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To restate the obvious yet again… tolerance is not the same as respect

There is an article by David V. Johnson, which is an interview with American leftist Martha Nussbaum, during which she conflates ‘respect’ with ‘tolerance’ and that is a telling category error. Nussbaum at least accepts (I sense rather grudgingly) that many ‘bad’ views must be accepted within civil society but…

Am I willing to tolerate Muslims? Certainly… at least the ones who will reciprocate and tolerate an atheist like me. And those who will not? Well no, I will not tolerate them either. For much the same reason I will happily tolerate any communist or socialist who wants to go live on a kibbutz, because I do not have to join them. And fascist socialists who want to live in judenfrei whites-only retreats on private property in the back of beyond somewhere, well knock yourself out guys, the farther away you are from me, well, lets just say it is a win-win for all concerned.

However the ones who wish to impose their oppressive views on me via the state? The ones whose views move them to do politics (which is what we call the struggle to control and use the means of collective coercion)? No, they will not tolerate me so I will reciprocate and try to use the force of the state, or whatever other means are available, to suppress them too. Tolerating those who will not tolerate you is more correctly know as “cowardice”.

But that is it. Tolerance. That is all that anyone can expect, provided they reciprocate it. Never respect.

Do I have ‘equal respect’ for Islam? Or socialism in all its ‘left’ and ‘right’ forms? Or racism? Hell no. I do not respect them at all as I do not respect any religion or any intrusive collectivist political order. But I will tolerate adherents of things I think are wrong if they tolerate me, which means not imposing their wishes on me by force. Several contributors to this blog are religious and I respect them, because they earned it, and their religious views do not require them to impose their beliefs on me by force. Tolerance.

Oh and another annoying thing in this article is the use of the term ‘liberalism’ to mean the exact opposite of the term as understood by classical liberals.

45 comments to To restate the obvious yet again… tolerance is not the same as respect

  • Well done for stating something true but also (to us lot) obvious, yet again.

    I think one of the problems with a really ancient blog (2001!) like Samizdata is that if we are to keep it motoring along we have to be willing restate, and restate, and restate.

    What a pity that “state” means “the state” but also means “say”. The state restates all the damn time, doesn’t it? But I digress.

  • Edward Lonsdale

    I’m reminded of this review by Frank Furedi of Tariq Ramadan’s The Quest for Meaning from a couple of years ago.

    This demand for active respect also seems a short step from mandating authorities to silence of idea counter to the opinions of the bien pensant because they are ‘self-evidently’ unworthy of respect.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Oh and another annoying thing in this article is the use of the term ‘liberalism’ to mean the exact opposite of the term as understood by classical liberals.

    A past use has been to distinguish ‘liberalism’ from ‘Liberalism’, but the current practice (at least in the US) is to call that lot by their own term, ‘Progressives’. An accurate term would be ‘Left-puritans’ (and, to be fair, ‘Right-puritans’ for the other branch of statism). ‘Lumpies’ and ‘Rumpies’, anyone?

  • Very well said.

    “Tolerance does not…do anything, embrace anyone, champion any issue. It wipes the notes off the score of life and replaces them with one long bar of rest. It does not attack error, it does not champion truth, it does not hate evil, it does not love good.
    – Walter Farrell, “The Looking Glass”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Exactly right, Perry. And again this demonstrates the key issue of private property rights and freedom not just of association but of dis-association. Such as, for example, the right of owners of spaces such as bars, restaurants or whatever to admit whomever they want, and bar whomever they want, for any reason, either daft or sensible. So long as they also respect the right of those who think they are daft to say how daft they are. That’s how it should work. The great thing about free markets is that bigotry and stupidity carries a price.

    It is when such bigotry carries the power of the state that problems start, such as the Jim Crow laws, apartheid, state persecution of Jews, gay people, etc.

  • Perry Metzger

    Bravo.

    I have been in several recent online arguments where people accused me of not “respecting” their views. I explained that although in a civilized world people are allowed to have any view they want, no one is required to respect a particular view either — that is a necessary effect of being permitted to hold any view you wish.

    Indeed (in my opinion) if your view is that I should be forced with the threat of violence to do what you want me to do rather than the (otherwise peaceful) behavior I would prefer to engage in, you have no business claiming that your view is “respectable” at all.

