Reading the Jakobsen and Pelligrini argument about tolerance honestly made me think of the South Park episode named The Death Camp of Tolerance. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is an episode literally about tolerance. In the episode, Mr. Garrison who is gay learns that if he gets fired as a teacher for being gay, he can sue the school and has a chance of winning $25 million. So he decides to do everything possible to get fired for being gay — he does this by bringing in an assistant named Mr. Slave and then incorporates his sex life into school lessons. Kyle, Stan, Cartman, and Butters are actively upset by these attempt, including the murder of the classroom pet, and try to tell their parents. Their parents assume that the kids are being intolerant and are taken to a museum of tolerance that depicts stereotypes and then when the kids still refuse to go to class, they are sent to the tolerance camp which is run like a concentration camp where the kids are forced to do arts and crafts that show people of all genders and sexual orientations living together but they are not allowed to differentiate between the group. The episode ends when being given an award for being courageous, Mr. Garrison and Mr. Slave dress up and make sex jokes. Finally, Mr. Garrison breaks and yells at the audience, saying that tolerance is not the same as acceptance, that one tolerates a screaming baby on a plane or a bad cold — you can be mad as you want, but you deal with it.
And I think that is the point that Jakobsen and Pelligrini are trying to make as well. That tolerance does not equal safety. And that tolerance still allows a sense of anger — a sense of anger that must find its way out of the person in some form or another.
I tolerate some of my coworkers. I have to go to work, they work at the same place as me. If I quit, the next job will just have more coworkers that I have to tolerate. I don’t enjoy working with them and I wouldn’t like to grab a drink after work with most of them. Sometimes I even get annoyed when I have to work with them. But I tolerate the situation and do my best to do my job without any extra interference between us. That is not acceptance. But I assure you it is a matter of our personalities clashing. I don’t wish them harm but I don’t like them.
But a life of tolerance centered around a “them” will eventually lead to a complete us vs. them mentality. Tolerance then fully turns into hate. Hate turns into permission for restrictions and then there is violence. But at the same time, there is another issue. If we stay focused on this path of tolerance, then we lose the ability for legitimate repercussions.
Simply put, we are all humans. There are some good people and there are some bad people. You can be a bad person and be a member of a minority group, and calling you out for being a bad person has nothing to do with that minority group. If we encourage tolerance, then we are allowing people an escape from justice. Similar to the last lesson about freedom — it is not the same as freedom from repercussions.
But even today, during this latest election, we witnessed and are still witnessing something even more worrying. . . What can be referred to as the tolerant middle. We have seen these people time and time again throughout history, sitting quietly and watching. Staying in the middle, staying tolerant of all that is happening around them. They might get angry too, might say that they’re tired of hearing about racism and universal healthcare. That people just need to go to work, keep their head down, and deal with things how they are. That change isn’t necessary.
To me, tolerance has negative connotations. But getting all humans to suddenly be accepting and welcoming and compassionate towards all who are different in any sense of the word is impossible and impractical. So there must be a fine line between accepting the fact that people are going to do things that make me tolerant of them and the fact that there are some things that are unacceptable. For example, I hate it when people spit. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. If I pass someone on the street and I see them spit, I am filled so suddenly with such an aggressive horror. But I move on. Now, if I were to decide that because he did something so horrible in my opinion, I had the right to kill him in the middle of the street for something that truly has no effect on me or my life. He didn’t spit on me. He didn’t physically attack me. But he spit and I hate that so I took it upon myself to kill him. You wouldn’t say that people need to be tolerant of my actions and that it was perfectly acceptable for me to kill him.
Despite all, I do agree that some tolerance is necessary, like when I mentioned above in the workplace or even while living with someone. But being tolerant shouldn’t also mean complacent. It shouldn’t allow people to do bad things. It shouldn’t allow bad things to happen to people.