The idiot’s guide to tolerance

The word ‘tolerance’ is often thrown around but rarely defined these days. Since this kind of vagueness bothers me I decided to write a manual for those not bothering to think on their own, where I categorize the various ways in which one can be offended . Another person doing something we dislike can, I believe, take three different forms. Consider these three categories of things people can do that you disagree with:

  • Third degree offenses: This category includes the non-negotiable issues, acts that not only cannot ever be tolerated but that should also be suppressed with force. We are talking here about arson, sexual molestation and other physical violations of one’s fellow human beings. Obviously there is a scale when it comes to these matters too, murder is worse than a slap in the face and abduction is worse than mere theft of property and so on. The common denominator in this category is that these acts are all physical rather than verbal in nature, and that they are the reason why we should maintain police forces.
  • Second degree offenses: Now things will start to get a bit complicated and important distinctions will have to be made. This category is made up of actions which are morally reprehensible but intellectual rather than physical in nature. One can still judge a person for committing these acts and holding the opinions that underline them, but any response must likewise be intellectual and not physical. As a neutral example imagine someone spreading the message that all people taller than 188 cm  cannot be trusted in positions of power. Such a statement would be absurd and also wicked, and were I to hear someone make it, I would both pass moral judgement on that person as well as actively work to spread the opposite message. I would also try to convince others that the person making the claim should be shunned from polite society. But there would of course not be any violence involved in my response and I would be the first person to accept that freedom of speech certainly protects the spreading of this kind of filth, whatever we may think of it.
  • First degree offenses: The lowest degree of offenses includes mere differences in preference or taste. Consider for example broccoli. I don’t like broccoli, but if other people want to eat it then that is their problem. If a restaurant chooses to serve nothing else then that is the right of whoever owns the restaurant. If however all restaurants were to exercise this right at once I would be disappointed since it would limit my options. A simple way of describing offences in this category  is that you may disapprove of people committing these actions or making these choices, but that is entirely your problem. This category is about taste, not morality or any kind of obligation.

It is easy to imagine the misunderstandings that can occur when mixing up these different degrees of offense-taking. Consider someone saying that they are offended by something they have read or heard somewhere. My natural inclination would be to consider some kind of counterargument based on freedom of speech, but if the person means that he or she is type-2 offended rather than type-3 offended, then such a counter-argument would be irrelevant. After all, you have the right to say what you want and I have the right to say that you are spewing moronic bullshit and tell others to ignore and exclude you.

I think that a lot of the excesses of modern identity politics have to do with upgrading what I here call first-degree offences to second-degree offences. Sometimes these excesses also come in the shape of upgrading second-degree to third-degree offences, such as  when saying that hate-speech is violence, but mostly I think it is in this former way. At other times, the SJWs recognize the difference between these categories but disagree with me as to where the limit is for what should be handled by law enforcement and what should be left to civil society.

To conclude this little rant, it is important to distinguish what you mean when you say that you are offended by something or someone. Do you mean that the polices should be involved, do you mean that what was said was morally reprehensible or do you just mean that you would personally prefer if it wasn’t said or done?


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