Tolerance and toleration


 

“No offense intended. None taken.”

That old tried and true cliched axiom of American social relations seems to have been lost in the latest outbreak of campus madness; we have lived through several you know!

In a free society where the fundamental issue of freedom of speech is sacrosanct, it is obvious that there will be virtually constant friction.

You are allowed to say anything which is not actionable to the detriment of others. There is the dictum of Oliver Wendel Holmes, perhaps the most distinguished American jurist of all time, in his famous “clear and present danger” opinion for a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court in the 1919 case of Schenck vs. United States. One of Holmes great attributes was that he could lay out the law in language anyone could understand. In this case, he said that free speech did not cover crying “fire” in a crowded theater when there was otherwise no real danger of an incendiary. That obviously could produce a stampede which would indeed be a menace to life and limb.

Free speech is therefore likely to go off the rails, in the U.S. as in other democracies, when it wobbles in either direction: that is, when it goes over the line out rightly advocating violence in what would be construed as an inevitable manner. On the other hand, there is current wave of violating the very essence of free speech among a growing little band of university students. They see all criticism of totems of their particularly prejudices as prohibitive. Or they take it upon themselves to determine what is allowed or what is not permitted, what is in accordance with morality and what is immoral. .

Young people will be young people, and that includes their “knowing” that they can replace ancient verities with their new found knowledge and insight.

What is disturbing about the current wave of intellectual warfare in what are supposed to be the seats of higher learning in this country is that the raging students either are able to immediately intimidate the recognized authorities, or worse still, get faculty acquiescence to their fantasies.

Neither of these phenomena are unknown. Courage in the face of a screaming rabble is a rare commodity. That is true even if it is a crowd composed of what could be well dressed young people whose parents have the wherewithal to pay enormous tuition and other costs for a vaunted education. That kind of intellectual courage has never been nor will it ever be abundant.

And that the students’ worst violations of logic are endorsed by the generation of academics who still cling to their idiocies of the 1960s – their half-understood accumulations of socialist thought that had been debated over several centuries and always found wanting. That was, too, to be expected. Having not accomplished their revolution, these parlor guerrillas have followed some of their leading lights of those days and pledged to make their transformation of society through “the long march through the institutions”. Supporting loud and misguided young student revolutionaries is better than putting their own highly paid careers in jeopardy through a forthright advocacy of their own pseudo-revolutionary agenda.

This too will pass.

But the concern is with a group of young people, soon emerging into adult life and its responsibilities, presumably as our elite, who do not seem to grasp the fundamental premise of democracy. That is, the old saw that I oppose your ideas with all my being, but I would fight to the death to defend your right to express them.

There is an essential difference, therefore, between tolerance and toleration. To tolerate is to permit others to express their opinions and be heard. Tolerance is a well honed ability to listen to opposing opinions with receptive understanding to better appreciate the views of others and to examine, studiously, whether they may indeed be better than our own. That is what is being lost at the moment, and puts us in great jeopardy.

sws-11-27-15

 

 

 

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