Toleration vs Happiness

Beware: The twisted trap of toleration

I don't like the Red Sox, but I tolerate my friend's right to enjoy this team. I dislike the sound of the accordion, yet I tolerate the rights of those who enjoy it. I would be happy if red and green peppers were never used in cooking, I don't like the taste, but I tolerate others right to produce and savor stuffed peppers.

I despise the spectacle of watching haggard, unhappy woman, in dark drab robes, bow down to kiss the floor in a church, in self-abnegation, i.e., "worship" of some ghostly deity. I don't feel any toleration. I despise politicians who take money from hardworking, creative individuals and use it to promote their "do-gooder" schemes. I don't feel any toleration. I despise seeing rusted, contorted pieces of metal displayed in public parks, passing as pieces of art. Again I feel no toleration.
Am I intolerant? How would you answer this? I would say, "Absolutely and proud of it!" if by toleration you mean a wimpy acceptance of anyone's irrationality.

If your husband says "You're so intolerant. Loosen up will you! I can drink two six packs and hold my liquor. Chill out!" What do you do?

Toleration is a slippery word. There is a context in which is it appropriate. In my first examples, one's enjoyment of the Red Sox, of the accordion and of stuffed peppers, are all rational values. By rational values, I mean, promoting the short term and long term happiness of an individual by being consistent with the facts of reality and with the nature of a healthy thinking individual. There is nothing self-destructive or destructive of others in the enjoyment of accordion or of peppers, or of enjoying a sport. Toleration of others rational choices, even though you recognize your own dislike of them, is healthy (e.g., I don't like baseball, I understand that you do. We can coexist and be friends.)

But there is a context in which toleration is used, where the concept itself becomes a cancer. If you were to say to your alcoholic husband, "Okay, I guess I've got to be more tolerant. I guess you can hold your liquor and drive after drinking two six packs" what effect would this have on you? Notice that you would be lying to yourself and to him. You are bothered by his drinking. You would be taking your evaluation of his drinking and saying that your own evaluation is no good, that your judgment is no good, that your thinking is no good, that your mind is no good. It is not healthy to toss out your ability to judge healthy and not healthy choices and actions, it's not healthy to avoid discriminating between the rational and the irrational in life.

The rational serves life (e.g., a great career, a fun vacation, a loving partner), the irrational threatens and sabotages life (e.g., the attack on the World Trade Center, drinking and driving). You need that ability to distinguish what promotes your life (the rational) from what destroys your life (the irrational) for survival. When toleration is used to say you shouldn't pass moral judgment, don't give in. Ask yourself why you're feeling as you do. If you are intolerant, because, objectively, the action a person is taking is against life and happiness, then you can proudly own your "intolerance".

For example, you have every right to say to your alcoholic husband, "You drive and I'll call the cops." Or "I'm getting a divorce – I don't like you." You can say to the "artist" who designed the twisted metal, "You're nothing but a con-artist. This is a revolting spectacle of nihilistic crap." To the grovelers of some deity you can say, "I don't admire you, I think you have pitifully missed out on living your life". To the politician, you can call him by his proper name, a thug, not a political leader in the respectful sense of the founding fathers.

When anyone calls you intolerant, check first to see if your judgment is rational. If you say, "I can't stand Hispanics." Notice that this is blatantly irrational. Which Hispanics? What if someone said they couldn't stand "whites"? Which whites? Ted Bundy? Clinton? Your best friends? Notice that statement "I can't stand whites (or Hispanics) is grotesquely irrational. You are judging character based on a non-chosen, biological characteristic, not on a person's choices and actions, his self-made character, his use of his free will. But if you say "I can't stand my alcoholic husband," you are judging him on his choices: the choice to drink, to drink to excess, to ignore any real life threats to himself or others, to choose to drive, to try to make you look like the crazy one for being "intolerant" of his drinking.

When you are rationally intolerant, then you are serving your own life and those of any rational individual. You don't ever need to apologize for your courage to speak out and name someone else's irrationality. How to speak out effectively, is another issue.

A culture does not exist, apart from the individuals which make it up.

A culture consists of the customs, civilization, and achievements of a particular group of individuals in a specified time. Just as there are rational and irrational individuals, there are rational and irrational cultures. Rational people and cultures can make mistakes but in the long run always work towards ever-increasing peaceful coexistence because they use the same tools; independence, integrity, justice, honesty, productivity and pride, i.e. rationality. A characteristic of irrational people and cultures is that they repeatedly choose lifestyles and governments that are opposed to these virtues and they consistently violate individual rights.

No matter what an irrational person does, such a person can not get along with other people. No matter what an irrational culture does, such a culture can not get along with other cultures.

But rational people and rational cultures do get along with each other, despite honest mistakes and differences of opinion. Their very rationality gives them the tool to resolve these differences.

So, when is toleration a means to peaceful coexistence and when does it become an obstacle to happiness? If you tolerate rational differences in people and cultures, that is a means to happiness. If you tolerate irrationality in people or cultures, you serve only to further promote their irrationality. This is why it is self-defeating to be tolerant of a murder or of a murderous culture.