    It seems beyond unreasonable to demand “respect” from someone you propose to make the victim of violent thuggery if you someday accumulate enough allies to gain the upper hand. I believe in yiddish, the word used for this (which sadly does not exist in English) is “chutzpah”.

    (For those unaware of the word, an easy example would be a plea for mercy from a judge sentencing you for murdering your parents on the basis that you’re an orphan.)

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Not to get all religious on you, but this is similar to something I read on a Christian website some years ago:

    http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/tolerance.html

    They draw a distinction between “new tolerance” and “old tolerance”. Old Tolerance states that I can put up with your views, even though I disagree with them and may find them contemptible. We can even be friends. My understanding of Christianity makes it very “tolerant” indeed, at least in this sense. I can think you are wrong without having any urge to kill you or forcibly brainwash you.

    New Tolerance states that I must consider your beliefs equal to my own and just as good, if not better. By this new definition Christianity is extremely intolerant, because it states that something is right, and something is wrong and if you believe differently you are incorrect. And this “intolerant” label extends to many other ideologies in our society – although not Islam oddly enough, the most “intolerant” (as is Old Tolerance) religion the world has ever seen.

    Go figure….

  • Hmm

    It is important to note that both “tolerance” and “respect” contain an inherent thread of deception.

    It is also important to understand that the deceit inherent in tolerance and respect cuts both ways.

    Toleration invites injury.

    Respect invites slavery.

    It is wise to first understand just exactly who it is you are trying to impress before you decide to either “tolerate” or “respect”.

  • Alisa

    JD, in that case, New Tolerance is just a different name for moral relativism (AKA ‘postmodernism’).

  • Alisa

    Sorry Hmm, but I didn’t get that…

  • Hmm

    Alisa, “Tolerance” & “Respect” are behavioural metaprocesses. Processes designed to oil the cogs for other processes.

    I’m hesitant to describe them in too much detail because too much analysis inhibits the understanding of the metaprocesses of thinking. The more we reason around them the more we reason them away. A lot depends on how well you wish to understand your internal personal politics.

    It is best to pick a few simple examples you are aware of: Some behavioural aspect of your personal life that you know involves flicking the switches to turn on the behaviours of “tolerate” or “respect”.

    Once you’ve chosen a couple of good examples then it is up to you to try and establish the who’s, what’s and why’s of choosing to use those behaviours in those circumstances. If we are honest with ourselves, the “who’s” tend to play a very large role. The “why’s and “what’s” tend to lead back to the “who’s” that are involved.

    When you think you have the main characters sorted then go back and check the process to see who is leading and who is following – what reciprocation takes place and what false assumptions have been placed to make the metaprocesses work. If you uncover no deceptions inherent in your thinking, then you most likely have a problem you don’t want to uncover.

  • Chris Cooper

    I notice Martha Nussbaum peddled a wildly implausible factoid in her interview: only 150 women in France wearing the veil. (She said “burqa” but she needs to include niqabs, since the French law is against full-face veils in general.) The lowest estimates for the number of Moslems (I’m sticking with the politically incorrect spelling) in France are around 2 million; so the number of post-pubertal females must be around 700,000. If only 1 per cent of these wear a full-face veil (again taking a low estimate), that’s 7,000. So where did 150 come from?

    OK, the law is repressive, whether the number of veil-wearers is large or small – but Nussbaum reveals a penchant for ideological arithmetic here.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Alisa, it’s quite simple. Respect starts with ‘R’, and Tolerance starts with ‘T’! Tea enables you to put up with anything, and could even prolong your life (Green T is recommended.).
    Anything else you want to know?

  • Alisa

    And why is this relevant, Hmm?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Alisa: what you call moral relativism is actually a subset of moral relativism, more properly defined as “normative relativism” on wikipedia and here:
    http://www.iep.utm.edu/moral-re/#SH2f

    It seems to me that normative relativism stems from a failure to understand the is/ought dichotomy, hence the epithet “vulgar relativism” (which you can find at the link) seems appropriate; though perhaps “insane relativism” would be even more appropriate.

  • Hmm

    Alisa, Its relevant because its stops people acting unthinkingly. Why should anyone tolerate or respect something if they don’t fully understand what and how doing so will affect them. The majority of people tolerate or respect something because they are told to do so, or feel compelled to do so. They rarely think enough to question what they are being told/feel compelled to go along with.

    In free market terms: “Tolerance” and “Respect” are contractual obligations that tend to be slipped in under peoples radar, like small print written in invisible ink.

