26 September 2006

Paradox of Tolerance

Really good forum today by Dr. Robert Putnam from Haaavard. I have to agree with Dr. Putnam's conclusion--a loss of social connectedness is so evident in the society I see around me. We've raised a society of people who don't seem to care about each other. The modern paradox is that we preach tolerance and diversity as the main points of a strict orthodoxy, and discriminate against anyone who expresses beliefs other than those two.

As a result, we've grown to think that we're more accepting while actually becoming more isolated from anyone who doesn't share our idiosincratic beliefs. The tolerance that modern society preaches is not one of unity, but one of solitude--you can have your beliefs over here, and I'll have mine over there, and then we can all get along. Sure, no conflict ensues, but there's a severe lack of what Dr. Putnam calls "bridging" social capital. People with different beliefs stay away from each other for fear of offending the master value, tolerance. No meaningful interaction can take place without a sincere expression of opinions. And since expressing non-universal beliefs has become taboo, the only people with whom we can interact are those who already share our values and lifestyle.

Tolerance has also made it worse when it does come to actually sharing our beliefs with each other. The ideas of tolerance and diversity are taught to children as self-evident, something that any rational being would accept. Other values have taken on this self-existing quality. In this century, things that were once beliefs and values have transformed into fact. We've been raised to think our beliefs are based on evidence, and that, given the evidence, our position is the only rational one. Thus, when we have to actually deal with differences of belief, we misinterpret wildly. Either the other side must be ignorant, in which case we must inform them, or they must be illogical and immoral, in which case we must campaign against them at any cost, without regard for right and wrong. It's much the same as the situation Gallileo faced: our community already knows what is true, so anyone who disagrees is ignorant, inaccurate, or demonic. There's no room for actual debate, only a vicious defense of our self-evident truths.

Frankly, I'm as disappointed as anyone that our philosophy of tolerance hasn't worked out better. Theoretically, it sounds like such a good idea, but in practice, it's quite difficult to carry out without the problems mentioned above. Even in our microsphere of Church culture, we see this. Theoretically, all political parties are compatible with church doctrine, and we should love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, send me to almost any Mormon activity and I can easily identify which groups of people are LMs (Liberal Mormons), CMs (Conservative), and OMs (Orthodox). Ironic that tolerance has created so much division in our society.

I wish I could say I had the solution, but I'm not sure what it might be. I think it might have something to do with accepting the idea of an absolute truth, somehow avoiding the massive prejudices that come with that, and skipping straight to the phase where we all help each other to move towards that truth. But I could be wrong.

And . . .

Quote of the Day (brought to you today by Hogwarts, A History): "It struct me forcibly that he was right. 'They' had certainly 'spoiled me' at 'that Brigham Young Academy'--spoiled me as mother spoils her child--with kindness, encouragements, appreciation, charity--spoiled me so that I can never be content to take anything but the best the world has to give nor satisfied to give anything but the best that lies within me." -- Annie Pike Greenwood, non-Mormon student who wrote the lyrics to the BYU college song

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