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How Tolerant Is Tolerance (1)

September 24, 2017

Are we obliged to tolerate organized hate speech by fukkkups like Trump and Yiannopolous, or by anonymous angry young white dudes, armed or unarmed, soon to appear in nice clothes and calling themselves “nationalists,” but smelling just as ugly? just because we’re glad we have a Constitutional protection of “free speech”?

(“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” If you want to know.)

I’ll just mention in passing that the 1st amendment, obviously, protects us from the government, not from ourselves, as any 2nd amendment gun toter will tell you. It doesn’t say that we can’t overwhelm those anti-democratic assholes with masses of nonviolent protesters and shout them down. And our gathering in protest against bigots, racists, and sexists can also be an assembly and petition for redress of grievances, against racist governmental actions that restrict our freedoms.

Okay, now that I’ve vented, without throwing anything or spraying pepper in anyone’s face, I can be rational about it. I am glad that our Constitution protects me when I call our President a fukkkup. That allows me to make an honest and accurate contribution to our debate about our shared reality, without fear.

Counting my breathing.

If a president, or an invited (and paid) public speaker at a university, or an organized and strategic gang of conventionally dressed young men, are speaking lies and insults (I’m understating, being reasonable) with the intentions of bringing grievous harm to persons and of severing the Achilles tendon of our liberal democracy (note that increasingly people are adding the word “liberal,” because we have shown ourselves that we can form an illiberal democracy), are we obliged to tolerate that shit?


Can we sustain a liberal democracy without 100% practicing liberal democracy, as prescribed in foundational law and the historical, judicious interpretations of that law, even if our pure practice endangers our future ability to practice liberal democracy, including freedom of speech and assembly? During the Charlottesville horror I remembered my first encounter with that dilemma, in the ’sixties, in connection with the Civil Rights Movement and the Mobe against our war in Vietnam; so I got out my Marcuse, which I had found so helpful, back then.

Rereading, I found it helpful again; but the circumstances are not exactly the same, and I’m going to need some days of silent struggle with the text before I can think out loud on a next page about it.

If you want to read along, it’s in A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Beacon 1965, 1969). Actually 3 essays: “Beyond Tolerance,” by Robert Paul Wolff; “Tolerance and the Scientific Outlook,” by Barrington Moore, Jr.; and “Repressive Tolerance” and a “Postscript,” by Herbert Marcuse.  (Or utexas pdf.)

Btw. Thinking of science. There is so much, really intelligent going on—about Artificial General Intelligence, or the nature and treatment of cancer, for example, that it is infuriating to have to put up with the arrogantly and aggressively stupid.  What is the matter with us?!

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