14 November 2008 ~ 0 Comments

The Perversion of Tolerance – I Don't want to be 'Tolerated' and neither should you

Tolerance is intolerant and demands assimilation.
—Herman Broch, cited in the Jewish Museum, Vienna, Austria

Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

-Herbert Marcuse

The mainstream, alternative press and bloggers are so inundated and knee-deep in the discourse of tolerance that hardly anyone has stopped to analyze the etymology and meaning of tolerance and its implications for society.

Tracy Hickman laments in The San Francisco Chronicle:

How ironic that the same people who call for tolerance of diverse lifestyles are perpetrating aggression against others for standing up for their beliefs and voting for the principles they hold dear?

Gary Bauer whines about “The Intolerance of the Same Sex Movement” (See also Lone Star Times, WorldNetDaily) while John Kass expresses disappointment at the lack of tolerance shown to T-shirts with political slogans.

Religious forces such as the LDS and Catholic Church take pleasure in pointing out the random and isolated attacks on churches, defacing of anti-gay yard signs, while right-wingers like Matt Barber are slamming the opponents of H8 for taking to the streets and not respecting the “rule of law” and democracy.

Even on the pro-migrant side, bloggers and organizations call for greater ‘tolerance’ as a response to the hate-crime against Latinos such as Marcello Lucero. The history of immigration discourse is ripe with tolerance discourse on all sides — tolerance for new immigrants, intolerance for ‘illegal immigrants’ and so on. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, religious minorities, gays and lesbians are all “tolerated” groups.

I have quietly sat on the side-lines for months, silently ‘tolerating’ the calls for tolerance. Enough.

I don’t want to be tolerated and neither should you. The discourse of tolerance–a noble and grandiose liberal experiment–must be stripped naked and exposed for what it really is: a colonizing discursive tool with the power to label and reproduce our identities, thereby designating minorities as permanent Others in civil society and globality, and justifying their ‘civilizing.’

In liberal societies, ‘tolerance’ is preached as the norm to express ‘acceptance’ of groups that would otherwise face persecution without being ‘tolerated.’ But to tolerate is not to affirm, but to allow unwanted behavior and deviance from the norm, and herein lies the problem.

Labeling the Repeal H8 movement as ‘intolerant’ serves as a civilizational discourse whereby people protesting the elimination of their fundamental civil rights are cast as “barbarian” and “undemocratic,” as groups that don’t have legitimate claims. Now the ‘Yes on 8’ has taken upon itself to be ‘tolerant’ of homosexuality. But a ‘tolerance’ that allows for some rights while denying other rights shows the problematic epistemology of tolerance.

Political Science Professor, Wendy Brown in Regulating Aversion, holds that tolerance discourse “positions and produces subjects, orchestrates meanings and practices of identity, marks bodies, and conditions political subjectivities.” Tolerance discourse provides legitimacy for a particular kind of order and ordering over another — ethnic, gender, sexual, religious minorities are hence ‘tolerated’; straight, white males have no need to be ‘tolerated.’

In this special ‘ordering,’ rights for ‘tolerated’ groups like the LGBT community are seen as ‘special rights’ rather than civil rights, Americans of ‘color’ are hyphenated-Americans rather than simply Americans, months and museums to preserve histories of particular social groups cast and contain cultures as apart from the mainstream, creating a otherized conditioning.

The labeling of ‘madness’ and mental illness is perhaps the best example of the perversion that is tolerance. Condemned and caged as an ‘Other’ in societies since liberal ‘Enlightenment (Foucault talks at length in Madness and Civilization about how insanity was considered a part of everyday life), the disciplining of madness has cast certain behaviors as deviant and threatening, creating a wall between ‘insane’ and humanity.

Coming back to a particular hot contemporary debate that especially riled me — The Yes on 8 camp frets about ‘gay marriage’ taught in schools. The ‘No on 8’ camp insists that ‘gay marriage’ won’t be taught in schools.  Why is no one questioning and debunking the norm of marriage or heterosexuality in this debate? Notice that marriage or heterosexuality is not up for ‘tolerance:’

Wait, your child cannot learn that ‘gay marriage’ exists but I have to sit through school inundated by heterosexual nonsense, see inappropriate moments between heterosexual couples who cannot keep it in the bedroom, turn the tube on for some more obscene and gross in-my-face heterosexuality? What’s up with the double standards? Someone get me a bucket.

Similarly, the border fence is not seen as something that we should ‘tolerate’ but affirm, yet undocumented immigrants that cross it are either ‘tolerated’ or showed intolerance.

These few examples should demonstrate how the discourse of tolerance creates and sustains particular identities and ideologies as always opposed to the fabric/norm of society.

Anthropology professor Kip Waldo states: “I really dislike that construct – who wants to be “tolerated? That’s like having a splinter you have to wait a while to remove or until it gets destroyed.”

Therefore, tolerance is ironically intolerant in the way it labels, conditions and subjugates. To imply that something or someone should be ‘tolerated’ is to ascertain that there is something fundamentally wrong about that something or someone, which requires “tolerating.”

True emancipation lies not in the civil entrapment created by tolerance discourse but in freeing ourselves and identities from the perversion created by this labeling.

Don’t tolerate my presence. Deconstruct the norm.

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