The Tolerance Paradox

So conservative Christians appropriating the message of oppressed minorities is now a thing. They feel discriminated against when we call them bigots for disagreeing with their ideas that we're less than equal. Aren't liberals just as guilty of the same thing we accuse our opponents of?

If you follow the dictionary definition of "bigot" then yes, but herein lies the paradox of social tolerance. If we accept repugnant hateful opinions as equally valid to our message of social justice-- then we have no cause toward making change. I could technically be considered a bigot because I am intolerant of people who believe that blacks are a subhuman species who should live under the absolute rule of white supremacy. But in that regard, I'm just a bigot. Those people are racist bigots.

Intolerant people won't play nice and they won't come around to our way of thinking if we engage them in thoughtful debate (a.k.a. letting them walk all over us and pretend like their ideas have equal merit). The do not, nor have they ever, afforded us that courtesy.

Part of tolerance is allowing everyone to have their opinions. I am proud that my country allows vile groups like the KKK to gather peacefully. There is no greater demonstration of personal freedom than tolerance toward free speech. However my respect for these repugnant shenanigans ends with the constitution. The people who attend these gatherings are bigoted fucktards who should exit the gene pool and nothing they have to say will EVER change my mind on this matter. I would never associate with, or defend, someone who was a member of the KKK. On principle. I don't have to listen to or understand their opinion to know I disagree with it. I simply don't.

It's not my job to change their minds or bridge any cultural gaps any more than I should expect it of them.

Social conservatives may find it unfair that we can criticize them without leaving any socially accepted means to retaliate. But they brought this on themselves. Liberals have tried for the last fifty years to argue with reason where conservatives have responded with vitriol and empty rhetoric. Conservative, not liberal, propaganda has poisoned and polarized this country. I don't particularly like the "tone" or "toxicity" of the social justice discussion either... As a white male with full equal rights, I have more in common with conservatives than I do with blacks or transgender folk. I take a big risk any time I open my mouth about race, gender, or women's issues. It's not the warm fuzzy dialogue I'd like to have.

But this is America and we can't have nice things. The current tone was one set by social conservatives and their outrage driven media (Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Coulter et. al.) You have to fight fire with fire and sometimes you have to be a total dick-- a hard lesson we've learned form conservatives.

But calling someone a bigot is really not all that bad, considering. The social conservatives have, in the recent past, behaved very badly and hurt or killed a lot of people when they were in power. What they're getting is just a very small taste of:

  • sodomy laws
  • marriage inequality
  • redlining
  • slavery
  • voter suppression
  • segregation
  • police brutality
  • back alley abortions
  • mass incarceration
  • racial profiling
  • job discrimination
  • lynchings
  • gay bashing
  • church burning
  • getting disowned by family
  • negative media portrayal
  • being silenced
  • internment camps
  • eugenics
  • genocide
  • bathroom laws

All of these things (except slavery and genocide) were supported social practices in mid 20th century America. They would likely would be supported again by those who speak out against social justice and want to turn back the clock. We have not solved racism or homophobia by a long shot and our victory is fragile. At the end of the day, the good of making sure that none of this shit ever happens again outweighs the hardships of a pizza parlor, a Prop 8 supporting CEO, Orson Scott Card's movie, a flag celebrating a treasonous war for slavery, or some stupid reality TV shows.

Unlike the laws that either directly supported or tacitly supported this laundry list of oppression, shame is a powerful and non-violent way to enact social change without legislation. There's no law that says you can't be a bigot/racist/homophobe/sexist but there will be social consequences to actions, even if there are no legal ones. America (vaguely) disagrees that it's okay to be racist/homophobic/sexist.

Tolerance is not about turning the other cheek and giving hugs to Westboro Baptist Church; that's weakness -- something liberals have embraced to no good end. We've tried reasoning and those attempts have gotten us very little. I don't believe that ideology has a basis in biological difference-- as liberals we are not hidebound to be ivory tower egg heads who need to have a consensus vote over the Prime Directive every time we want to form a position. We do not need to be a herd of cats. Yes, we get into some pretty fucking stupid arguments over minutia, but we can generally agree on a pretty firm core of ethical principles: equality, fairness, freedom to live our beliefs (as long as that doesn't directly hurt anyone else), and compassion.

As social progressives we need to call bullshit when conservatives appropriate our language and say they're persecuted. We're right when it comes to equality and we're no worse when it comes to delivering our message in language they understand.


Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out October. Sign up for the mailing list for more info. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest . (You can also follow him on Goodreads and even Amazon)

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