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Getting Rid of Tolerance

Over at The Chronicle Review, Suzanna Danuta Walters has a piece on gay rights and tolerance [1] that shows, if nothing else, how fighting for gay rights has become a religion–and a particularly extreme one–to some folks:

In truth, I couldn’t have imagined the world we live in now—some of us, that is, here in America. The changes have been well documented. In media, Orange Is the New Black reigns, and queers increasingly pop up in everyday dramas and award-winning comedies. In politics, more gays and lesbians are in local and national office, and antidiscrimination laws are de rigueur for the Fortune 500 and some municipalities. In our private lives, earnest heterosexuals declare their support for gay rights and their fondness for their gay friends, neighbors, family members. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been repealed, and marriage equality seems to have won the day, prompting more than one blogger to note that it’s fashionable to support gay marriage.

I could go on. But that story is oft told. A familiar narrative of inevitable progress, it wraps us in a warm blanket of American exceptionalism. Pundits and pollsters declare, with more unanimity than is typical in political prognostications, that the end of homophobia is just around the corner. Breathless tales of the triumph of tolerance and self-satisfied encomiums on our post-gay new world dominate our national discourse, with dissenting voices to be found only on the wary queer left and the furious Christian right. For most, marriage + military inclusion + a few queers on TV = rainbow nirvana.

But it isn’t, Walters argues. The problem is that we still allow religious individuals to think that homosexuality is wrong. As a culture we encourage these folks to “tolerate” homosexuality, but, Walters writes, “the toleration proves the thing (the person, the sexuality, the food) to be irredeemably nasty to begin with.” And since there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, the only right response is acceptance:

Tolerance is not just a low bar; it actively undercuts robust integration and social belonging by allowing the warp and woof of anti-gay animus to go unchallenged. Tolerance allows us to celebrate (hysterically) the coming out of macho professional athletes as a triumphant sign of liberation rather than a sad commentary on the persistence of the closet and the hold of masculinist ideals. Tolerance allows religious “objections” to queer lives to remain in place, even as it claims that a civilized society leaves its homos alone. Tolerance pushes for marriage equality and simultaneously assures anxious allies that it won’t change their marriages or their lives.

Tolerance allows “anti-gay animus to go unchallenged”? Really? In reality, what it does is allow folks who disagree with Walters to voice that disagreement—something she seems unable to stomach—so she proposes we get rid of tolerance itself.

This is the way of religious extremism. There is nothing wrong with holding that my beliefs are true and yours are false, or even that people who disagree with me are willfully, irrationally, satanically, espousing a lie. Where things start to go south is when I demand that others recant or suffer the consequences because their disbelief is an offense to the great deity. Danuta does not quite take this very last step (she does call for religious objectors to drop all objections), but once tolerance has been thrown out, what’s to stop her, or anyone else, from punishing us “stubborn” gay deniers?

What’s interesting, too, is that she also argues against the idea (and rightly so in my view) that homosexuality is genetically determined, which makes the link between this particular strand of gay rights advocacy and religion even stronger. Homosexuality should be accepted not because it is a genetic predisposition but because, well, it is right and good. While she writes that “Difference…makes a difference,” what she actually argues for is a nation united in its love of gayness—a true “rainbow nirvana” where all differences are allowed, except one.

24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "Getting Rid of Tolerance"

#1 Comment By Aaron Paolozzi On May 21, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

I almost expect one of these types of stories a day now. The prisoners are now the jailers and they want us to know it.

Not proud of how my progenitor’s generation handled homosexuality originally. Hate gets no one anywhere and leaves scars on both the victim and the abuser. But to accept that is ok for Pro-SSM folks to get their turn with the lash is also unacceptable. Everyone is wrong so everyone should stop pointing fingers and focus on their own lives and how to better themselves without having to pull someone or something else down.

#2 Comment By John Stoffard On May 21, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

It is possible to both claim it is wrong to fire people for being gay And claim that rapid change to ancient systems is disruptive and unstable.

The last social experiment on this level was the Volstead Act, which likewise had broad support across the nation.

In this case we have homosexuality, which has had various levels of acceptance in different societies but has never been considered the equivalent of marriage.

#3 Comment By Devinicus On May 21, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

The most ridiculous aspect of Walters’ piece (apart from it being simply an advertisement for her new book) is that she cannot see how much of America has long moved past toleration already into acceptance and celebration. To endorse the equality of homosexuality and heterosexuality is to be a right-thinking person on the right side of History, after all!

Only in the academy could someone think the Libertarian Revolution is failing.

