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Tolerance

This is sort of a continuation of my last article, mainly prompted by the screeching tone of the media, who can no longer be called objective by any observant and semi-intelligent person, and the idiocy of the President, who continues to demonstrate his stupidity and lack of political understanding at every opportunity (not that the alternative would have been markedly better, it would have been just as awful in a totally different way).

There’s been a lot of talk about tolerance lately, and I think it’s a term that’s generally overused, but for the sake of a peaceful society, its one we all need to know. I define tolerance a bit differently than others, however. I don’t believe in ‘social justice’, the term smacks of a collectivist mindset, something I am genetically predisposed to disliking. Further, I don’t censor my speech to avoid microaggressions or listen to people who talk about privilege. I don’t care if I offend you, or if I hurt your feelings. I honestly hope I do, because if your feelings are hurt, if you’re offended, it means you’re paying attention, you’re listening, and you may even be working out counter arguments, all good things. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I don’t expect everyone to like me. That doesn’t mean they’re bad or stupid or hateful. I don’t make those judgments because that’s what tolerance means to me.

Tolerance also means people may not accept my lifestyle, or approve of my choices. There are those who would consider me a worthless failure because I live with my parents and don’t make much money. There are those who look at a man who has no wife, no children, no career to speak of, and consider it a waste. I accept that. They are free to have their opinions, and I am free to disagree. I don’t lose any sleep over acceptance or approval. I certainly don’t expect the government to force everyone to accept my choices and be nice to me in order to protect my feelings. I tolerate the judgments, I tolerate the ignorance, I tolerate the finger wagging, because my feelings and my opinions are not more important than others.

Let’s move on to the violence last weekend. The original point the “white supremacists” were protesting was the removal of confederate memorial statues. This is an issue that has been popping up throughout much of the south. The bottom line is that some people consider those icons a part of their culture, a part of their heritage, as much as a cross is a symbol of Christianity or the rising sun is a symbol of Japan. When a person feels that their culture is under attack, when they feel others are attempting to suppress or eradicate their culture, they take it personally. If you walk into downtown Riyadh and burn an effigy of Muhammad to make a point that the expansion of the Islamic Empire resulted in numerous wars and many thousands of casualties, along with a great deal of religious persecution, you probably would not live long enough to notice you did more harm than good. Those things happened a long time ago, and reminding people of things they probably aren’t proud of is generally unhelpful. I could go to Germany, wag my finger, and talk about the holocaust, but all I would succeed in doing is pissing people off. We shouldn’t forget these things happened, but we can remember them without rubbing it in the face of modern people who didn’t participate in it. Nobody alive has ever owned a slave or fought for the confederacy, certainly not the people who marched in Charlottesville. They were a bunch of angry rednecks trying to piss people off and draw a response. They succeeded. Let’s not rise so easily to the bait next time.

I don’t really identify with any particular ethnic or cultural group. I tend to see all these things as having nothing to do with me personally, but I can tell you what I’ve observed from people who live here in the rural south, and a lot of people feel that their culture is under attack, they feel pressured to conform to a set of values that is foreign to them. There’s a word for that, and it’s assimilation. Assimilation is something talked about by the conservative right a lot, primarily about immigrants and how they aren’t assimilating enough, but assimilation is just another way of talking about suppressing a foreign culture. It shouldn’t be something we expect or even ask people to do. On the other hand, assimilation is thrown about as a bad word on the liberal left, as it should be, but they don’t seem to have any qualms about pushing their urban cultural norms on middle America. Tolerance means living together despite our differences, not erasing our differences. There never has been one America, and there never will be.

Let’s remember again that the violence last weekend is not the fault of white supremacists, nor was it the fault of those who disagree with them. The fault lies with individual people who committed individual acts of violence, and who escalated a protest into a riot, on both sides. What we need is more tolerance. If a bunch of KKK whackos want to march down the street, we should just let them, and ignore them. Let them have their idiot beliefs and their stupid parade, and let it go. Racism is as old as humanity and arguably hard wired into our biology. All the wagging fingers of politicians and the scalding condemnations of the media will not eradicate racism, nor will it make these people change their minds. They will, however, make these people angry, and people do irrational things when they’re angry.

Speaking as someone who lives in the rural south, and who is not aligned particularly with their ideology, nor with any opposing ideology, I offer words of caution. This is not a battle that either side is going to win. The social justice warriors of the college campuses and the urban centers will never convince the farmers, ranchers, and traditional country folk to check their privilege and watch their microaggressions, it just ain’t gonna happen. The only way to do this would be at the end of a gun, pack them up and send them to re-education camps, 1984 style. That’s the nasty side of ideological purity, the cost of acceptance for all, the logical progression of protecting everyone’s feelings, a nation of mental children where nobody does much thinking at all. On the other hand, the rural folk are never going to change things back to how it was in the fifties, or even the eighties. There is no way to ‘make America great again’. It never was all that great, richer perhaps, but not great, that was just our hubris. If conservatives want to make the immigrants go home, they’ll have to go door to door with guns, Gestapo style. If they want to bring jobs back to America, they’ll have to do what Germany did in the 30’s, and go to war with most of the world. Being a hegemon is difficult, ugly, violent, and above all expensive. I doubt most Americans are willing to make the financial and personal sacrifice necessary.

Unfortunately, the cycle of escalation always ends in the same place, maybe not soon, tomorrow or next year, but eventually, in the absence of some great compromise, it ends in war. Unless we learn to tolerate people who are never going to agree with us, sooner or later, somebody is going to get pushed too far, and then the fighting starts. The civil unrest, the violence, the racism, the shouting, the conflict, all of it is going to get worse, not better, until both sides are willing to step down from their high horse and compromise, give up on some things to get other things, let go of their vision of the perfect future, accept that it isn’t happening, and do the best you can. That’s how compromise works. Without compromise, sooner or later the differences grow too great for any solution to be reached, and the two sides become armed camps. America is not special, and not immune. We already proved that once, and we still feel the wounds of that conflict. Maybe the next one is even worse, and maybe it does end with two nations, or more. That’s where we’re headed, make no mistake. Charlottesville wasn’t an isolated incident, it’s a harbinger of things to come.

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