I must confess, I hate buzzwords. Take “awareness” for example. Every October, we have “Breast Cancer Awareness” month. Is there really anyone in the developed world who isn’t aware of breast cancer? We don’t need awareness, we need money to fund research for a cure.
Awareness is a word that would be appropriate for things like the current Ebola scare where money isn’t necessarily what’s needed; people also need to be aware of how it is contracted, aware of how at risk they are, aware of what it actually is, etc.
As with many buzz words, “awareness” started off being used appropriately, then turned into a bastardized version of itself as people started applying it to every cause of the week. It’s not unlike the word “liberal,” which has a meaning quite the opposite of the ideology that drives most people today who describe themselves as such.
The buzzword I want to discuss however, which seems to be common in the current lexicon, is “tolerance.” The concept being that to each their own, live and let live, etc. This ideology is the core of libertarianism.
Democrats may claim to be the ones who are most tolerant of gays wanting to marry for example, but even our president was against it at the time of his election; libertarians were for it all along. The Libertarian Party is the true party of tolerance, and always has been. It is refreshing to see that sentiment is permeating through to the other two parties though, liberty is a principle that is near and dear to us all, thankfully. Some just take longer than others to champion it for those who are different from them.
I’ve outlined many times that issues are generally broken up into two categories: subjective and factual. The problem with “tolerance” is that much like “awareness” people often want to apply it in places where it doesn’t belong.
Would you tolerate someone who argues that two plus two is five or that the sun revolves around the Earth? We all have a right to our opinions, but no one has a right to their own “facts.” Facts stand on their own, despite whatever opinion someone may have; this is important to understand when dealing with the idea of being tolerant.
Whether it be gay rights, music preferences, or taste in cuisine, it is not uncommon to see people who are wrongfully intolerant of those choices by insulting them or demeaning them for such choices. Disrespecting someone or infringing on their rights because they disagree with you on such matters is always going to be an immoral practice.
The problem arises when people expect you to be tolerant on matters of fact. Since I’m quite opinionated, it’s not uncommon for me to lash out at people who I deem to be misrepresenting the truth. The difference between myself and someone who is intolerant, is I do so with people who make claims which aren’t supported by the evidence. Especially when they feel the need to disrespect me for not agreeing with them.
When I rightfully tell these people they are wrong, such as my last post about people who promote alternative medicine, I was not being intolerant, I’m protecting others from their lies (or non-facts if I give them credit for just being ignorant versus malicious). But I’m also making it clear I am not one to accept false information as fact. This distinction has a very fine line though.
Veganism and vegetarianism are perfect examples. There are two reasons to choose this dietary lifestyle. Some do so because they don’t want to be part of a group who exploits animals. This is a matter of opinion, and no one should rightfully disrespect them for taking that position. It’s a perfect example of when you should be tolerant.
But, if a vegan/vegetarian makes a claim that they have done so for health reasons, that is a claim of biological fact and should be scrutinized. Many studies have been done on the health effects of veganism, and it consistently has the opposite effect, depending on which aspect of health you’re focusing on. ScienceBasedMedicine.org has done a good job of gathering much of this information here. So choosing this lifestyle for that reason is not a call for tolerance, but for skepticism instead.
I’m not promoting the idea of taking that lifestyle away from a vegan/vegetarian, they have the right to choose so for whatever reason they’ve decided. But I won’t tolerate them encouraging others to choose that lifestyle for health reasons with no evidence to support that claim. They are essentially giving medical advice without a medical degree or any scientific evidence supporting them. Since the facts often don’t support their argument, it would be immoral for me to let such falsehoods go unchallenged.
The purpose of promoting tolerance is about the morality of judging someone based on their beliefs, not tolerating them spreading potentially harmful lies and/or misinformation. As P.C. Hodgell wrote in Seeker’s Mask, “That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be.”
This brings me to my “friends” on the left, because this principle applies to politics just the same. I strive to be tolerant of someone who prefers socialism, acknowledging that it’s OK for them to want a system where we collectively work towards a common good and pool our resources accordingly; all being managed by a benevolent governing body.
But they rarely give us liberty-minded folks the same deference. They argue socialism works, blatantly disregarding the historical evidence of socialism. But more importantly, they vote in people who force socialism onto me.
If I force liberty onto them, they would have the freedom to enter into their own oppressive sanctuary if they chose to. But if they force socialism onto me, I don’t have the option to be free. Clearly, I am not the intolerant one.