Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Does Tolerance Promote Radicalism?

"My name is Alec Hammond, and I'm concerned about the abuse of tolerance through technology and digital communication. Perhaps you should be concerned too."

While attending high school in Southern California, I saw a growing need for LGBT equality. With the help of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it became apparent that not everyone was being treated fairly.

We decided to adopt a more tolerant and accepting policy, and developed a club where LGBT members could find traction among themselves. Personally, I was very supportive and felt I did everything I could to help their club grow.

With time, however, members of the club (regardless of their sexual orientation) began expecting special privileges.

I specifically remember receiving a disciplinary action notice for "discrimination". I was on the school's yearbook staff at the time. The club lobbied for special exposure and increased coverage. Naturally I declined as I had done with all the other clubs. In response, the club used the same mediums of communication that helped their cause to target and demean me.

I began wondering how it was possible for a minority organization to fight for tolerance and equality, only to discriminate their closest supporters and allies moments later. To me, it seemed that their radicalism grew out of our tolerance, a rather paradoxical idea.

Zac Ibrahim is the son of ElSayyid Nosair, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC bombings. He gave a TED talk last year explaining how terrorists aren't born, their made. Interestingly, because he decided to surround himself by other faiths, cultures, and ideas, he completely abandoned his father's dogma and hate-filled ideology and embraced tolerance. So it seems that tolerance also reverses radicalism.

It was at this point that I realized we sometimes mistake tolerance for appeasement. We are tolerant when we accept differences among us. We appease when we let people encroach on others and their rights.

Bertrand Russel was a Nobel prize winning philosopher during WWII who advocated appeasement as a defense strategy. He wrote a letter to the US saying, "If the Germans succeed in sending an invading army to England we should do best to treat them as visitors, give them quarters and invite the commander and chief to dine with the prime minister". He later rethought his policy.

So why do we seem to be appeasing more than tolerating in today's digital age? A recent study suggests that new forms of communication bombard us with ideas and beliefs that we aren't quite ready to handle. In response, we distance ourselves from our own moral compass that draws the line between tolerance and appeasement, so that we can better process these new ideas.

While no single solution seems apparent, we can start by balancing our desire to tolerate everything we see, read, and hear online. We can once again begin trusting our intuition as to what is good and what is bad, without the fear of impeding on others' rights.


  1. Additionally, nobody really likes to be the bad guy---especially our generation. With social media making it easier for people to say things (easier to type controversial words onto a FB status than bring it up face to face), people are a lot more forward. If they disagree with you, they'll say it--and that can quickly escalate.

  2. I love your topic. I've always hated the way the word "tolerance" has been used. Just because you are tolerant of someone does not necessarily mean that you endorse what they're doing. I liked how you made that distinction. The personal experience is a good one that really speaks to me. Sometimes groups try to make themselves seem like victims in order to get what they want. And because we're supposed to be "tolerant" we are expected to give it to them. This is a big issue.

  3. I think this is a really exciting issue because you are essentially shattering a vase and then tiptoeing around the glass. I think this goes well with the usual complaint about "bubble Mormons" not understanding the ways of others: When we are left in a group of our peers who believe and act as we do, it can very easily turn into patting each other on the back.

  4. This is a really great and insightful topic. I've been glad to see the progressions that your argument has made over the past week or two (for example, the difference between tolerance and appeasement). Keep it up!