Tuesday, January 16, 2018

351. When is tolerance tolerable?

Tolerance can be a sham, as indicated by Žižek. It then falls into politically correct gestures and intimations of respect towards the excluded (immigrants, Muslims, Jews, blacks, ….), not with corresponding actions of acceptance and solidarity, but rather as a front to hide indifference, and the will to keep them at distance, or even to surreptitiously dominate or suppress them. That is the false gloss of multiculturalism.

That fits in the present politics of identity, of who you are, and what you think, rather than what you do, while justice is about what you do.

Žižek gives the example of colonialists who expressed respect, even awe, for indigenous cultures, as a cloak to cover exploitation and lack of rights. He also relates it to the rhetoric of ‘opening our hearts’ to refugees, instead of recognizing their rights, regardless of your feelings for them.   

Yet tolerance is needed as indispensable for a just society, because modern societies are multi-cultural, as a matter of fact. But it should then be a solidarity that yields actions of justice and solidarity.

There is a connection here with the discussion of empathy, in the preceding item in this blog. You don’t have to love the refugees or have the same views, but you should try to understand them, for a workable society.  

What does all this do to the universality of, in particular, human rights? Should tolerance include tolerance of violations of such rights? Honour killings? Clitorectomy? Enforcement of chadors? Of bourka’s? Arranged marriages? If not, where, precisely, does tolerance end?

Žižek adopts the Hegelian view of the ‘concrete universal’, that a universal allows for variety of its particulars, according to which one should allow for variety in the adoption and practice of universal rights. He mentioned the example of the autonomous Kurdish Rojava region in Nort-Eastern Syria, which should be allowed to ‘do it their way’.

That seems an easy case. Their constitution is in accordance with international laws of human rights, including equal rights for women, freedom of religion, equality of all ethnic groups, and a ban on the death penalty and torture. However, they do engage in child labour and military conscription of children. Is that tolerable?

So, what is ‘sufficient’, tolerable accordance with human rights? I do not think that there is some single, context-independent essence here, anymore than anywhere else. What then? Can we fall back, perhaps, on Wittgenstein’s family resemblance? There, things belong to the same class if they resemble each other in a sufficient number of features from one member of the family to the other, even without having a single feature in common for all? Or can tolerance depend on circumstance, of history, education, religion, economy? Then the questions till remains: how far can that go?

However that may be, it seems simple to say that within a democratic nation tolerance concerns obedience to the laws of the land, not on ideas, feelings, thoughts or inclinations. But how about things not covered by laws? There, people have to deal with it together, in discourse and activities. And that, again, requires empathy in the sense of understanding how people think and feel, as a basis for trying to work things out, without necessarily sharing those thoughts and feelings.

As argued before in his blog (item 35), the notion of scripts may help to bridge the gap between ideas and actions: what does an idea or concept entail in terms of underlying elements and their connections, logically, causally or sequentially? Mapping that helps to pinpoint, identify and understand differences, depending on how fundamental they are. Variety of how nodes in a script are filled in are easier to accept than a difference in the structure or logic of the script.