  • Hmm

    Alisa, Also this uber toleration and respect thing is something that seems to affect English people more than others. English appear much more proportionally willing to accept loads of tolerance & respect crap than Americans are, although younger americans fall for it too. Modern education seems to prepare students to accept all sorts of contradictory and damaging nonsense.

    Basically – large portions of the Western world now expect everyone to tolerate and respect ideas that are actively destroying them and their culture.

    I may look like a complete tit for pointing this out – but I’d prefer to look like an idiot for highlighting it rather than let it pass unremarked.

  • Joh Koi

    Basically – large portions of the Western world now expect everyone to tolerate and respect ideas that are actively destroying them and their culture.

    Isn’t that pretty much wot the OP was pointing out in the article?

  • Hmm

    Joh Koi, Yes, that is what the OP was pointing out – I phrased that sentence badly.

    Apologies, it should have read more like this: Even when intelligent people know they are being taken for a ride, especially with things like “tolerance” and “respect” they assume that because they have spotted the fallacy that it then ceases to affect their thinking. Perry’s wording in his post shows that he still wishes to be understood as “tolerant”… he continues to abide within a level of deception even while writing about not falling for such deception. If he is aware of what he is doing – then that is fine. Such meta processes are good for short term actions, but cause big problems in the long term.

    There is a twist to this – in that our internal reasoning will argue against our finding problems with our internal reasoning; especially in regards to meta-type thought processes like “tolerance” and “respect”. If I point out the problem – most people read it and go “Oh yes, that’s right!” and then file it under actioned – without ever bothering to correct any fault in their internal logic.

  • Hmm

    I would argue that we should never “tolerate” or “respect” anyone for anything other than the minimum time possible. Instead we should appreciate people for their good or worthwhile aspects.

    For a healthy mental life we should be intolerant of anything detrimental that affects us for long periods of time.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post Perry.

    Sadly it is not just the left that confuse tolerance with respect.

    Recently a young libertarian condemned me for not showing respect for a collectivist.

    And he was quite correct – I was perfectly civil with the leftist (I did not use any curse words or anything like that), but in my reply to the leftist I did not show respect for him.

    Because I have NO RESPECT for collectivism.

    Tolerance is one thing – if they stay out of my way I will stay out of their way.

    But “respect” is totally different – respect has to be EARNED.

  • Alisa

    Hmm, the subjective underpinnings of respect, tolerance or any other human behaviors and attitudes are very interesting (and I’m not being sarcastic: I do find these things extremely interesting and important), but they are irrelevant to the objective point, which is: people should be free to respect or to disrespect whatever and whoever they choose (even if they were told to do so by someone else – as long as ‘told’ doesn’t mean ‘coerced’). Also, such respect or disrespect should be tolerated by everyone else.

  • Hmm

    Alisa, you say: ” the objective point, which is: people should be free to respect or to disrespect whatever and whoever they choose (even if they were told to do so by someone else – as long as ‘told’ doesn’t mean ‘coerced’”

    That defines much of the problem: Human psychology allows us to insert instructions into people’s psyches without them being aware of it. People don’t “choose” to respect or tolerate by thinking… they do so because they “feel” they have to. They “feel” the need to conform. You are arguing for the idea that people should be “free” not to understand that some aspects of their thinking defaults to a state of subservience to the group – a state where they aren’t free!

    There is no good reason to accept anyone else’s respect or disrespect of any subject just because they do it. To accept such a proposition is to agree not to attempt to think about the subject for oneself.

    To tolerate anything unthinkingly is nothing less than abject surrender to groupthink.

    It is a pretense. A fraud we play on ourselves to fit in with the crowd. It contrives our thinking and allows others to control us. Where is the liberty or the good in that?

    It’s time more people started to say “to hell” with tolerance and respect. What we need is appreciation of the good the right and the true.

    Good things don’t have to be tolerated or respected because they are good and true and therefore can rightfully be appreciated for themselves. Only bad things require “toleration” or “respect”.

  • Good things don’t have to be tolerated or respected because they are good and true and therefore can rightfully be appreciated for themselves.

    Undeniably… indeed self evidently.

    Only bad things require “toleration” or “respect”.

    No, I don’t think that is quite right. Respect and tolerance are not the same thing and therefore come into play under different circumstances. Tolerance is indeed something that is only applied to things you think are ‘bad’. I would actually define it as “a decision to not try and suppress something you think is bad”. One can argue the semantics but that is how I see it.

