Saturday, 2 July 2016

Off-Topic: Intolerance


When I began to write this article I called it "Tolerance". When I took a break halfway through I renamed it "Tolerance/Intolerance". After completing it I've decided that the best title is "Intolerance".

As most of you know, Britain held a referendum about leaving the EU just over a week ago. No, I won't go into arguments about which decision is right. It's all been said before by people who know much more about economics than I do. What I want to talk about is the fallout. Ever since the results were released (eight days ago) people have been arguing bitterly. Friendships have been breaking up. People have been calling each other stupid because of their voting choices. That's not right. I voted to remain in the EU, and I openly admit that I did so for selfish reasons, not because of the arguments presented in political debates. Within three days of the vote four people unfriended me on Facebook. Why? If I had voted to leave I would still be the same person. But everyone is taking the vote so personally. If I'd voted to leave the EU I would probably still have those four friends, but another four people would have unfriended me instead.

This post isn't about the EU itself, it's about the general issue of intolerance exemplified by the EU referendum fallout. People need to accept the opinions of others, even if they disagree, even if they think the other people's opinions are totally wrong.

These are my core beliefs:

1. Everyone has the right (and the obligation) to form his own opinions.

2. Everyone has the right to express his own opinions.

3. Everyone has the right to do whatever he wants based on his opinions, unless it prevents other people doing the first two things.

I like to describe these as the freedoms to Think, Speak and Do.

(Wiccans might object to my third point, quoting their principle "Do what thou wilt, but hurt none". I don't disagree with them, but this isn't what I'm speaking about here. I want to speak about the freedom to Think, Speak and Do).

20 years ago I had a good friend who was a deep thinker, like me. He analysed all political and religious questions down to the depths. We fell out because he came to different conclusions to me. I accepted his viewpoints, but he didn't accept mine. He couldn't comprehend that anyone who thought things through logically wouldn't come to the same conclusions as him, so he accused everyone who thought differently to him -- including me -- of not thinking enough. That's a root cause of intolerance: denying other people's ability to be able to form their own opinions.

There are different sorts of opinions. Some opinions are about statements that are either right or wrong, whereas others are about things that are purely subjective. An example of the first group is "Mexico is south of the USA". An example of the second is "Italy is a beautiful country".

In the first group there are a range of statements that are either true or false, but it's difficult to prove which. Examples are:

1. "The Earth is flat". This was disputed for hundreds of years, until scientific advances were able to prove it's not true. Nevertheless, there are still a small number of people who deny the evidence of science. Click here for an example.

2. "There is life on Mars". While this seems unlikely, scientists haven't ruled it out. It's something that can only be proved or disproved after astronauts visit Mars and mount a thorough search. That might not be for another hundred years, based on scientific advances and (more importantly) how much it costs. Until then opinions can vary, based on the limited information available.

3. "God exists". This is a very emotional topic, with insults flying whenever there are attempts to discuss it. Those who believe in God's existence call the non-believers evil, and those who don't believe call the believers stupid. Some people say to me that they don't believe in God because nobody has provided scientific proof that God exists, to which I reply that nobody has been able to prove that God doesn't exist. Philosophically speaking, it's easier to prove God's existence than his non-existence. What I mean is, if God really does exist, it's possible to prove this if one day someone comes to the Earth and says, "Hi, I'm God. I was on vacation for the last 5000 years. Now I'm back to see how you're getting along". On the other hand, if God doesn't exist, there is no possible way to prove it. However many years go by without finding God there's always the possibility that he's somewhere else and we're just looking in the wrong place.

Everyone should sit down and think about statements like these and make up their own minds. The more difficult the answer is, the more important it is to think about it.