#4 Comment By vegas mike On May 21, 2014 @ 9:19 pm

What I thinks really upsets Prof. Walters is that the world hasn’t changed all that much since the 1970s. People still get married, watch a lot of football and venerate the military. Like Prof. Walters I don’t think gay inclusion in the military will make future wars, if they occur, necessarily a good thing. Feminist and Gay politics lost their radical edge a couple of decades ago. Radical Feminist and Queer politics is now confined to a small academic ghetto

#5 Comment By philadelphialawyer On May 21, 2014 @ 10:47 pm

“Tolerance” is not good enough because tolerance does imply that there is something wrong with whatever is being tolerated. We “tolerate” that which is less than optimal, that which is not preferred, and is flawed in some way. In precision industry, “tolerance” actually means how far something (a tool, a part, whatever) can vary from what it should, ideally be, in size, strength, etc. Police departments “tolerate” certain minor offenses, but they are still illegal for all that.

And I fail to see what genetic (or general biological) determinism has to do with it. Religion is not genetically or biologically determined, but I would not say that I merely “tolerate” Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. Nor that I only “tolerate” atheists and agnostics. Again, to use that word seems to imply that there is some ideal religious view, which the person and group in question falls short of, but that we then overlook that failing, in the name of social peace or some such other value.

Frankly, I don’t know of a good substitute. I refuse to think that anyone, gay or straight, should be “celebrated” on that basis alone. And “accepted” seems too much like toleration. To “accept” something sorta implies that you could, within your rights, reject it, but merely choose not to.

Perhaps “respect” is the right word. We should respect all persons, of whatever gender, race, religion, sexual preference, whatever, unless and until they give us a reason not to.

Of course, that might not satisfy the author, who seems to want to argue the diversity is a good thing in and of itself claim. While I don’t really buy that, I also think it should be pointed out that what the author actually objects to is renewed efforts at actual discrimination, mostly now couched in terms of allegedly protecting religious freedom. And NOT the “right” to hold anti gay views.

#6 Comment By Christopher On May 21, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

It seems to me that the reason tolerance is a goal because activists have a healthy idea of what they can and can’t accomplish.

Specifically, unless you work at the Ministry of Love, you can’t use the government to force people to love something.

You can, however, use it to force people to tolerate it. The civil rights act uses laws to enforce not love of all races, but tolerance of their presence in certain areas.

#7 Comment By Marie On May 22, 2014 @ 10:15 am

Professor Walters needs to widen her aspect on history.

The acceptance of homosexuality is hardly exceptional to modern America. The way it expresses itself is, of course, uniquely modern and American (what else could it be?) but there have certainly been times and places in history where homosexual acts were tolerated, even celebrated.

These periods usually corresponded with the decline of a civilization into decadence and corruption, self-absorption and exploitation of the weak around it.

#8 Comment By mrscracker On May 22, 2014 @ 10:34 am

Pretty much, we are all “intolerant” of somethings.We need to find a better word.

#9 Comment By Benjamin P. Glaser On May 22, 2014 @ 11:47 am

Christians who believe in original sin should have no problem understanding homosexuality to be a part of someone’s internal make-up.

#10 Comment By Richard @[email protected] On May 22, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

Homosexuality exists, and no one knows where it actually comes from, or why God allows it to exist, although He does have some specific things to say about the decisi0on to practice of it in His Word.
In the meantime, I can accept it, rather than tolerate it.
But I will never accept or tolerate homosexual marriage, which is a direct attack on God Himself, and His revealed work and purpose of creation. This is as elementary as it gets, and He created the male body to marry the female body. That is so obvious that to claim otherwise is to refuse to tolerate His sovereignty. Dong this is not tolerance, it is blasphemy.

#11 Comment By Eli On May 22, 2014 @ 2:58 pm

“Where things start to go south is when I demand that others recant or suffer the consequences because their disbelief is an offense to the great deity.”

That’s how education works, though, right? When you take a test on, say, arithmetic, you either supply the right answer or you suffer the consequences. If you write a paper on the causes of the first World War, you either correctly identify those causes or you suffer the consequences. And so on.

Are you now going to tell me that the entire school system operates in “the way of religious extremism”? Must we eliminate all consequences in order to avoid joining “a religion – and a particularly extreme one”?

#12 Comment By Cogito On May 22, 2014 @ 10:14 pm

You can’t be expected to do more than tolerate what disgusts you. Only a really sick, controlling fanatic would demand more.

#13 Comment By Wade McKenzie On May 23, 2014 @ 11:39 am

Contra the homosexuals and their straight useful idiot fellow travelers, homosexuality is not an alternative modus of romance but just another bizarre sexual fetish like sadomasochism or pedophilia. To say that our society or any other–so long as it is concerned with the moral character of its associates–has no interest whatever in promoting the happiness and contentment of practitioners of a sexual fetish would be an understatement indeed.

