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Tolerating Intolerance

July 22, 2005

I have seen the future, and it is scary.

The students I taught this week are completing a college course on comparative ethics. By now, they should be able to offer carefully nuanced critique of particular moral perspectives, and express empathetic understandings of ethical positions which are at odds with their own.

They are not. Asked about common ethical dilemmas (abortion, gun control, euthanasia, racism, war, etc.), they boisterously vomit up their own reactionary positions. When queried, they are simply unable to offer any justification for their view, nor any perception of any other perspective on the same issue.

“that’s just the way I see it”
“it’s my opinion”
“everything is just black and white to me”
“there is no other side of the issue”
“that doesn’t matter”
“that’s just stupid”
“I’ll never change my mind”

Very few are willing to engage critically, or to even think about it.

People in the popular press claim that our culture is coming free of moral absolutes these days. That tolerance is the new black. But from my seat at the front of a college course on ethics, I just don’t see it. After almost ten hours in a classroom, I see many, many moral absolutes. They just happen to be the ones which people receive from parents, friends, special interest groups, churches, personal experience, political parties, and the press.

I used to wonder why flimsy rhetoric, cheap labels, and faulty reasoning seemed to hold such sway over people. I used to wonder why people kill each other in the name of righteousness, and why nations wage war on each other in utter circularity, like little kids playing some twisted version of ‘spin the bottle’. I used to wonder how those in the east and the west view each other with such determined prejudice. But I don’t wonder anymore.

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2 Responses to “Tolerating Intolerance”

  1. Ross says:

    Well said Mike… I saw the same thing in the military (where we used to have to attend “tolerance classes”) – The future is indeed scary.

  2. kate says:

    “free” of moral absolutes. Heh.
    I love how society “evolves.” Why aren’t we “perfect” yet, I wonder?

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