Last weekend, The Gazette in Colorado Springs published an article on tolerance, written by Kamon Simpson. Unfortunately, the article is not online.
America is full of bickering and backbiting, bullying
and browbeating, and devoid of patience with people
Just ask anyone who stood on either side of the war
debate in the months leading up to Iraq.
In part, I blame the ever-shrinking amount of information contained in broadcast news. Americans have less and less information with which to weigh decisions. Instead, they have more and more sensational hype.
That ugliness (public incivility and threatening remarks) is apparent everywhere.
Listen to Rush Limbaugh on talk radio, or read letters
to the editor. Watch guests try to argue a point with
Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”
Listen to the tenor of public debate in America today
and try to find someone as willing to contemplate
as to shout down an opposing view.
Intolerance? Even the word is a problem.
Yes, it is. Where the general public continues to define tolerance as “respectful disagreement,” the religious right has been using strawman arguments to bury the common definition, replacing it with a “new tolerance” defined by “political correctness” and “a loss of (moral) conviction.”
Having broad-brushed the full range of tolerant Americans as licentious liberals, conservatives such as Josh McDowell condemn tolerance, asserting that what America needs instead is one-way tolerance that affirms religious conservatives’ interpretation of the Bible.
The Colorado Springs article continues:
“Someone’s tolerance is someone else’s intolerance,”
said Tom Minnery, a public policy vice president at
Focus on the Family.
This may be true — in no small part due to the campaigns of Focus founder James Dobson to stamp out tolerance of individuals and beliefs that are at odds with, or simply beyond, his own small definitions of family and morality.
The article eventually overcomes its quotation of Minnery, offering a succinct and comprehensive definition of what has been lost from tolerance, and should be restored:
Beyond semantics, intolerance means the lack of reciprocity,
an inability to endure differing views, beliefs and
practices. It also means that give-and-take, the mutual
exchange of ideas and opinions, disappears. …
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend
to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
We do not hear Voltaire quoted by either the religious right or the religious left. Instead we hear efforts by each side to silence the other.
Consider the war debate, characterized more by posturing
than an informed exchange of opinions.
Limbaugh, whose nationally syndicated radio talk
show draws an audience of 20 million, called war protesters
Anti-war activists responded with vague conspiracy
theories involving oil and right-wing imperialism.
For whatever reason, many felt the media neither accurately or thoughtfully engaged the issues. The televised arguments were as shallow as the news channels themselves.
The more radio talk show hosts polarize views, the
more cable TV hosts shout down their critics, the
more tainted public debate becomes at the grass-roots level.
… Nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill
argued the value of dissenting views. Every argument,
no matter how strong, had something to gain from the
opposite point of view, and the healthiest democracy
was one in which debate was allowed to thrive.
Most people don’t read Mill anymore. That, The Freedom
Forum’s Haynes said, is the biggest contributor to
“Most people are unprepared to debate civilly,” he
said. “As for the question of what type of public
square we have, we need to look at how we prepare
people to enter the public square. Most people don’t
want to find a way to engage each other with respect
“That doesn’t mean pretending that we all agree on
religion or sexuality or any of the other controversial
issues. It means that in a democracy, we have an obligation
to work together. That’s genuine tolerance.”