    But respect can be accorded to views that you may think are ‘wrong’ but not necessarily ‘bad’. I would say that one can ‘respect’ a view you do not share, accepting there are limits to one’s own information and understanding and therefore it is possible someone else’s contrary views could have some significant merit even if you do not currently share them. I would stay that is ‘respect’.

    I respect some aspects of Catholic philosophising (there is much to be said for Just War theory, the elective basis of morality, the Thomist methodology (though I am more of a Billy Boy myself really), etc, etc), and so I am willing not just to tolerate them but also give them some degree of respect, even if I did make the rather sweeping statement before that I do not respect any religion… I just cannot respect the whole Godist thing.

  • Alisa

    Human psychology allows us to insert instructions into people’s psyches without them being aware of it. People don’t “choose” to respect or tolerate by thinking…

    With all due respect, Hmm: that is utter nonsense (unless we are talking about the mentally retarded, the insane etc. – which we are not).

  • Alisa

    To tolerate anything unthinkingly is nothing less than abject surrender to groupthink.

    There is never anything unthinking about anything of real importance, Hmm. People choose “not to think” – to choose, means to think. The person in question may afterwards – indeed, immediately – convince himself and others that they were not thinking – but they would be lying, both to themselves and to others.

  • Alisa

    …’that he was not thinking’…

  • Tedd

    Tolerating those who will not tolerate you is more correctly know as “cowardice”.

    Very nice. That is now in my quotes collection.

  • Hmm

    Perry, I’m not wholly saying that tolerance and respect are now becoming the same thing. However the word respect is more often used now to denote something that demands adherence: You should respect this because it deemed right by the great and good etc. Whereas before respect was more often used to mean something that waranted esteem. Respect is used by the media nowadays to function as a tool to descern politicised items that require deference.

    This is not always the case, but it is frequent enough to note and double check when the word is mentioned.

    I find it useful to pay attention to the little things. No matter how bad a philosophy there are few ideas that I cannot find some parts of which I can appreciate. Rather than religion – I concern myself with the truth. Religion is just the maps by which people choose to live. Everyone has religion – some just use a more organised version than others. All have good and bad bits. I concern myself with finding the good bits and how they relate to reality and truth, or spot a bad bit and work back to find the good from that.

    The problem with words is that the wordplay of semantics overlaps with the science of memory processes. This aspect is used to advantage by hypnotists, advertisers and politicians everywhere.

  • Hmm

    Alisa, to choose is to make a decision, often the decision made is to “go with the flow”; which can be either done thoughtfully or without any real thought at all.

    There is a deeper side to such a decision:

    One of the great truths I have found is that we always underestimate the power of words. Words act as keys to subconscious processes. The use of particular words under certain circumstances triggers automatic reactions depending on the skill of wordsmith and the susceptibility of the listener.

    When we use words our subconscious is more in play than our conscious. It is a simple task to bypass the conscious and have fun with the unconscious.(link to a small unconscious wordplay via a “maggiesfarm” commenter)

  • Hmm

    Sorry, that link was supposed to take you to comment #4 by buddy larsen… but if you haven’t already – read the whole post for fun anyway :)

  • Hmm

    Perry, One thing I should make clear. As much as I appreciate and attempt to adhere to the teachings of Christianity – I do not respect it.

    Nor do I disrespect it. Rather – I hold it to account. Each and every good part of I hold to be cherished – and each and every poor part I refuse to tolerate.

    Mad or foolish ? – Perhaps that just makes me a complete bastard! :)

  • Alisa

    Well Hmm, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the mental process of choice.

    BTW, the notion of “brainwashing”, “subliminal messaging” and other magical tricks using the subconscious by bypassing the conscious has been long debunked by utter lack of any empirical evidence to support it. YMMV.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Alisa, that is just what THEY want you to believe! Keep wearing the tinfoil hats and it will all become clear!

  • Hmm

    Alisa, every time you speak face to face with someone you interact on various levels. The largest part of the interaction is subconscious. It is composed of everything from micromovement of muscle groups to hand gestures – voice inflexions and tonal changes. The interplay of these aspects is too great for the conscious mind to analyse and so the unconscious does most of the work.

    It is not difficult to learn how to manipulate people by understanding which processes take preference in the conscious mind. If you want to learn more – google any video of Derron Brown. Its not magic.. just the use of basic psychology and neuroscience.

