on tolerance

I’ve never liked the use of the word tolerance in public discourse because in my mind tolerance implies a superior/inferior heirarchy. Those who are tolerated get the short end of the flag pole, in other words. I tolerate is an ironic expression of power “over” someone.

Heterosexuals must tolerate homosexuals and so forth; gay men aren’t generally viewed as tolerating the straight. It doesn’t matter that logically such language and means of organizing are, in my mind, pointless.

To tolerate is, however, a better condition than outright hatred.

Now that the creation/evolution fight is back in full force all around the country with religion being presented as science, it would seem that even the slightest disagreement with the pious, in terms of religion or politics, is met with scorn, ridicule, and abstention from reality (and very little tolerance). A recent CBS poll claims that 55% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form. Current young earth creationists insist that the Grand Canyon was the result of the Biblical Flood. Intelligent Design proponents claim that nature is too complex to have happened via evolution. Nature demands a designer, they claim. Interesting “belief.” Belief for me is fine, but it shouldn’t be a part of a science curriculum. Belief is a matter of choice. Science doesn’t really ask anyone to “believe” anything, an idea which can be taken grossely out of context.

To tolerate ignorance is unethical. Why should I conclude that the Grand Canyon was forged a few thousand years ago and that humans were created by “God” in present form? What is the evidence for these contraptions? Where are the experiments?”


4 thoughts on “on tolerance

  1. gibb

    Once again, I get caught up in the semantics and will lose the point of your post. However, I must disagree that tolerance is an expression of power “over” someone.

    Perhaps because I’m so wrapped up in perception and an acknowledgement of the variance within any sample group of people, I would say that tolerance is a matter of levels or degrees; from acceptance to teeth-gritting keep-your-mouth-shut. Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines tolerance as anything from “freedom from bigotry or prejudice” to “the ability to endure.” That’s quite an open range.

    While I agree that “I tolerate” may sound condescending, it heavily depends upon the user’s perception of the word as well as the range of definition he tolerates and the circumstances to which he is applying it to X degree.

    Now, what were you saying about God? I do agree that science is based on foundations of fact, not belief, and while science can be used to prove or disprove (though it hasn’t as yet) a belief in a greater force such as a God image, it cannot be, as you say, something to be believed, but rather if proven, can be accepted as fact. On the other hand, if you want to believe something, you’re free to do so.

    The diatribe on “tolerance” was in reaction to your statement, “To tolerate ignorance is unethical.” It’s a good example of perception of words: My initial reaction was that THAT statement was snobbish and elitist, which was of course unbelievable because it was coming from you.

  2. Jason

    The use of the word ‘fact’ is a little distressing to me. The word should come with a subscript like (as known to date), seeing as any scientific ‘fact’ stands a good chance of being challenged or outright discarded wihin a few short years. One of the biggest stumbling blocks the scientific community has always had is the astonishing arrogance with which they view the fruit of their minds’ labors. (Ironic for me to be making this point, huh? }:)

    The word ‘tolerate’ is culturally loaded for sure, though. It brings to my mind the way the all-white suburb feels when the first minority family moves in.

    As far as ‘ignorant’? The word suggests not lack of knowledge, but as in ‘ignore’, a purposeful rejection.

    Jason }:)

  3. steve

    I wouldn’t want to overgeneralize into what’s really a character flaw that reaches across the spectrum, Jason. People may be arrogant, but such a characteristic isn’t limited to just one area of concern. Surely you’ve know arrogrant bricklayers?

    Really, the idea in the post goes to how we make decisions in a pluralistic culture, especially as they involve catagories. Over the course of the years, and this is certainly not of my doing, science has revealed pretty discrete and important methods of exploration. These methods don’t minimize the importance of spirituality or of religion, as we study in British Literature. They simply don’t apply to them.

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