Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tolerance at Columbia

I am often amused, and sometimes frustrated, at how the word “tolerance” rarely actually means tolerance to those who call for others to be more tolerant. The loudest advocates of tolerance are some of the most closed minded members of our society. Disagreement is an essential attribute of tolerance, yet the staunchest advocates of tolerance demand that others agree with them.

For example, a heterosexual who believes there is no moral difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is not capable of being tolerant because this person does not have a disagreement with the homosexuals who feel the same way. The only heterosexuals who are capable of being tolerant to homosexuals are the heterosexuals who believe there is a moral difference between the two lifestyles, yet chooses to treat homosexuals the same as they treat heterosexuals.

Self government and democracy are most often credited for the greatness of America. As I observe the world, I’m not so sure. I see a lot of democratic organizations and democratic governments that aren’t so great. Majorities can be just as tyrannical as a single tyrant. I believe America became great because early on in our history the leaders decided that Americans had a right to be left alone. Diversity and true tolerance are a part of our historical fiber.

Many American Universities claim to support and allow tolerance, but few actually allow disagreement or divergence from political correctness in state schools or orthodoxy in private schools. Opponents of human caused global warming, evolution, or affirmative action are labeled ignorant or hateful and are never tolerated.

By inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, to speak at Columbia University, President Lee Bollinger is practicing tolerance if President Bollinger does not agree with the views of the Iranian President. I would like to believe we are witnessing tolerance at the University level, but I suspect we are witnessing a University and a University President who are intolerant of those of us who want to defeat radical Islam.


Anonymous said...

Muslims Against Sharia condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the decision of Columbia University to provide a speaking venue for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Apparently letting Akbar Rafsanjani speak at the National Cathedral was not the height of American Dhimmitude, because providing a venue for the world's foremost anti-Semite, whose proclaimed goal is the destruction of the USA and Israel, definitely takes the cake. What is surprising is that we don't hear any complaints from Columbia alumni who should be ashamed of their silence.

More on the subject: Why Does Columbia host Ahmadinejad?

Rick and Gary said...

David -- I couldn't agree with more that people who preach tolerance and open mindedness are often highly intolerant and closed minded. I learned that the hard way -- taking some of these folks at face value.

As for Ahmadinejad, I do think that it's an exercise in tolerance and political INcorrectness to let him speak.

Political correctness is all about the suppression of free speech if such speech is deemed offensive by politically powerful groups.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

I’m not sure. In some ways, letting Ahmadinejad speak is politically incorrect and tolerant, but in other ways, especially at Columbia, letting him speak is consistent with an anti-American, anti-American-military ideology. In a vacuum, I would give Columbia the benefit of the doubt, but since Columbia has a recent history of support for the extreme left, this act seems more like an act of intolerance towards people like me.

I was going to include in my piece how extreme tolerance is sometimes intolerant, but I decided to leave the piece as it was. I do think there are limits to tolerance. A man who would kill another person simply because the other person is gay, should not have a forum at a prestigious University.

Rick and Gary said...

Hi David -- Good point, although I believe that people should express themselves, especially people with kooky ideas that beg for the cold light of reason and debate.

Andrew Sullivan does raise an interesting question, "I wonder: would Columbia ever invite a right-wing extremist with the same views as Ahmadinejad on women, gays, Israel and the Holocaust? Or do you have to be a brown-skinned, terrorist-enabling, nuclear-proliferating, certifiable nut-job to get the invite?"

Kevin said...


Good point that tolerance is only possible in response to significant disagreement.

I would add that "tolerance" implies endurance of hardship or pain. It does not imply seeking or spreading such pain. Emphasizing Ahmadinejad's statements by giving them greater voice is not itself tolerant, though it may demand tolerance of others.

Furthermore, "tolerance" is often considered to be a moral virtue, but clearly there are a vast multitude of circumstances which we should not tolerate. Thus, I think that, morally, the term is a red herring.

The moral dilemma with choosing to spread Ahmadinejad's message hinges upon the validity of the message itself and whether it furthers an accurate understanding of him, Iran, Iraq, U.S., Israel, the Holocaust, etc.

The utility of considering multiple perspectives in discovering truth depends directly upon the quality of the perspectives themselves. Perspectives born of lies or confusion can be exceedingly detrimental. And so such diversity is also not inherently good.

So, I don't think we can escape the moral dilemma of considering the message itself by appealing to tolerance or diversity. There is a moral burden which lies with those who invited him to speak as it represents their general validation.


David M. Smith said...

Hi Kevin,

Very well said. In several paragraphs you have provided more eloquence than anything else I have read or heard on this matter. Thanks.

Tolerance does imply sacrifice by the person being tolerant, and I might add, should imply appreciation by those being tolerated. My daughters used to snuggle up to me to go to sleep in spite of my loud snoring which they tolerated, but did not like, which made it hard for me to be mad at them when they woke me up to crawl in bed. : - )

Kevin said...

What a nice compliment, David. You made my day. :)

Your snuggles example of the give and take of tolerance is simply too adorable. :)