not all progress is what we think of as good but it's progress, evolution of the status quo.

The ratchet analogy also fits IMO.


Maximizing tolerance is a poor moral framework. All societies and people differentiate behavior last between tolerable and intolerable. As a culture, there is pretty much universal agreement that murder is intolerable.

There are however, differences between societies as to what is considered tolerable. The US considers making fun of deities tolerable, while in other societies blasphemy is intolerable and punishable by death.

Toleration can also evolve. Prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, explicit racial discrimation and segregation was considered tolerable. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we have signaled that that behavior is intolerable.

In addition, toleration has a pragmatic aspect. You may believe a behavior to be wrong, but it is not worth going to all out war over. For example, prior to the Treaty of Westphalia, Catholic principalities thought that their Protestant counterparts were intolerable and vice versa. However, after the 30 years war, while both Catholics and Protestants may not have liked each other, but decided that religious war between states was not worth it.

At the extreme end, toleration is deciding what behaviors that you do not approve of are worth killing and being killed over, and which are not. Less extreme are deciding which behaviors you do not approve of are worth losing family, friendship, or business over.

Toleration is by definition the tension between moral purity and inclusiveness. If we view it like then we can more logically talk about where the line between tolerable and intolerable should be, rather than both side putting forward sophist arguments why their opponent is intolerant and thus should not be tolerated.


Popper's thought experiment is one of those neat little packaged concepts that people hear about and say "oh, right" and nod along with without really questioning its fundamental premise.

From a practical standpoint, nobody reasonable would say that a society must be always tolerant to everyone, all the time. All tolerance has a limit in the real world. Furthermore, a society can certainly accept a modest level of intolerance before it starts to encounter serious problems. Little examples of intolerance happen every day, in every city and country in the world, and yet we keep shuffling along.

Everyone also tends to ignore this part of his quote: "In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise."

Popper follows this by saying that society must claim the right to suppress intolerance if it becomes a serious danger, but he is arguing against a strawman. Almost everyone would agree with this.


It is a mistake to treat tolerance as a binary quantity (which is hinted at in the use of the phrase "unlimited tolerance"). Rather, the appropriate question to ask is, what degree of intolerance should be given to which actions, in order to form a high-tolerance stable equilibrium?


> for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.

This works until group A decides that group B is indeed acting as described above, and moves to destroy them. It's just an application of paranoia, and being an American I see it from both left and right.


> Intolerant zealots (religious or otherwise) can weaponize tolerance against itself.

> Bigots can weaponize the paradox of tolerance for purely hateful aims.

If tolerance and the paradox of tolerance can both be weaponized equally easily, what does this make of the recommendation for not being "tolerant of the intolerant"? Isn't it simply a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't"?


The paradox of tolerance (which some say isn't truly a paradox but I think that's beside the point of its content) was supported by Karl Popper, famously a defender of what he termed "the open society" - but interestingly a much more aggressive and partisan option was put forward by an intellecutal rival to whom he was almost completely opposed - Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse's essay is a good read, whether you agree with it or not, for a different take on the issue at the height of what Marcuse saw as widespread dulling of our critical faculties.

J.S. Mill's democracy relies on the populace being informed - any attempt to block the populace being informed is therefore a threat to democracy. If democracy is blocked, democratic means cannot be used to solve the problem. Hence, Marcuse argues, we might have to resort to apparently undemocratic means to resolve such a conflict.[0]

[0] https://www.marcuse.org/herbert/pubs/60spubs/65repressivetol...


I think you're getting downvoted 'cause you've taken Paradox to imply contradiction or impossibility - which it doesn't (merely the appearance or illusion of impossibility.)


I didn't really want to comment on what 'paradox' meant - I really don't think it's important, whether it's a true paradox or not doesn't matter to what the concept is trying to say. I wish it wasn't named "paradox" such that people could stop worrying about the naming and start talking about the concept it proposes instead.


I agree, so it's a shame your comment was misleading re the meaning of "Paradox"; I think everyone leapt on that error, I doubt they disagree re Marcuse.


If the definition of tolerant society S is one where everyone is tolerant of one another, then by definition it can't include anyone who's intolerant of at least one person in S. The intolerant person simply doesn't belong in S.


I think this just shows that tolerance is a self defeating concept. Perhaps the celebration of tolerance should be replaced with celebration of other virtues like humility, empathy, patience, understanding and honest debate in search of truth. Tolerance itself seems to be bred out of the nihilistic view that there are no ultimate truths and thus all ideas are to be equally tolerated.


> Tolerance itself seems to be bred out of the nihilistic view that there are no ultimate truths and thus all ideas are to be equally tolerated.

That's what the intolerant say to make tolerance seem absurd. All that tolerance is about is the recognition that there are lots of different ways to live that are compatible with the same, real, "ultimate truths", and that just being different doesn't mean you are wrong. Interpreting that to mean that there is no right and wrong is simply a straw man.


I think there's a conflation going on here between tolerance of ideas and tolerance of people. My statement was regarding tolerance of ideas, you're talking about tolerance of people.

So attacking people for living a different way is obviously wrong. At the same time, if a lifestyle is based on bad ideas, it seems like a benefit to attack those ideas.

