TOLERANCE IS A VIRTUE. EXCEPT…
It’s easy to talk up “tolerance.” That word sounds so safe and inoffensive that it can even seem mealy-mouthed and venial, like playing Truth Or Dare by yourself.
Tolerance is of course critical to the basic functioning of a pluralistic society: To be tolerant is to allow others to go about their business, even when you are unalike. It’s technically possible to get by in an intolerant culture, but only if you come packed with an extra-durable skull.
But as a Modern Satanist, I have to say that even tolerance has its limits–and I know that because we’ve reached them, and then camped out at them for the better part of a decade.
The truth is, I don’t think it’s hard at all to figure out when to be intolerant. Reason for that being: If you really haven’t figured out who to exclude, they’ll make the decision for you pretty fast.
Five years ago we began holding our monthly Satanic Coffee Hour at Wicked Grounds in San Francisco. I’m the last person you should put in charge of this kind of public-facing, people-centric campaign–and I was indeed the last (and only) person available for the job, so that checks out.
Aware that anyone might show up, I had one rule: No assholes, no Trump voters, no Nazis.
That may sound like three rules, but only in the same way a matryoshka may sometimes look like more than one doll.
The rationale for this standard was simple: Those people would scare off anyone we actually wanted to talk to instead. Chiefly by posing a direct and immediate threat to them.
Except no, that’s not true: There actually was no specific, articulated rationale. Nobody needed one. Why would you?
If you’ve been accosted by the Internet in the last five years, you’ve probably bumped into some version of philosopher Karl Popper’s “tolerance paradox” from his 1945 book The Open Society & Its Enemies.
(Also the title of my slideshow about people who suddenly stop at the base of escalators).
“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed.”
Popper doesn’t say that we should necessarily censor such people. But he DOES say that we should reserve the right to in cases where all else fails. Because the alternative would be the death of free speech anyway, along with a lot of other things, and by things we of course mean people.
There is much discussion about the ramifications of Popper’s ideas and whether and how to implement this standard. Talk that’s mostly for nothing, because most of us got the hang of this back at an age when our bones weren’t even fully solid yet.
The “tolerance paradox” is not a paradox at all. We tolerate everyone…except those we dare not.
A handful of pallid stock objections haunt these discussions, like mad relations in a Victorian novel. For example, isn’t this the very same rationale that bigots themselves employ?
And yes, that’s true, for example, bigots often pretend that if we allow trans people free access to public spaces then within a few weeks the fitting room at Ross will turn into the Purge.
They have to lie about this, because as we’ve mentioned before, there aren’t any pressing reasons for their agenda that are not lies. By contrast, the things I’m saying about right-wing assholes and domestic terrorists are true.
So if you ignore everything about the substance of the arguments and their ramifications and the people who are affected by them and the motivations of those making them and their contrasting social goals, I guess they may look alike.
Similarly, the openings to a fire pole and a sewer bear a strong resemblance under certain conditions. But they surely don’t lead to the same place.
Some Satanists push a more absolutist standard because they fear that any behavior sanctioned against assholes will be turned on us next.
But of course, Satanism is already quite unpopular, and prone to any number of unreasonable sanctions. And many Satanists face the additional threat of violence on account of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, etc. ever since *checks* every day of their lives.
The question “What if they do it to us?” is a product of pure fantasy, because it imagines a world in which “it” is not already constantly being done.
Finally, some desperate souls are reduced to asking, “But don’t they have the same rights?” To which the answer is…maybe? Many countries, like Germany, Austria, and France, simply made it illegal to be a Nazi, and it has not in fact led to an Orwellian state where all dissent is silenced. Because why would it?
Did make it a lot harder to be fucking Nazi though, so there’s that. Be that as it may it doesn’t matter, because no law says anyone has a specific right to drink our coffee, squat on our social media, hang out with our friends, cash in on the work that we do, or participate in our rituals. And none ever will.
The rule remains: No assholes, no Trump voters, no Nazis, same as it will ever be. I’d probably add, “No anti-vaxxers” to the list, but the previous provisions already cover most of them.
For some reason, social media spent years acting as if the most pressing question during the Trump regime was whether or not it’s okay to punch Nazis?
A better question would have been: Why are we even asking? There is a great, colorful roulette wheel of other people who are getting hurt in shitty ways every day, surely we could put this energy toward their welfare instead?
If a Nazi gets punched, I don’t see what the stakes are. It’s like debating whether it’s right or wrong to give me $10; why would I ask?
For liability purposes, Satanic Bay Area is not encouraging the punching of anyone. But if someone knocks out Richard Spencer’s haircut without us, I’m not going to pretend to be upset. There are simply not enough hours in my life.