  • Alisa

    Hmm, I am very far from denying the existence of the subconscious or its ability to be manipulated. What I am saying is that decisions (actual ones, even the ones made in one fleeting moment), by definition, are entirely in the realm of the conscious. This is even more true about decisions involving our social interactions – such as who and what do we respect, and who and what do we tolerate. The fact that we often do not question our behaviors and attitudes does not at all mean that we do not think about them. For one thing, and if nothing else, other people who surround us force us to think about these things. We often (very, very, very often – in fact, all the time) delegate all kinds of things from the conscious to the subconscious. We do this for all kinds of reasons – good and bad – but there’s always a conscious decision made to so delegate.

    As I said, of course a person’s behavior can be manipulated using their subconscious mind by all kinds of means, but such manipulations necessarily require very close contact for a relatively prolonged period of time (think the likes of prisoners or mental patients). This cannot be done by institutions like mass media, the education system and so on. They do have enormous influence, but it works mostly through the audiences’ conscious mind.

    BTW, Derron Brown is absolutely awesome, but what he does is entirely irrelevant to this discussion.

  • The fact that we often do not question our behaviors and attitudes does not at all mean that we do not think about them.

    Indeed. In fact ‘meta-context’ is pretty much what this blog is about :-)

    This cannot be done by institutions like mass media, the education system and so on. They do have enormous influence, but it works mostly through the audiences’ conscious mind.

    Not so sure… one of the most pernicious things about the mass media before the internet was its ability to NOT say the things that do not fit within the unspoken meta-context within which The Establishment (for want of a better word) likes people’s ponderings to exist.

    But what he does is entirely irrelevant to this discussion

    Somewhere between little and nothing :-)

  • Alisa

    Perry, of course when the media (or anyone else) wants to influence someone’s thinking, they abstain from saying things that counter their agenda – but that is secondary to their saying things. If the media said nothing, it would not have existed, as the media is defined by saying things. My main and continuous point is that things that they do say have to go through their audience’s conscious mind – contrary to what Hmm seems to think, there is no way they can bypass that.

  • Hmm

    Alisa, When you have chosen a “mark” and gained their attention – the next part of the “trick” is always to offer them a ‘choice’: Pick a card – any card.

    You replied to Perry that these things have to go through the conscious mind. They don’t. The human brain uses shortcuts to speed up processing. The brain uses these shortcuts to make assumptions based on learned behaviours. It uses these assumptions to allow you to avoid having to waste time and effort making decisions consciously.

    When we shop – do we choose without regard to advertising, or instead to we make a choice based on advertising driven assumptions?

    The tricks that Derren Brown takes to extremes are the exact same processes we use on each other every day.

    That Derren Brown can take basic behaviours and completely trick people – using words, images and slight of hand, doesn’t make those skills a mere theatrical device.

    Those same techniques are used in various forms in every business setting. I think I have even mentioned that I used to use them professionally. Roughly a dozen years ago I taught the use of those skills to medical consultants for use in the rehabilitation of brain damaged/mental illness. Just one of the processes I taught was the use of distraction techniques to make patients accept commands and change thought structures. It’s funny, but merely describing the simple behavioural processes I used in an old job – processes designed to get through to people who wore the tinfoil hat – now makes me appear the tinfoil hat wearer!

    Ahh the irony :)

    I wish schools would teach some basic behavioural psychology. If people grew up knowing the tricks of the trade, and how to spot them, we would have a much savvier and mentally healthier population.

  • Alisa

    Hmm, have you even read any of my comments?

  • Hmm

    Alisa, what do you think I’ve missed? You state that you understand the processes but that you think those processes don’t apply in casual settings and everyday contact because you believe the conscious mind would filter it. I replied to that.

  • Alisa

    Hmm, I now realize that what you may be missing is that we are discussing fundamental values and attitudes – rather than mundane preferences such as which toothpaste to purchase. This point seems so obvious that I assumed it should go without much saying – although I did say it, but possibly did not stress it enough.

  • Hmm

    Alisa, there is no difference in decision making between fundamental values and mundane preferences. The mental process is the exact same. That is part of what I had been trying to explain – people are so easily led because the process for leading them, to either choose a washing powder or make life changing is the same + is simplicity itself.

  • Alisa

    Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree yet again.

  • Hmm

    Ah Alisa, such is life :)