The Tolerance Paradox, and political speech

Cover for The Open Society and Its Enemies[A]. Via Commons.Wikimedia.Org
Academic freedom is a hard-fought and eminently defensible idea that one must – in the academic setting – allow all forms of thought and endeavor, even the study to support world views which may be morally repugnant. But, as philosophical and legal study have concluded, this has a limitation when it comes into conflict with the right of self-preservation.

This, in a nutshell, is the Paradox of Tolerance[en.WP].

The current administration in the USA has made racist remarks. That is not an opinion but demonstrable fact. It has enacted policies which identify target groups for differential treatment. And it has requested legislation to limit or eliminate rights of classes of citizens.

A number of online sites have concluded, logically, that political speech in support of this administration is hate speech. It is in support of an administration which by all measures is racist/ethnist, homophobic/transphobic, and classist. And such sites are not swinging-lefty activists. We’re talking little old ladies who [Ravelry].

And they drew their inspiration from role-playing gamers at RPG.net whose policy announcement on the forum set off a firestorm of vitriol from what are amusingly called drive-by – people who are meat-puppeted by their masters to attack and take over internet conversations by registering multiple accounts to join a conversation in which they have no legitimate part.

Which exemplifies why the paradox of tolerance exists. If you are a tolerant community, accepting virulent intolerance will result in your community’s destruction. Because those who are intolerant of others are also intolerant of your rules regarding tolerance. They are also perfectly willing to justify their hideous actions (or inaction) as for some mythical greater good.

There is a point at which tolerating hateful speech is going to kill you, or at the very least harm you. Tolerating it from the government is inexcusable. Because “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist…” Niemöller initially supported Hitler because he felt Hitler was better than the progressives who were too atheistic. He spent the last seven years of the war in ‘protective custody’ in concentration camps.