Sunday, May 02, 2010

On the difference between tolerance and acceptance

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Not exactly the idea, but too neat to pass up
[source: The Saint Barnabas’ Blog]

Ed Brayton just unearthed part of a quote that I believe merits a full (re)posting, as it follows my line of thought in showing how most people are wrong to say that we have become a “tolerant” society – not in a cynical manner, but merely because “tolerance” is less appropriate than is “acceptance”. From Robin Hanson over at Overcoming Bias:

“Tolerance” is a feel-good buzzword in our society, but I fear people have forgotten what it means. Many folks are proud of their “tolerance” for gays, working women, Tibetan monks in cute orange outfits, or blacks sitting at the front of the bus. But what they really mean is that they consider such things to be completely appropriate parts of their society, and are not bothered by them in the slightest. That, however, isn’t “tolerance.”

“Tolerance” is where you tolerate things that actually bother you. Things that make you go “ick”, or that conflict with strong intuitions on proper behavior. Once upon a time, the idea of gay sex made most folks quite uncomfortable, and yet many of those folks still advocated tolerance for gay sex. Their argument was not that gay sex isn’t icky, but that a broad society should be reluctant to ban apparently victimless activities merely because many find them icky.

Someday soon, technology will allow an explosion of possible creatures and behaviors, many of which will seem icky to many others. No doubt it will be appropriate for some communities to ban some of them, but we face a very real danger of insufficient tolerance threatening our peace and prosperity. The alternative to living peacefully with those we dislike, may be to instead die with them.

Please, in preparation, let us learn to practice tolerance with the smaller variations we face today. Unless we see a clearer harm from letting some folks watch vids of cruel but legal hunting, let us tolerate it. Same for polygamy, polyandry, or digitally-created kid porn. You don’t have to like them, or approve them, to tolerate them.

Well said. I particularly appreciate that last part, in part due to its risqué-but-true quality. It is my belief, being what I dub a “utilitarian pragmatist”, that anything that doesn’t cause any verifiable harm to anyone (in general, that is) should not be suppressed or censored, regardless of how “tasteless”, “offensive”, or even downright “wrong” it may appear or feel to others, even if this extends to every other person on the planet. This includes a whole range of socially unaccepted and tabooed subjects – sexual “perversions”, and erotic material pertaining to said sexualities, being chief amongst them.