Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tolerating the Wrong Kind of Tolerance

Communication constraints have always limited the potential of civilization. We generally view new forms of communication as an opportunity for society to evolve and improve. Today's social media platforms, however, are increasingly minimizing the feedback loop between people, cultures, and even ideas. "Radical" ideologies today seem to grab traction more than ever before, relying on the fact that universal tolerance is not just expected, but required.

After several years of internal debate, I finally formalize my struggle in the form of one question: while tolerance prevents prejudice and hate, does it also promote radicalism and, consequently, prejudice?

Why do I care?
LGBT awareness grew at my highschool

As a high school student during the LGBT movement in California, I was surrounded by several
individuals fighting for equality among all sexual orientations. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter helped spread awareness. Despite my (infamous) conservative background, I supported them completely. I understood the importance of tolerance as much as they did.

Ironically, the tolerance they so desperately fought for ended after the formation of their new club. Not only did they want equality, but special treatment. I still remember the school disciplinary council notice I received for "discrimination". Apparently, I was prejudiced because I refused to provide extra yearbook coverage for their club (a policy I enforced for all school organizations). They began targeting me (and my peers) via the same communication channels they used to gain sympathy.

I was in shock. I almost felt betrayed. The irony hurt more than anything. To me, this club took advantage of the innate human desire to tolerate and sympathize, only to manipulate and extort.

If we say we are tolerant, what exactly do we tolerate?

I couldn't accept the fact that people could abuse tolerance.

Zak Ebrahim, author of The Terrorist's Son
Zak Ebrahim, the son of the 1993 WTC bombings mastermind, spoke on the TED stage regarding tolerance. He claimed that terrorists aren't born, but raised. He learned to distance himself from his father's hate-filled dogma early on. Zak embraced tolerance with optimism, surrounding himself with cultural and social minorities. He believed that without tolerance, the world was doomed to self-destruct.

During his talk, I realized that perhaps tolerance isn't as polarized as we often describe it. In fact, an important distinction needs to be made between tolerance, and appeasement.

We tolerate others when we respect their beliefs, culture, and way of living, regardless of how different they are from us. We appease someone, when we know someone's beliefs, culture, or way of living impede on the rights of others, but we refuse to intervene. It may be difficult to accept that tolerance requires moral judgement, which is inherently subjective by nature. It was for me, at least.

But by understanding the difference between tolerance and hate, we can avoid repeating history.

So why is this in issue now?

The new feedback loop
In the past, is was arguably more difficult for radical ideas to gain momentum. Ideas are developed
through feedback. They can appeal to larger audiences with more efficient feedback. Today's communication platforms make feedback instantaneous and provide access to everyone.

The internet ecosystem is now a safe-haven where people can refine and advertise their ideas regardless of how morally skewed they are. As a consequence, there is no longer any ethical filter preventing these ideologies from growing grotesquely. Facebook users are afraid to stand up for what they believe in because they don't want to be known as bigots by those "fighting" for tolerance.

Society is appeasing. It's time we reaccept our own values, and fight for the tolerance of everyone else's.

*Images used under Creative Commons License.


  1. I realize I wrote a lot. After posting, I saw several "walls of text" that I was hoping to avoid. My intent was to break away from the typical notecard norm. I'm open to feedback for consolidating/reformatting my content.

  2. I think the pictures were good for keeping traction, but it wasn't very skim-friendly. That being said, I felt that there was a lot of good things in here. I think a good litmus test would be seeing if you could get a third party to share this on facebook or some other social media platform, and get a feeling of the response. I think it would be a good way to simultaneously build your audience and see if people react with respect or outrage.

  3. I like how you start building towards a certain position/argument, but then say essentially "however there is this contrasting view that also needs to be considered" and talk that out. It makes me, as a reader, trust you more/accept your opinion as one which has been carefully thought out/is striving to avoid bias. Of course, I may very well be biased since my topic is dialectical thinking ;)

    As far as share-ability, it's not quite to that point for me yet; the updates I would suggest are: increasing white space, making the non-text elements bigger, and making the section titles simpler + pop more.