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September 21st 2012 print

James Allan

Tolerance? That’s a gag!

The response to other people’s disagreeable opinions was once the firmly stated refutation. These days, the first step is to state for the record that you are neither racist nor homophobe. After that, prepare to be slimed, slurred and shouted down


Not too long ago I was reading a funny Rod Liddle column in The Spectator. He was making fun of the sort of all-consuming quest for tolerance that transforms or disfigures itself into a virulent form of intolerance. Liddle’s target was the pro-same sex marriage brigade, whose underlying attitude seems to be that “tolerance is not merely by law compulsory, but that further, if you should have any quibble with any aspiration of the now vast homosexual community, you should be hounded out of your job and subjected to public vilification”.


Liddle suggests that this is today’s true sense of tolerance, what we here in Australia might think of as the Green Party’s definition of tolerance, which involves “an absolute refusal to allow a view which runs counter to your own … and making it clear that anyone who does hold such a view is a bigot”. It all boils down to an absolute “ruthlessness towards anyone who shows deviation from the tolerant line”.

Once you see what Liddle is getting at you can see it at work all over the place. Perhaps you’re inclined to think Australia is mad to allow in so many Muslims when a chunk of such people tend to think their religion is above and beyond any criticism at all, and those who do criticise it should be beheaded. In fact some believe this should be advertised on placards held by small children.

Well, if you are inclined to think that way, apparently you are intolerant, end of discussion. You’re a “racist” (though I am never quite clear, as Christopher Hitchens liked to point out, how objecting to aspects of someone’s religious beliefs makes you a racist, a term which is supposed to encompass those who treat people disfavourably due solely to genetic factors beyond their control, such as skin colour).

In fact the new orthodoxy suggests we ought really to recuse ourselves from judging such murder-advocating, you-may-not-comment-on-anything-I-don’t-want-you-commenting-on people because, well, you see, hmm, it wouldn’t be tolerant.

Forget the fact that democracy itself demands all of us living in a vibrant democratic country must grow thick skins, suck it up, and be prepared to hear just about any view, including those we really, really don’t like. That is what it takes to be able to live in a thriving democracy after all. So if you think a view is misguided, bonkers or offensive in a democracy, you respond by saying why. You suck it up. You don’t threaten murder. And if that’s not your cup of tea, then don’t come here.

Oh, and one more thing. In a vibrant democracy you don’t get to pull out and play the victim card, demanding tolerance – or actually a bizarre, deformed sort of tolerance that refuses itself to tolerate any divergence of opinion – any time you don’t much like what you’re hearing.

Mr. Liddle hit the nail on the head. We have a big problem in the West with tolerance, or rather with a virulent strain that has actually mutated and transformed itself into intolerance.

Maybe it’s time to vilify this sort of intolerance (oops, tolerance), or even hound it out of existence.