The second group is more of a problem. I chose an example above which shouldn't cause too much argument. But there are other statements I could use as examples:

1. "Democracy is better than dictatorship". This obviously isn't a question with a Yes/No answer. I personally love democracy as an ideal, but in practise it fails, because it encourages politicians to lie in order to gain votes. On the other hand, dictatorship is frequently linked to suppression of the freedom of speech (my second core belief). In theory it would be possible for a single unelected leader to listen to his people and do what they say.

2. "People should be allowed to carry guns". This is also a hotly debated statement with no clear right or wrong answer. I have my own opinion, but I challenge my readers to think for themselves. Guns themselves are not good or bad, they're just tools like shovels or pencils. Whether they do good or bad is decided by the people who carry them. That's what should be judged, not just generally, but personally. We should ask, "Would I personally be better off with or without a gun? Would I personally be better off if my neighbours and work colleagues carried guns?"

3. "Gay marriages should be allowed". This is another emotional statement. In most western countries the consensus 50 years ago answered No, but today's consensus answers Yes. What has happened here? How can something which was wrong a short time ago be right today? Many people would answer that we're more enlightened today. I judge the matter less positively. I say that people are sheep, believing whatever the media says is right. In countries such as Russia gay marriages aren't allowed, and the majority of the population support this policy. Are Russians somehow less enlightened than us in the West? Are they somehow more primitive or less evolved? Or do they just live in a country where the media says something different?

If anyone wants to know what I think about gay marriages, read my core beliefs again. I believe that (1) everyone has the right to make up their mind about homosexuality, (2) everyone has the right to speak about what they think, and (3) everyone has the right to do what they think is right. This means that my personal beliefs on homosexuality itself are irrelevant, because the third point means that I believe everyone has the right to practise it. Being tolerant is so simple. It's all about not telling other people what they should and shouldn't do.

But let's not stay with my third core belief. Let's go back to the first. Who are the people who object to homosexuality? It's mainly religious people. The world's two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, both condemn homosexuality. Christianity's holy book, the Bible, says that homosexuality is a sin that will be punished by God. Islam's holy book, the Koran, says that homosexuality is a sin and homosexuals should be executed. In recent years some groups within the Christian church have tried to relativise the passages on homosexuality by re-interpreting them, while all the major factions in Islam insist that the Koran passages have to be understood and applied literally. Let's dismiss modern Christian theology and assume that the New Testament passages on homosexuality should be understood exactly as they're written. Even in that case the Christian attitude towards homosexuality wouldn't bother me. The Bible says that God will punish homosexuals at the last judgement, so they can be left to do what they want till then. That's a critical but tolerant policy. Islam, on the other hand, is totally intolerant by telling its followers to murder homosexuals.

And who are the people who accept homosexuality as normal? They're atheists and other liberal thinkers. When I lived in Germany I had a friend who worked in a shop that I often visited. On one occasion she mentioned in passing that homosexuality is okay. I asked her why she thought so, and she was unable to give me any reasons. She assumed I was against homosexuality, so I didn't contradict her in order to keep the conversation going. She became very nervous and agitated when she defended herself, just repeating over and over again that it's okay without offering any arguments to support it. This disturbed me. People with her attitude accept homosexuality because they've been told to accept it, not because they've thought about it. People like my friend could change their mind from one day to the next if news stories and scientific "experts" told them it's wrong. I can't say it strongly enough that people have the obligation to make up their own minds about important issues. Any opinion that you've merely copied from others can be swept away within minutes by skilful propaganda.

I've said that I tolerate opinions that differ from my own, but does that include opinions that I find totally abhorrent, such as racism? It's not so much the opinions that I find abhorrent, it's the resulting actions, step three in my Think-Speak-Do trilogy. Suppressing the liberties of black people is disgusting, but thinking they are somehow inferior is merely stupid. However, I don't reject anyone's right to be racist. Let me give an example. A person might have grown up in an all-white neighbourhood in an English city. Without any personal knowledge of black people he might believe what others have told him about them being intellectually inferior. He might even have read Charles Darwin's books that black people are on a "lower evolutionary level", as Darwin describes them. It's practically impossible to argue with someone with this limited experience, and I might even have shared these views myself if I'd grown up in similar circumstances. The only thing I can do is hope that he'll move somewhere else, make black friends and realise his opinions were wrong.

