Erik (eriktrips) wrote,

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rant number one--on tolerance

somewhere recently I read the words of some right-wing fundie blowhard who made some comment to the effect that some liberal somewhere else would undoubtedly be "intolerant of traditional religion" were they elected or appointed to some judicial position or something like that. now the main reason I do not remember where this was that I read this--well the main reason is that I don't remember things, really, but the other main reason--is twofold: it is an echo of one of what I don't doubt is some rightie leadership's set of stock phrases meant to freeze liberals dead in their tracks, and it also echos the gleeful cry of many a freshman argumentative paper, which generally goes something like "here is where Descartes contradicts himself and thus we are right to reject the whole of his work without question."

now obviously it's a fallacy to reject everything an author ever wrote based on one perceived contradiction in his/her work, and I could stop simply by noting this when I read such a claim, but I usually go a little further and ask the student writing the paper if there might not be some other more generous ways to treat a text that has been found to contradict itself, or, in other words, if they can find a way to make the contradiction productive instead of summarily dismissive. of course, I wouldn't expect any neo-con to be particularly generous as his/her dogma seems to preclude anything like generosity, be it argumentative or economic, but I like to underscore my suggestion with something along the lines of "and you will run less risk of looking ridiculous when you say, for instance, that reading Hegel is a complete waste of time."

unfortunately, though, when there arises the apparently self contradictory position of being intolerant of a particular view when your creed is tolerance, it is not at all obvious why the person who has uncovered this intolerance is being ridiculous, because to determine why that is indeed the case takes no small amount of subtle reasoning, which neocons seem to have some sort of allergic response to--although far be it from me to suggest that perhaps this is because they can't follow it (twenty points if you know the rhetorical figure just employed)--as though thinking a thing through were the last thing they would want you to do.

before I go on to explain what is basically a misunderstanding of logical types, I'll just say I am completely sidestepping the fact that two different definitions of intolerance are usually being pressed into service in these arguments, which are already fallacious before you even notice this. for now it might be enough, though, to imagine how the intolerance of the left generally takes the form "believe what you wish, but you have no right to tell everyone else how to live" whereas the intolerance of the right, of which the left is justifiably intolerant, tends to unfold something along the lines of "believe what you wish, but allow me to tell you not only how to live but that you are going to hell for not wanting to live that way." see how that's different? or is that too subtle so that we must throw away the discussion and rely on "common sense" as to what tolerance and intolerance are, so long as "common sense" does not trouble itself with varying shades of meaning.

or varying logical categories: no, the intolerance of the left, insofar as one is allowed to make a distinction between one's own group and that of another, or between one's own beliefs and those of others, is not a self-contradictory position, for the very existence of "tolerance" as a category of thought demands that there be a contrasting category of "intolerance," and, in this case, since the distinction we are making has to do with ideology, "intolerance" is the one thing that "tolerance" must, logically, be intolerant of, insofar as "intolerance" inheres in this kind of distinction-making. just as the truth must exclude the lie, so tolerance must exclude intolerance. [1]

because it is not the fact that one is religious that the left cannot tolerate (ok, I speak for myself and not the whole left but I imagine, generously of my fellow commies, that this is something like the general position)--it is not that the left imagines that it can pick and choose which system of beliefs to tolerate and which not--but it is rather the intolerance of certain religious beliefs which the left objects to and will not tolerate, as it must, if it is to be tolerant in any meaningful sense.

now you might have brightly already run ahead and figured out that, well, even so, the left cannot, without being self-contradictory, be intolerant of others' intolerance while not being intolerant of its own intolerance of others' intolerance, but you see here, where the categorical quirk of tolerance itself has problems as soon as it claims meaningfulness for itself, as meaningfulness requires a certain kind of exclusion, or intolerance--and in the case of the category of tolerance itself, one would almost have to conclude that it can't positively exist without the stain of intolerance.

well this is indeed true. this is the shame of meaningfulness. but it is also possible to conceive of the problem as one of logical type, where tolerance is one of a number of paradoxical linguistic entities, whose very move to define itself precludes the possibility that its definition can ever be complete. does this help? do you see how the intolerance of tolerance is a structural yet paradoxical necessity?

and, though I wasn't going to address this, this is indeed one of those places where binary logic breaks down, but the irony here would be that the right, seizing only upon the apparent contradiction, wishes to go running straight back into binary exclusivity after claiming that this self-contradictory flaw deligitimizes tolerance. because, if this is the conclusion you wish to draw, you must also accept that it deligitimizes, say, good. or truth. or perhaps even the traditional notion of god. in fact it pretty much calls into question just about any sort of distinction you can draw, which is what the academic left has been trying to tell you all along but it scares the hell out of the right and perhaps for good reason but one thing they tend not to notice is that the left, or at least the academic left, is scrambling around all over itself trying to find an ethics that is true to the situation rather than imposed at the cost of making yet another violent, exclusive gesture.

but here we get into etherial realms. it could be argued that such violence is inevitable if we are to live any kind of meaningful lives, and, if that is the case, I'd like to suggest that the primordial violent gesture be just that of paradoxically casting intolerance--of everything except this first intolerant gesture--into intolerance. then we'll see where we can go from there, and see if there is any way to extrapolate from a paradoxical, impossible beginning.

[1] I won't even begin to critique this bipolar way of construing one's logic but capitulate here to that sort of logic that the right likes best anyway. the fact is that if one is to speak in a way others can understand, then one must capitulate to an extent no matter what. otherwise we'd all be poets floating on metonymic clouds, leaving each other the hell alone.

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