“I am intolerant of intolerance” has become something of a mantra for suppressing unpopular opinions. Today’s “new tolerance”, as it is called in academic circles, is redefining our understanding of tolerance and shaping our behavior, but it is no friend to the freedoms of conscience and speech.
In the past, we used to “agree to disagree”. It was a respectful way to end debates before they degenerated into personal and hateful attacks. We used to define tolerance in the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
New tolerance demands that we accept the most dominant view of an issue. If we disagree or reject that view, the dominant group accuses us of bigotry. It cannot countenance our intolerance; we must be muzzled. This is especially evident when it comes to issues around sexuality and gender.
The no-platform movement that is taking hold of western universities is the poster child of new tolerance. The movement, which denies speakers a platform, fosters intolerant behavior in its misguided attempt to protect democracy and equality.
Notable feminist Germaine Greer is the latest fatality of the no-platform movement. Greer was to lecture on “Women and Power: Lessons of the 20th Century” at Cardiff University in Wales. Twenty seven hundred students signed a petition that accused her of misogyny and inciting hate and violence against transgender people. Greer’s unspeakable crime was to say that she does not think “a post-operative transgendered man is a woman”. But, others required her to think differently in exchange for the privilege of speaking. New tolerance is evident in other places as well. In Canada, two national parties require all candidates to be pro-choice. A person who questions abortion must want to limit a woman’s right to choose; that person has no place in government. Trinity Western University requires students and staff to sign a covenant agreement with a clause that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The institution must be discriminating against LGBTQ people; it must not be allowed a law school.
It is no longer enough to treat people with the respect and dignity that all individuals – gay, trans or straight – deserve. We must now accept the most popular views and believe what the most vocal group tells us to believe.
Tolerance does not come easily or naturally to us. It requires practice. We need to be careful that our concern for one group does not express itself as intolerance for someone else; that we do not become violent, hateful or self-righteous in the name of tolerance.
If we are serious about the freedoms of conscience and speech, we cannot bully or exclude others when their opinion goes against the grain. Rejecting an opinion is not the same thing as rejecting a person or discriminating against a group.
New tolerance is a form of intolerance in disguise.