I suppose that there is a sense in which homosexuality, though base and ignoble, must nonetheless be tolerated to a certain limited extent–just as it would be pointless to outlaw masturbation. But to initiate a national campaign to celebrate masturbation and intimidate those who refuse to go along with the festivities–this will no doubt be coming down the pipeline in the coming decades as we continue to scrape the bottom of the moral barrel–wouldn’t so much be ludicrous as it would be malicious.

And so it is with the “gay” rights campaign.

#14 Comment By Luke Daxon On May 23, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

“Only a really sick, controlling fanatic would demand more”

Quite so, and a decent description of the jacobin establishment on both sides of the Atlantic.

#15 Comment By Louis On May 23, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

This is all garbage and its being dictated by the left. The right is acting like a dear caught in the headlights because of its religious conservative base when it is completely un-necessary.

The argument is not whether homosexuality should exist because it does and as a conservative I do not want to spend money to incarcerate a gay person for homosexuality nor do I want to pay to commit someone to an asylum because they are homosexual. So there is no point in making the religious argument against homosexuality or gay marriage or civil unions. Homosexuality exists and homosexuals deserve the right to have a relationship and engage in a caring relationship.

Once again the stupid republicans have fallen for the liberal trap for them of accusations of hate, intolerance, prejudice, bigotry, etc.

The real argument for republicans / conservatives is not homosexuality but homosexuality in the public sphere.

That is the core of the religious and conservative and republican base. Do we as a society want pornography, do we want a hypersexualized society, do we as a society want a society without marriage, husbands, fathers, mothers, etc. Do we as a society want a transient revolving door as the foundation of family where children a more like pets for parents with a temporary nature / impermanent nature.

Look at the street kids today who left their drug addicted parents, or their unmarried parents hoping to make a better like for themselves because their parents had other interests than caring for them. This is the world total freedom and individualism is creating.

The wealth we created over 200 years came from one generation sacrificing for the next…today with self centered selfish hedonism paramount these kids are becoming by products…disposable…transient…meant to serve the temporary needs of parents if one can call them that.

What is the role of sex, drugs, liquor, pornography, homosexuality in the public sphere.

Not should it exist?

What and how much should exist in the public sphere? Thats how republicans and conservatives frame the argument in a way that liberals cannot accuse them of hatred, bigotry, prejudice, hate, etc.

#16 Comment By Henri James On May 24, 2014 @ 9:28 am

RE: Richard @[email protected]

Should blasphemous things be illegal in America? And blasphemous against which particular strains of religion?

#17 Comment By DG On May 24, 2014 @ 9:43 am

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”

― G.K. Chesterton

#18 Comment By Joan On May 24, 2014 @ 11:48 am

This review kind of misses the degree of radicalism that Walters represents. She reveals it when she says “Shouldn’t we argue that same-sex marriage might make us all think differently about the relationship between domestic life and gender norms and push heterosexuals to examine their stubborn commitment to a gendered division of labor?” In other words, she’s not just talking about making one institution – marriage – a little roomier. She’s talking about SSM as a wedge with which to break down the norm of gender as determinative of anything. In her ideal world, medical science can give anybody any arrangement of genitals they like, all mutually consensual sexual activity is completely acceptable, and both will be completely irrelevant to individuals’ participation in the economy, their political activities as citizens and their religious affiliations. And she thinks this is a good thing that every right-thinking person will be in favor of. No wonder she thinks tolerance is not enough.

#19 Comment By Richard @[email protected] On May 25, 2014 @ 9:36 am

No, blasphemy, directed against the Trinity of God, should not be illegal in the United States. We should be free to worship Satan as well as God, which is why God gives us free will. But that is not the point. The point is that blasphemy against God is blasphemy against God, the one who actually created us, and that is not something to accept, support, or tolerate in any way whatsoever.

#20 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 27, 2014 @ 9:06 am

I also have disparaged the word “tolerance” for some years, but from a different angle. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “I don’t like the sound of that word. I don’t want anyone to tolerate me. I want my rights under the Constitution.” And of course there is Tom Lehrer’s line “Step up and shake the hand, of someone you can’t stand, you can tolerate him if you try.”

There is no reason in the world that I should appreciate homosexuality. There is also no reason in the world I should take it upon myself to burden a gay couple with carping criticism. Whatever the cosmic implications of the way they live their life, I am content to leave between them and God. It does not impact whether I can admire their garden, appreciate their cooking, whether either of them are qualified to hold any number of jobs… although someone obnoxiously pressing fellow workers to take a position on gay marriage might be grounds for termination — it creates a hostile work environment, after all.

