Monday, February 4, 2013

The Intolerance of Today's Tolerance and the Right of Association

At a local library a small group of individuals meet on a monthly basis to discuss Russian literature.  Over the past ten years they've discussed every author from Pushkin to Dostoyevsky to Tolstoy.  At the upcoming meeting they plan to discuss one or two twentieth century Soviet authors.  When the date of the meeting rolls around, they find two new people there to participate in the meeting.  In short order they learn that these two new participants have no love for Russian authors.  In fact, they are two Estonian nationalists that hate everything Russian.  They are at the meeting only to discuss the negative impact of Russian imperialism and will not allow anyone to say anything positive about Russian culture.

Another scenario.  A chess club meets at the nearby high school once a week to play chess.  As part of their meetings they discuss strategy, history and play matches to sharpen their skills.  One day they receive a letter from members of the local checkers club demanding that they be allowed to be members of the chess club with the provision that the club must discuss and play checkers at least twice a month during their meetings.

Imagine a local group of nature worshippers who value the power of the earth, environmental issues, veganism, and homeopathic remedies to illness.  A local butcher shows up and demands that he be granted membership and access to their daily worship rituals.  Each day that he shows up he smells like fried bacon and talks about the wonderful taste of a good t-bone, encouraging others to try some of his wares.

Each of the new members of these groups are informed, in the politest terms possible, that because their values, words and actions don't match up with the particular common purpose of the group, that their membership has been denied or revoked.  Upon hearing this these individuals raise the cry of bigotry and intolerance.  How dare these groups not allow them access to their group just because they have different values or practices?  The fact that these associations were formed expressly for the purpose of enjoying and strengthening shared values is deemed irrelevant.  

Today a number of groups have determined that the principle of tolerance requires that they be granted access and membership to each and every group whether or not they share the same values and purposes.  The example of the day is the push to allow homosexuals and atheists to serve as leaders and be members of the Boy Scouts of America.  This group was formed to teach and protect civic and moral values that are associated with religious and patriotic concepts.  These values and principles include faith in god and sexual purity.  Parents that register their boys in the Boy Scouts of America are aware of these values and seek to indoctrinate these in their children.

As people speak up for the protection of the values encapsulated in their chosen associations, others raise the cry of bigotry and intolerance, demanding that all others be allowed to join regardless of differing values and principles.  In an effort to legitimize their values and purposes, these groups are accusing others of the sins they themselves are committing, hate and intolerance.  The demand to be tolerated has morphed into a demand to be accepted which in turn has resulted in a cry and demand that the rights of others to their own sets of values and associations be set aside and denied.

In a world of different values, principles and goals, sometimes the best we can hope for between fellow human beings is tolerance.  (I think we can and should do better than mere tolerance and add respect to the equation as often as possible.)  Tolerance, my friends, is not the same as acceptance.  You and I can have different sets of ideas, values and associations in relation to certain issue, without requiring that each of us accept the others ideas as correct or even that we should associate in relations to those issues.  The strength and value of my of my ideas, values and associations are not dependent on your thoughts or acceptance.  Yours, if they are different, should not be dependent on my acceptance either.

When someone on either side of an issue demands acceptance or membership in a group of people who hold different values, they are explicitly admitting to the weakness of their own ideas.  If the only way to validate your values or ideas is to force at the point of the law or public opinion to accept you and your ideas, you highlight the fact that you and your ideas fail to stand on their own merits.

The continuing hubbub and push to force the BSA to allow homosexuals and atheists to serve as leaders and be members flies in the face of a century of different values.  I have to ask, why would a pork loving butcher want to be a member of a club that espouses the pleasure and moral certitude of veganism?  Why would an atheist demand to be allowed to be part of a group that espouses faith in God?  Why would a homosexual demand membership in a group that espouses the value of chastity and heterosexual sex in the bonds of legal matrimony?  I don't have an answer, but I have a couple of guesses.  One, they may feel that their ideas lack credibility until they have been accepted by a group that has opposite views.  Or, two, they are willing to hate another group and deny them their right to associate with people of similar values in an effort to force them to change their thinking.  Or, maybe, they're the same thing.

If you happen to be an atheist that loves the outdoors and civic responsibility, you don't have to force a faith based group that loves the same things to accept you and make a place for your atheist ideas.  Go form you own group.  If you happen to be a homosexual that loves the outdoors and civic responsibility, you don't have to force a group dedicated to moral ideas opposed to same-sex relations to accept you and make a place for your ideas.  Go form your own group.

In all of this we can keep the discourse civil.  There is no room for hateful and spiteful speech.  There is no room for claims that the other side is hateful and intolerant because they won't accept you and your ideas.  They have a right to their own values and associations just as you do.  If you have to force someone to like you and accept you, it's likely that they will do neither.

I can tolerate someone else and their differing beliefs, values, ideas, and lifestyle without having to accept, promote, or associate myself with them.  They should be able to do the same.


Amber J said...

Now imagine this situation:

In the Russian literature reading group, members actively denounced Estonians. They protested the presence of Estonians in their communities, expressed desire for their children not to be exposed to Estonians, and actively lobbied to deny Estonians the right to marry, to adopt children, or to have legal recognition for their families. They denied them business, refused to serve their social functions, and openly spoke out against them in their churches.

Now you might see why the Estonian nationals might have a motivation to join the Russian club, and to fight for their right to be included and recognized. Sure, it's politically motivated, but you can't blame them.

Jarad said...

Amber, I like your point. This scenario may not have been the best to present my point. There are, however, better venues to put forth your views rather than to force them on a group that has a different purpose of association.

Reverse this and imagine it's a group of Russians trying to force themselves into an Estonian cultural group because they want to stress Russian cultural superiority. Why ever would the Estonians want to let them in if the purpose of their association is enjoy the finer aspects of their culture?

Neither situation lends itself to a productive dialogue. For a group or groups to force themselves into the BSA, using threats of legal action and funding, is attempt to remove their members' right to associate with whom they please.

Of course I see their motivation. They are seeking legitimacy for their point of view, their lifestyle, and their ideas. Rather than forcing themselves on different groups that hold different views on this topic, which weakens their position, they should look for willing associates. Again, any time you must force others to associate with you or force them to accept your ideas, the validity of those ideas is weakened. These groups that demand such equality, acceptance, and freedom are doing so by denying others of their freedom.

Jon said...

Amber, your point is actually for the most point, untrue and therefore moot.

The BSA has never once lobbied against homosexuality or atheism. Unlike many much more liberal organizations, they have always adopted a live and let live philosophy. The problem is not that they hate gay people or atheists and want to keep them down. The problem is that parents choose to place their sons in the program in order to instill a certain set of values, and we see it as our duty to preserve those values and protect our children from those who would wish to subvert them to a point of view that we do not embrace.

In simple terms: This is how we are raising our children, and it is no one's business but ours.

There is no bigotry involved, and to shout that at organizations like the BSA is childish and crude.

Jarad said...

As an Eagle Scout and former adult scout leader, I can say that bigotry and hate were never part of our meetings, training and teaching. Of course, the Scout Slogan is "Do a Good Turn Daily." And the Scout Law includes the following:

A Scout is Helpful.
A Scout cares about other people. He willingly volunteers to help others without expecting payment or reward.
A Scout is Friendly.
A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He offers his friendship to people of all races and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.
A Scout is Courteous.
A Scout is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows that using good manners makes it easier for people to get along.
A Scout is Kind.
A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing.