The Spectacle Blog

Screaming for Tolerance Makes It Awfully Hard to Hear

By on 5.16.14 | 3:39PM

It's funny how screaming for tolerance makes it hard to hear anyone else's point of view. So often the most ostentatiously "open-minded" maintain their narrow view of tolerance by saying the opposing view is out of style, out of season, or simply out of date.

The global climate change debate has, pardon the expression, been heating up. The Daily Caller reported that Professor Lawrence Torcello of RIT wants to eliminate dissent by criminalizing "denial" of global warming.

Suggesting criminal prosecution for what should be a relatively impersonal scientific question hardly seems tolerant. But maybe the time for tolerance is simply past us. Such is the argument of Zach Ford, editor of ThinkProgress LGBT. He told the Christian Post that the time has come to stop tolerating opposition to gay marriage:

I think there's a moment that we've reached where we're trying to decide how acceptable it is to oppose LGBT equality. ...[S]ome people think it's okay to still oppose LGBT equality. And my position is, no, it's not. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation whether it's in marriage or employment or anything else is inexcusable. It's pure discrimination and there's no reason to leave room for it for religious purposes or otherwise.

If you have a religious belief about what you should do in your church, that's perfectly fine. If you have a religious belief that you're trying to impose on what the government does, that's problematic.

Evidently no one ever explained to him that if tolerating someone else's point of view doesn't involve a certain amount of intellectual discomfort, it probably isn't tolerance. That would be called agreeing with someone. 

But perhaps even that has become passé. Maybe tolerance, like oranges or peaches, is simply out of season. The Wall Street Journal noted that "disinvitation season" has come to the college commencement arena.

While not a precisely new phenomenon, its popularity has increased in recent years. Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech advocacy group, told the Journal that between 1987 and 2008, there were forty-eight protests against speeches on a college campus, and in twenty-one cases they succeeded. Since 2009, ninety-five protests have led to thirty-nine cancellations.

Daniel Flynn pointed to the recent protest before a planned speech by former University of California-Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau. He was persuaded to withdraw from commencement exercises by several Haverford College students who disagreed with his past actions:

Birgeneau joins Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the courageous critic of Islamic extremism silenced by Brandeis administrators; former secretary of state Condi Rice, forced to withdraw from the Rutgers commencement after an activist brat-fit; IMF head Christine Legarde, run off the Smith College campus by a 500-name petition before she even arrived; and other muzzled graduation speakers.

Commencement speakers may be guilty of vapid, clichéd, feel-good send-offs. A more disturbing message comes from their ear-muffed listeners. Affirm our prejudices. Don’t dare challenge us.

After all, any idea that can't stand up to some good old-fashioned opposition must be...right.

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