Sunday, 25 January 2015

Indoctrinating for tolerance? 25.01.15

"Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he's right with God."


[Before you start yelling at me and calling me all sort of politically and/or anatomically inaccurate things, please note that theoretically I'm about as left wing as one could be without falling off the edge of the political table. I'm not attacking an enemy, rather identifying what I believe is a serious problem in my own camp.]

More often than not these days when I listen or read from self-labelled "liberal thinkers", I'm seeing a lot of attitudes along the line of "we just need to teach them the right way to think". "Them" means, of course, those who do not agree with the liberal ideas du jour. The undercurrent seem to be that if only those poor benighted idiots understood how entirely immoral and just plain WRONG their position is, they would immediately change their mind and come over to our way of thinking. 

The fact that our position feels so moral to us because it supports our cultural mores, beliefs, etc, and their feels so immoral because it goes against them seems to have been forgotten. We're obviously right and they're obviously wrong, so if we explain to them our position and they don't take it up they're either unteachable morons or deliberately evil. So we try to re-educate them first, but if that doesn't work we obviously need to control/restrict them or hit them on the head with sticks until they go away.

We seem to be forgetting two key things: that Right and Wrong are far from universal, and that by demanding that people abandon their mores and beliefs what we are trying to do is at the very least indoctrination, at its worst essentially a form of cultural annihilation. Of course, we couldn't possibly be doing that because we're uber-tolerant. It can't be cultural annihilation when WE try to impose our mores on others, can it? 

I don't know if this is in a way inevitable in a subculture that prides itself on complete tolerance - an in-built and inevitable paradoxical consequence of people wanting to reach an extreme. We can see the same problem with fully pacifist ideals. In a fully pacifist society a single violent person could wreak untold havoc, because nobody would be there to stop them. The only way we could create a fully pacifist society is if absolutely everyone agreed to be a pacifist; hence the only way to achieve that society would be to indoctrinate, lock up forever or plain destroy anyone who refuses to be a pacifist, which ain't precisely a pacifist thing to do. Internationally, any attacking enemy would prevail, because nobody would be there to fight back; so if we want to survive we have to choose between turning them to our way of thinking or annihilating them.

Ursula Le Guin wrote about the internal paradox of a fully anarchist society in "The Dispossessed" ( For the anarchic ideal to survive, the society needs to develop internal means of repression. At the end, it seems that individuals are only free as long as the follow "the party line", even though there officially is no party. The moment they try to exercise their freedom, they find themselves punished for it.

In a society aspiring to complete tolerance, we lack the means to manage those who think so radically differently from us that they would undermine the whole system; so we've got to indoctrinate them, disappear them or destroy them for the system to survive. We've lost the middle ground of just going "dude, you're pushing it too far", because that would be intolerant of us. We can't judge, so we can't negotiate. At the same time we also can't compromise on tolerance, cos that's accepting some intolerance, and any intolerance is wrong wrong wrong... So we have to be fully intolerant of intolerance, and a kind of madness lies that way.

1 comment:

Rob Harland said...

It's particularly painful when you compare e.g. the BNP to Britain First. The BNP were caught out being blatantly racist, and there's enough of a legal and moral justification to largely shut them out of political discourse -- they were into directly limiting the freedom of others.

But then you have Britain First attacking "Islam" (when really they want to get at brown-skinned immigrants who happen to be Muslim) and you have the dilemma that now they are criticising a belief system, something which is part of any healthy democracy, even if Britain First do it in the worst possible way as a cover for something else. So do you wait for them to get violent before closing them down, or do you legally clamp down on criticism of religion, which would have all sorts of knock on effects and be extremely difficult to even put into legal language in the first place?

The default position seems to be "wait for them to screw up while watching them very carefully so you can see them do it".

And nice to know you are still in existence!