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In a LinkedIn discussion on the allowance of extremist thinking, I suggested a line be drawn in terms of intolerance as a determining factor of clearly undesirable extremism. Why? Extremism is NOT hard to qualify. The line drawn between belief and fanaticism is when you go from apologetics regarding your own thinking to the vilification of opposing thoughts.

Intolerance of outside or contradictory ideas is the characteristic of the extreme. That is why we must determine extremism based solely on whether an ideology does not allow room for freedom ot thought used otherwise, and not by any subjective criteria. Even physical violence is not a decisive factor, because context always determines justification, if any.

However, there was disagreement when I suggested “intolerance of intolerance” is an affirmation of tolerance rather than a contradiction. To me, the accusation that it would be hypocritical to not tolerate intolerance is a simple philosophy trick to trot out at a party. It’s in the strictest sense a “logical” paradox, but you’d never get away with it past Freshman year. It’s just foolish to push a statement to such an absolute it no longer has meaning. The obvious meaning is the axiom itself, and not some theoretical application to itself.

By analogy, consider a law to nullify all laws. It appears a contradiction in some literal sense, but doesn’t magically negate itself by being a “law” in itself, becoming null by its own decree. Instead it IS the nature of the exact purpose it intends.

Or if I say “stop doing what I tell you to!” how can you comply without also not complying?

To give a more personal analogy, I am a martial artist AND a pacifist. I do my best to do not harm and prevent harm between people in the world, with no distinction of friend or enemy. If I use force with the clear intention of stopping harm instead of merely inflicting it (though may be necessary), is it really violence? Does it break my oath? Or is my pacifism a charade where I refuse to ever fight or advocate force and allow intentional harm, even subjugation? Is there no moral difference between shooting someone only because that are shooting at you and doing it because you hate {insert nationalistic epithet here}? Who is the man of peace?

Therefore, Intolerance of intolerance is NOT intolerance at all. The first use of the word isn’t equivocal with intolerance but it’s opposite in this one case. To tolerate intolerance benefits intolerance. To not tolerate intolerance benefits tolerance and therefore is not truly being intolerant.

On the other hand …

One may argue that intolerance of intolerance can be extreme. I posit that violence in general against intolerance IS intolerance, but only if it is done so without necessity to preserve tolerance (and therefore freedom of thought, protection from subjective judgments, etc.) Otherwise it’s just one form of intolerance fighting another, and the enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend.

I am speaking with the viewpoint of Hannah Arendt, on the reason for executing the perpetrators of the Holocaust:

“Just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations–as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world–we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to share the world with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang “

From this (my) viewpoint, you cannot fight for tolerance and not fight against intolerance and claim moral consistency.

The challenge is not to become what we fight against in terms of means and methods and keep target on the actions of intolerance rather than the human beings who can (in some cases) be persuaded from it.

The prime example today

Today, certain people have induced great Islamaphobia by insisting some inherent nature upon Islam that is incurably intolerant, and at worst some amorphous “they” must be treated with some eerily familiar wholesale “final solution” out of an equally fictitious necessity. With gravest irony, THAT is clearly intolerance, and continues to cause unnecessary blood letting.

However, I suggest we cannot tolerate truly intolerant radicalism — those specific arguments in contrast to individual radicals or the over-arching ideology. We ought not accept such bleatings, give it an audience, and so forth. It only comes time to “infringe” on any such people’s liberties when it becomes license — harming others or reducing their own freedoms. This is unambiguously simple ethics that is the basis for a free society. Actions of intolerance cannot be tolerated — they must be remediated in some way, but again, without undue force and prejudice that strays into that evil we are trying to remediate.

Hate speech in its basic definition tries to shoot salvos in the grey area, persuading other people to cross that line from bad attitude to action, which can be far more insidious than mere violence when we consider institutionalized injustices. And even in subtle cases, it is very easy to distinguish between shouting one’s beliefs and shouting beliefs about other people and their beliefs. If we can learn to habitually make this one simple distinction, the pervasive bigotry in all directions we see today would have to crawl back under their respective rocks.

Instead, we hope to play some moral king of the hill and invent political correctness to subjectively and arbitrarily judge ideologies and lifestyles rather than by such simple, logical criteria impartial toward or away from any such labels. In fact, that is the whole purpose of just law.

But, in the spirit of not being intolerant, I am open to other views and arguments so that I may clarify or amend this position with true dialectic benefit. I leave the door open to comments.