If you look on the human resources page of just about any company you cared to apply to, you will find something to the effect “we strive to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome.”

Personally, the more a company talks this way, the more I feel I have to be on my guard. It is exactly the kind of place that’s liable to fire its employees for saying the wrong thing, likely with a quick smear campaign to go along with it. One only has to recall famous examples from the likes of Google or Starbucks to begin to feel uneasy when the smiling HR people start talking about the importance of everyone feeling included and welcomed.

I think most of us have noted by now that those who claim tolerance for their chief virtue are very often the most puritanical and unyielding in practice. But this is not, as may be thought, mere hypocrisy. It’s a natural consequence. Pluralism, ‘tolerance’, ‘inclusion’, ‘diversity’, whatever you care to call it (for our purposes we’ll go with ‘PTID’) is an inherently intolerant, totalitarian philosophy, one of the most intolerant ever devised by man.

Tolerance Begets Fuzzy Terminology

We moderns have a bad habit of not defining our terms. We like ideas that sound good and tend not to dig in deeper to try to pin down what they are actually saying. So we say things like “everyone should be included.” Except, we very clearly do not mean “everyone”, since we certainly don’t intend to include the criminal, the insane, the drug-addict, or so on. Nor, most of the time, do we mean to include ‘obviously bad people’ like bigots, sexists, fascists, anti-vaxers, and so on.

Some of you, reading the latter list, might think “you’re right, people shouldn’t be excluded just because of their opinions”. But that isn’t my point. The point is that there will always be limits to tolerance, including tolerance of individual opinion, all the way until it crosses the line into simple anarchy (wherein any idea of PTID is eliminated, since anyone can be as ‘intolerant’ as they like in an anarchy so long as they have the muscle to back it up). That is the nature of society: it must have things that simply cannot be accepted or tolerated.

The problem here, as in many other cases, is that the necessary limitations are not built into or defined by the principle, but merely assumed. We say “all are welcome,” but in practical terms what we mean to say is “all are welcome who adhere to our standards.” Only, because it is against PTID to enforce our own standards as if they were true, we don’t mention or define that part and pretend not to notice it.

To put it another way, the common canard, “I don’t care what you believe as long as you’re a good person” is dependent upon what constitutes a ‘good person’ in the speaker’s mind. Which in turn is dependent upon his view of the world—that is, his beliefs. So, what he is really saying is “I don’t care what you believe so long as your behavior more or less matches what I believe.”

Now, most of us, I think would admit all this. We know that there must be standards and that when we say “all are welcome” we don’t literally mean ‘all’. We mean ‘all within reason.’ That is, we assume that we can ground our PTID in a kind of lowest common denominator of agreed truths, things that no reasonable person would dispute. ‘Mere Reality’, to co-opt a term.

Experience has shown that this doesn’t work, and a very little consideration should have told us that it wouldn’t. When you take tolerance as one of your chief virtues and fill people’s heads with tales of heroic acceptance, they will naturally seek opportunities to practice it (because what people want most of all is to think well of themselves). And since, as noted, any commonly agreed ‘ground’ of truth will exclude someone, they will always find a new cause to champion and new oppressors to condemn in order to demonstrate their virtue.

Thus the logic of tolerance itself causes the lowest common denominator to shift ever lower. Just as young Medieval knights, lacking wars at home, would go off to seek battles in foreign lands to prove their virtue, so young people brought up on paeans to PTID will seek new abominations to tolerate so as to prove their own enlightenment.

And since we’ve now reached the point where even acknowledging basic human biology can be regarded as shockingly intolerant, it should be clear that there is no bottom of ‘basic’ reality that everyone can safely assume.

But all this is by way of an introduction. There’s a much worse problem on top of it.

When Tolerance Makes Rational Judgment Impossible

Say you are in a situation where two people simply cannot be equally tolerated. To take a topical example, you have one person who feels he is in imminent danger if his co-workers aren’t all vaccinated against COVID-19.

You have another person in the same company who, being a moderately healthy young man, is less afraid of the virus than the under-tested vaccine being pushed by a ridiculously corrupt government and who, in any case, considers forced vaccination a violation of his rights.

Apart from convincing one or the other to change his position, you cannot possibly make both of these people feel welcome and tolerated: whatever you decide, you will be rejecting one man’s concerns at the expense of the other’s. Even if you do nothing you will be tacitly telling the first man that his fears are groundless and unimportant. Someone, in short, is going to feel oppressed in this situation.

Psychologically, there are two choices at this point. You can either abandon the pretext of PTID as the supreme virtue and claim something else instead – requiring you to be prepared to enforce your views as such against opposition on the grounds that they are true and being prepared to defend this if challenged – or you can claim that this particular example is a ‘common sense’ exception: part of the lowest common denominator of reality and something that no rational person would object to.

Thus you remain supremely tolerant of all people, but in this case the other person is so obviously wrong that he must be stupid or insane or arguing in bad faith somehow. In any case, he’s the kind of person whose position we need not even consider.

Most people, of course, opt for the latter. It is particularly easy since, as noted above, we do this all the time already. “Of course tolerance doesn’t extend to murderers and Nazis, and of course it doesn’t extend to people who are obviously wrong or who believe obviously horrible things.” And as the lowest common denominator of reality shifts lower, those who continue to adhere to the old standards become the bigots and madmen whom, of course, we need not consider.

You see, this is the problem with appealing to ‘common sense’ or other unprincipled exceptions to a stated rule: not just that this can mean anything or nothing, but that any time it is applied – any time something is held to be an exception – then it becomes an absolute condemnation.

If someone thinks that a given set of beliefs is objectively true and can be demonstrated by reason, he may regard someone who disagrees as someone who simply hasn’t followed the logic properly, or who has reached a different conclusion, or whose upbringing hasn’t properly prepared him to understand the case, or who is simply not intelligent enough to see it.

But when someone thinks of himself as open-minded and tolerant of all, regarding all views as valid and acceptable, then when he finds someone who holds a view that he feels he cannot accept or tolerate, then he must regard his rejection of it as mere common sense or common decency. That is, he must see the other as being evil or mentally unfit or otherwise beyond the pale.

This is the reason behind the appalling vitriol and utter lack of sympathy hurled against anti-vaxers, or Trump supporters, or those who acknowledge the nature of marriage. This is why the Supreme Court declared that the latter had no grounds beyond rank bigotry and why similar statements are frequently tossed about in every debate.

Indeed, it’s why we almost never have real debates in the public square anymore: just mutual declarations of principle and condemnations. To debate someone is to pay respect to their reasoning power and the force of their position. But under PTID, any position we’re obliged to respect we are also obliged to accept, meaning any position we do not wish to accept we cannot respect.

The logic of a warmly human, tolerantly liberal mind that accepts all people is that anyone it cannot accept, for any reason, is not really a person.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock | The Atlantic