My good friend, Carl, posed an interesting query today as to whether intolerance of bigotry and intolerance itself qualifies as just another form of intolerance that we should be working to do away with. His inquiry is based on a fairly sound substrate, that our current standards regarding moral character and tolerance might be untenable and outright unrealistic notions based on an idealistic version of society that simply cannot exist in any sort of sustained manner. I’m inclined to suspect that he is absolutely correct in thinking that a tolerant and accepting society is something that simply can’t and won’t exist (not within my lifetime, at least), but I can’t accept the hypothesis that it is hypocritical for someone to be intolerant of bigotry as simply more intolerance, leading to an increasingly intolerant environment.
Recent situations like those pertaining to Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame (and I use the word fame in the most disgusted sense possible) as well as an Ohio teacher who was suspended fairly recently because of racist comments both in the classroom and on public forums tend to get people riled up and they incite a lot of anger on the part of those who happen to be on the receiving end of the bigotry being spouted off by individuals who are clearly (in my opinion) not suited to be making any sort of social or political commentary due to a level of ignorance that is beyond astounding. When punitive actions are taken we end up hearing from the supporters as well, crying out about free speech in obviously ill-informed rants fueled by a total and complete lack of comprehension regarding how freedom of speech functions and what the free market means.
I’m not the most sensitive person when it comes to making comments and jokes that could be deemed offensive by people of various races, genders, sexual orientations, and the like…I’m not wired in such a way as to really recognize that I might be out of line with something that I happen to find humorous. At least I’m aware of the fact that I can be a little insensitive…or maybe a lot insensitive…it really depends on who you ask. None of those things are meant to be spiteful or uttered with hate or disdain in mind, and I certainly don’t say things like that (I will not provide examples here because I’m actually trying to avoid being a total piece of shit by sharing racist or sexist jokes or anything along those lines, this is not the place for it) with the impression that I’m making genuine, articulate statements about a person or group of people. I’m the first person to admit that if I were met with violence or some other form of negative response it would be entirely my fault…well, mostly my fault…some people just need a broader sense of humor.
I spent a while thinking about Carl’s assertion and I am forced to disagree. I don’t think it is remotely hypocritical to be intolerant of bigotry. It’s an apples and assholes sort of situation, there’s no comparison to be made. A bigot, by definition, may be someone who is intolerant of opinions differing from their own…but in the sense that we were discussing it, it was more directly related to the intolerance of individuals based on things such as race, sexual orientation, and gender. I could care less about people who are intolerant of religious beliefs or political affiliation at present, as those aren’t the salient forms of intolerance that I’m planning on discussing herein. Where it concerns politics or religion, people are very much entitled to their own differing opinions on the matter, intolerance may be a bit too extreme, but fine…people can go right ahead and dislike others for the choices they make in life, and that is precisely the point I’m intending to make.
To hate someone for something that is outside of the scope of their control (or anyone else’s, for that matter) is the bigotry I hate, and I don’t even feel like there’s anything wrong with hating it, not in the least. No man nor woman chooses the racial characteristics they are born exhibiting, our gender is similarly out of our hands (and no amount of surgery ever really changes what’s written in our chromosomes, regardless of what it might do for our exterior appearance, at least not yet), and I am a firm believer that sexual preference is not a choice (no matter how many “reformed” homosexuals the fundamentalist sorts will parade around to reinforce their arguments to the contrary). Being intolerant of those who espouse intolerance of people based upon those things that they did not choose is a perfectly rational response. In hating people for the ignorant beliefs that they express we are displaying contempt for their choices and decisions, not for who they are by no choice of their own. That is precisely why we should hate someone; why we choose not to be friends with this person or that, because of the choices they make.
We can blame it on their environment or lack of education, their sheltered upbringing, or any number of additional factors…but those cease to hold any weight outside of childhood, when the influence from our surroundings is really the only influence we happen to experience. We are not a society of isolated pockets of humanity and we haven’t been for quite some time, this is no longer a world where information is unavailable or even particularly difficult to come by. People make choices, regardless of how they were raised or where…these are simple facts of life. Environment can be used to partially explain criminal behavior from an individual, up to and including rape or murder, but it damn well will not lead a judge or jury to set someone free. Our choices are what we should be judged for, the decisions we make in life are the only things by which we can be legitimately judged. And I will damn well judge men like Phil Robertson harshly for their brazen, willful ignorance as well as the ill-informed bigotry that they spread when they speak poorly of people because of nothing more than sexual preference and race.
These people are, of course, entitled to their own opinions, and I’m not inclined to physically harm them for expressing those ignorant opinions, but I sure as shit don’t need to respect those opinions or pretend that they are somehow valid or on equal footing with opinions to the contrary.
You can agree with me or disagree with me, and that’s great…you’re welcome to feel however you like, and so am I.