So applying this to real world example, my culture has the caste system which some experts say has been as damaging for the lower caste individuals as slavery has been for people in the West. Demanding tolerance of the caste system because we should 'tolerate different ways of living' is absurd. It is a bad idea and should be challenged. I see nothing wrong with being intolerant of caste systems. This is a case where there is obvious truth vs untruth - ie. the caste system is based on beliefs about reincarnation which we now know to be false. Calling for intolerance of this untrue belief is in no way the same thing as calling for intolerance of or mistreatment of Indians or Hindu people.


> So attacking people for living a different way is obviously wrong. At the same time, if a lifestyle is based on bad ideas, it seems like a benefit to attack those ideas.

Yes. But the point is that it should be attacked because it is a bad idea, not because it is a different idea. There is no need for tolerance to be limitless in order to be considered tolerance, just as there is no need for democracy to accept the election of a dictator in order to be considered a democracy.

> I see nothing wrong with being intolerant of caste systems.

Sure. But that doesn't mean that you are intolerant, the same way that attempts to assassinate (democratically elected) Hitler were not anti-democratic. It is neither necessary nor helpful to define those terms in such a way that they are self-defeating, there is a useful concept there that can sensibly be labeled "tolerance" that encompasses only the non-self-defeating aspects of tolerance.

> ie. the caste system is based on beliefs about reincarnation which we now know to be false

I am not too familiar with it, but is it really something that we know to be false, or just something unfalsifiable and therefore epistemically irresponsible to accept, as most religious claims the world over are? Not that it makes any difference for the relevance of those beliefs, but it's usually better to avoid an unnecessary burden of proof ;-)


>I am not too familiar with it, but is it really something that we know to be false, or just something unfalsifiable and therefore epistemically irresponsible to accept, as most religious claims the world over are? Not that it makes any difference for the relevance of those beliefs,

But that's just the point, if reincarnation is a valid belief, then the caste system is valid as well. The two justify each other. The caste system posits that your social status (caste) in this life is a result of your actions in the previous life. It's based on the theory of reincarnation that you will be born again and your next life will be determined by your actions in this one.

Reincarnation is only 'unfalsifiable', because of the nihilistic version of tolerance. Under any fair standandard it's properly classified as wrong. There is no rational reason to believe that you switch bodies after death. No rational person should believe such things absent strong evidence. It is mere superstition. We should be able to say that. Superstitions and false beliefs can and do cause harm, as with reincarnation upholding the caste system.

I think it's this misplaced notions of tolerance (like saying it's merely unfalsifiable rather than calling it what it is - wrong - that allow bad ideas to persist. And let's be honest, to say that belief in reincarnation is as valid as scientific beliefs or beliefs based on reason is basically a nihilistic denial of truth.


> Reincarnation is only 'unfalsifiable', because of the nihilistic version of tolerance.

No, it is unfalsifiable because there is no way to prove it wrong even if it is wrong, that is the definition of unfalsifiability, and has absolutely nothing to do with tolerance.

> There is no rational reason to believe that you switch bodies after death. No rational person should believe such things absent strong evidence. We should be able to say that. Superstitions and false beliefs can and do cause harm, as with reincarnation upholding the caste system.

I agree with all of that. But none of that gets you to "and therefore, this is false". The position that it is false is equally unsupported by evidence, and hence that no rational person should believe it does apply to that claim as well.

> I think it's this misplaced notions of tolerance (like saying it's merely unfalsifiable rather than calling it what it is - wrong - that allow bad ideas to persist.

Except you don't know it to be wrong, and making that unsubstantiated claim unnecessarily puts you in a weaker position, because a believer will in many cases notice that your position is just as unsubstantiated as theirs and say things like "but your position also requires faith!", which is indeed correct, and thus allows them to defend their position against your argument.

The idea of reincarnation is not "merely unfalsifiable", it is unfalsifiable. It is irrational to believe unfalsifiable claims. When you try to argue that their position is wrong, you are taking on a burden of proof that you simply aren't responsible for and that you also cannot meet. You are essentially shifting the topic in their favour: The question is whether they know that reincarnation is real, and instead of showing that they don't know that, you shift the discussion to whether you know that reincarnation is not real. Whether you know that reincarnation is not real is completely irrelevant to the question at hand. They don't know what they are claiming to know, and that is why their position is irrational and not worth consideration.

If anything, the idea that you have to disprove all unsubstantiated, unfalsifiable bullshit before it should be considered irrational nonsense is what allows those ideas to persist, because it erects a barrier that is impossible to overcome. Showing that a claim is unsubstantiated and/or unfalsifiable should be enough to undermine the credibilitiy of any such claim.

> And let's be honest, to say that belief in reincarnation is as valid as scientific beliefs or beliefs based on reason is basically a nihilistic denial of truth.

And you know why? Because one requirement for a belief to be considered scientific is that is has to be falsifiable. Being unfalsifiable disqualifies any claim from being considered scientific.


If the law is the "intolerance" of society to those who behave anti-social, then yes it's true. But so many nowadays try to justify their own radical ideas by citing this...




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