I don’t know that there is any objective basis to classify homoexuality as a “bizarre sexual fetish,” but it is entirely possible that there is something wrong with it. I doubt that it does real harm to others, or to society in general, but it is, in an objective sense, a perversion of the purpose of sexuality. It is patently obvious that sexual emotions arose to induce male and female to produce another generation, and if our species were not male and female, there would be no sexual impulses to engage homosexually. I don’t expect anyone to tolerate my saying so, just to refrain from resorting to illegal means to retaliate. They can perfectly well speak up and explain why they think I’m wrong.

We can also agree on any number of other topics, or enjoy sharing other activities, without having to agree on the nature of sexuality. Nearly all the people in the world are people whose sexuality is irrelevant to whatever relation I may have to them.

When you take a test on, say, arithmetic, you either supply the right answer or you suffer the consequences. If you write a paper on the causes of the first World War, you either correctly identify those causes or you suffer the consequences.

Eli, you just shot down your own thesis. In arithmetic, there is an immutable fact that 2 + 2 = 4. Only a half-baked lazy western dilattente playing with Zen Buddhism would ask why 2 + 2 cannot sometimes equal 5, particularly if I want it to.

But, the causes of World War I? On that complex and sometimes subjective question, reasonable minds may differ, substantially. A professor of any integrity grades students not on whether they gave the right answer, but on how well they expressed and defended their thesis, grounding it in documented facts and sources, considered and responded to analysis that is already published and reasonably respected. The latter is also more appropriate to papers concerning homosexuality and marriage.

#21 Comment By EarlyBird On May 27, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

This is the final end zone dance of a winning gay acceptance football game. The “it’s not enough to tolerate us, you must like us” crowd is small and loud, and not representative of most gay people – at least those who I count as friends. Like 98% of humanity they just want to be left alone to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and are not politically pointed or radical individuals.

#22 Comment By philadelphialawyer On May 27, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

“I doubt that it does real harm to others, or to society in general, but it is, in an objective sense, a perversion of the purpose of sexuality. It is patently obvious that sexual emotions arose to induce male and female to produce another generation, and if our species were not male and female, there would be no sexual impulses to engage homosexually.”

No doubt then, following the same “objective” reasoning, eating anything other than the most healthy, raw fruits, vegetables, whole grains, with perhaps a little fish or meat once in a very great while is a “perversion” of the “purpose” of hunger. It is “patently obvious” that hunger arose so that humans would eat foods that supply them with the necessary calories and nutrients.

So then, cooked food of any kind is a “perversion.” As is bread, certainly bread that is not whole wheat.

Moving along, it is patently obvious that the purpose of thirst is to induce humans to drink the water they need to stay alive and healthy. Thus, drinking wine, beer, soda, coffee, tea, cow’s milk, even juice, are perversions too.

Humans should ingest mother’s milk upon birth, and, after that, only the healthy, raw food and pure water that will best serve their health, strength and longevity. Anything else is a “perversion.”

#23 Comment By Delirium On May 28, 2014 @ 10:59 am

“So then, cooked food of any kind is a “perversion.” As is bread, certainly bread that is not whole wheat.

Moving along, it is patently obvious that the purpose of thirst is to induce humans to drink the water they need to stay alive and healthy. Thus, drinking wine, beer, soda, coffee, tea, cow’s milk, even juice, are perversions too.”

And the winner is… THE STRAW MAN!

Last time I checked, drinking soda and eating bread does in fact keeps you alive.

Ironically, this puts homosexuality in a category even below McPseudofood.

#24 Comment By philadelphialawyer On May 28, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

“Last time I checked, drinking soda and eating bread does in fact keeps you alive.”

Last time I checked, nutritionists were saying that they would kill you, over the long run. Unlike whole grains and water.

Junk food is to real food as homosexual sex is to heterosexual sex (at least of the intercourse variety, and at least if both partners are fertile). The former behavior, in both cases, will satisfy the natural appetite without fulfilling the “purpose” of that appetite, which is the inducement of the latter behavior in both cases.

The problem is not in the analogy, but in the original argument. Where is written that we are slaves to evolution? Why should I, or anyone else, care why, in the evolutionary environment, certain appetites “arose?” And why should we restrict our satisfaction of those appetites to behaviors that meet that rationale? Or else have them labeled “perverse?”

Evolution is a sloppy, inexact thing. It can make us horny and hungry and thirsty, so that we will procreate and eat healthy food and drink healthy water. But we can and do short circuit evolution’s “reasoning” all the time. Which is why I brought up “unhealthy” food and drink. I refuse to obey what “evolution” wants just as I refuse to obey what some alleged deity allegedly wants. And even more so in the case of sex than nutrition, because my own health actually does depend on nutrition, whereas the decision to procreate or not is one I, and most people (including heterosexuals), make on other bases than the “purpose” of evolutionarily arisen desires.

Our behaviors should be judged on the harm principle, not on how well they conform with evolution’s “purposes” and not by what ancient religions call “blasphemy.”