Thursday, June 06, 2013

The New Intolerance

From a book review on D.A. Carson's The Intolerance of Tolerance:

He tells us that the new understanding of tolerance has meant a shift from accepting the right of others to hold dissenting views to demanding acceptance of such views as equally valid. It thus implies a shift from free discussion of conflicting truth claims to suppressing conflicts by silencing truth claims. This shift, he says, makes the new tolerance intellectually debilitating as well as blind, intolerant, and socially dangerous.

In spite of its oddity and irrationality, the new tolerance is very difficult to fight. Developments in Western culture, the author tells us, have put it at the heart of our “plausibility structure”—the set of basic principles practically everybody accepts without question. As such, it is tenaciously held because our collective plausibility structure has become thin, and losing a large piece of what remains would threaten the coherence of our common social world.

The result is that the new tolerance holds the obvious moral high ground while dissent is considered irrational and presumptively violent. Its demands are treated as uniquely neutral, and for that reason it carries the rights but not the responsibilities of truth: it has the right to prevail, but no obligation to explain itself. To add to the confusion, both the new and old approaches to tolerance remain in circulation and discussions shift opportunistically from one to the other. It thus becomes all the more difficult to discuss basic issues in a rational way.