There's one last subject I'd like to discuss before I end this article on intolerance. Let's assume that you've made up your mind about a subject matter. You realise that your friends think differently, but you've thought about it enough to be able to be able to defend your opinion. Is it better to remain quiet in order not to offend your friends or start arguments? I say No. If you have an opinion about anything at all, you should talk about it. An opinion that you keep to yourself isn't worth having at all. Talk about what you think with them. Maybe you'll win them over because it's something they've never really thought about. Maybe they'll point out faults in your thinking and they'll persuade you to change your mind. Maybe you'll just amicably disagree and remain friends. Or maybe the tempers will flare up and there will be a heated argument. Never, never, never lose your temper in a discussion, whatever it's about. In my opinion, whoever loses his temper in a discussion loses the argument by default. Losing your temper or resorting to insults is an indication that you're unable to defend your opinion by rational discussion and you probably haven't thought enough about the subject anyway.

For me there is no "conservative" or "liberal" school of thought that I subscribe to. I think about everything for myself, so sometimes I agree with the one side and sometimes the other. I have mostly liberal thinking friends -- maybe because conservative thinkers don't like to discuss -- and I sometimes disappoint them with my viewpoints. They say, "You agree with us about X, so why don't you agree with us about Y?" Maybe the answer is that X has nothing to do with Y, except being listed in the same catalogue of guidelines for liberal thought. Just because two people agree about gay rights, it doesn't mean that they have to agree on immigration, whaling or even religion.

I am a tolerant person. I tolerate everything except for intolerance. I try to educate my friends to be as tolerant as me, but I've had limited success, as proven by the four people who have unfriended me because of ny vote in the EU referendum.

Please leave your thoughts on this article in the comments section, whether you want to discuss intolerance in general or just a specific issue.

14 comments:

  1. Ah, where to begin. I think I'll start with the first bullet point marked with the number 3. The argument of the existence of the divine. Scientific proof does not work the way you have stated it. Your opinions on the matter are fine, but factually you are inaccurate. Extraordinary Claims require extraordinary evidence. The burden of proof is not on those claiming nonexistence, the burden of proof is on those claiming the supernatural. I can't disprove the existence of the easter bunny or Chun-li from Street Fighter, but that doesn't change the fact that both are fictional characters and should be taken as such unless proven otherwise. That's how I feel about that part.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My opinion on the existence of the divine is the following. The terms of the argument for the question of whether the divine exists are incomplete. Until which time the proper question can be asked in order to get an proper answer, judgement will be suspended. But I will remain skeptical because the burden of proof is not on me to disprove something that has no evidence to suggest it ever existed.

      Delete
    2. I'm not saying that atheism is wrong as a concept. I'm merely objecting to the smugness of certain atheists who think they're better than the followers of a religion because they're rational thinkers who only believe what's been proved. That very statement is irrational in itself. Atheism is in itself a type of religious belief, because it makes a claim about the Divine, i.e. that the Divine doesn't exist. I'm a rational thinker. I've looked at the arguments brought by theists and atheists, and I've come to the logical conclusion that neither side can prove its point. When it comes to the existence of God I'm an agnostic; I simply don't know. That's what my rational thought brings me to.

