Friday, 20 November 2015

The Paradox of Tolerance

"Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them." -Karl Popper

There are many people today who are offended simply by other people having the nerve to disagree with them. In many cases the views they hold are so visceral that they themselves cannot entertain rational debate and seek every opportunity to close it down. In default of an argument they stigmatise opposition by abuse, as though to stereotype a particular view by lumping it together with some despised -ism should be sufficient to end all discussion.

The denial of platform movement which is sweeping UK universities (even Cambridge!) and is, I believe, present in an even more extreme form in the US where the desire to 'protect' people against being offended seems particularly censorious, is itself an egregious offence against freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is vital to civilised society.

John Stuart Mill made the limits of freedom of speech clear a century and a half ago in On Liberty. There exists absolutely NO right not to be offended. People who claim to be so offended by the peacefully-expressed views of other people that they demand such views be suppressed are themselves attacking a free society. People who claim the right to be offended on behalf of other people by the peacefully-expressed views of another person are on course to destroy free society.

Knowledge and understanding is only advanced when a challenge to received wisdom is not only permitted but rationally answered. Systems that allow no dissent or challenge in the end become hollow recitations of notions that even their adherents themselves cannot rationally justify. The unexamined becomes a dead letter, a meaningless mystical incantation.

How far backwards has humanity marched since Voltaire was able to disagree with what an opponent said but defend to the death his right to say it?

Since I am advancing this view peacefully and rationally I am within Mill's rules for freedom of speech. And if my view offends anyone, well that's just tough. I do NOT regret it.

By all means campaign for what you believe politically, artistically, religiously etc., but do it peacefully and do not destroy the good whilst in pursuit of the perfect.