      My thoughts are strongly influenced by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, probably the most remarkable thinker of the 20th Century. In 1922 he wrote a book that was considered the pinnacle of philosophical reasoning, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. After that he spent the rest of his life trying to prove that this book and its underlying thoughts were wrong. In his later books, all of which were published posthumously, he makes remarks such as "The author of the Tractatus doesn't understand that ..." as if talking about a different person. I don't think any other philosopher has ever put so much effort into trying to prove himself wrong. But I'm getting off the subject. What I want to say is that I'm strongly influenced by Wittgenstein's post-Tractatus years. In his early years he claimed that it is nonsensical for philosophers to discuss the existence of God, because we have to be able to point at an object to discuss it. We can discuss a chair, but we can't discuss God. In his later years he reduced all of human conversation, including philosophical discussions, into language games. The definition of the words we use is part of the game. We're not only defining meanings, we're defining the rules of the game. In this case discussion about God is relevant within a game, but the problem that leads to the breakdown of most discussions is that the people on either side are playing different games. Putting it simply, the theist and the atheist have different definitions of God, so whatever they say is irrelevant to one other.

      Now, getting back to your talk about how scientific proof works, that's a philosophical question in itself. The philosopher Karl Popper made the statement that no scientific theory can be proved, only disproved. This puts the person making a scientific claim into a position of vulnerability. He's calling on other scientists to prove him wrong. This puts atheists on slippery ground when they claim science is on their side. If a Christian says "God exists" he's not asserting a scientific theory, he's merely saying what he believes based on his intuition or upbringing. If an atheist says "There is no God" it's fine as long as he accepts it's also his intuition, but as soon as he claims it's a scientific fact that God doesn't exist he's requiring the other side (the theists) to disprove him. Until the proof is brought that he's wrong the atheist's statement is nothing more than a theory.

      What you say about "extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence" is quite true. However, the claim that God exists is not an extraordinary claim, whether it's intended as a scientific claim or not. It's a claim that has been made for thousands of years. I'm not saying that to imply that the claim is true. It's very possible that it may be wrong. All I'm saying is that it's not an extraordinary claim.

      Delete
    3. Your second comment (the reply to your own comment) is actually exactly what I think. I can't say with any certainty that God doesn't exist, but I'm sceptical about his existence, especially the God that's described by Christianity. My main argument against the existence of the Christian God (by which I mean my reason for scepticism) is that a loving God wouldn't allow the evil in the world to go on unchecked. All the arguments brought by Christians about God wanting to test our faith, blah blah blah, sound more like excuses than reasonable arguments.

      If there is a God, which I consider to be a possibility, either he's died by now, or he got sick of mankind's stupidity and wandered off to somewhere else in the universe where he doesn't have to look at us.

      Delete
  2. Addressing your gay marriage argument. You've stated quite a bit. I'm trying to wrap my head around it. You start with the following, "How can something which was wrong a short time ago be right today? Many people would answer that we're more enlightened today. I judge the matter less positively. I say that people are sheep, believing whatever the media says is right. In countries such as Russia gay marriages aren't allowed, and the majority of the population support this policy. Are Russians somehow less enlightened than us in the West? Are they somehow more primitive or less evolved? Or do they just live in a country where the media says something different?"

    The answer to why it has become more acceptable is because of the dismantling of the Abrahamic cultural conditioning that took homosexuality and the rest of the LGBT community and deemed them as sub human because they would not conform to procreation standards set forth by these religions. Long before Christianity, Islam, or even Judaism, Homosexuality was well in acceptance. I believe you're asking the wrong question. You aren't going back far enough. What was it that caused homosexuality to lose it's acceptance and what caused the Abrahamic religions to demonize that demographic?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now I must address the next paragraph. Which states, "But let's not stay with my third core belief. Let's go back to the first. Who are the people who object to homosexuality? It's mainly religious people. The world's two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, both condemn homosexuality. Christianity's holy book, the Bible, says that homosexuality is a sin that will be punished by God. Islam's holy book, the Koran, says that homosexuality is a sin and homosexuals should be executed. In recent years some groups within the Christian church have tried to relativise the passages on homosexuality by re-interpreting them, while all the major factions in Islam insist that the Koran passages have to be understood and applied literally. Let's dismiss modern Christian theology and assume that the New Testament passages on homosexuality should be understood exactly as they're written. Even in that case the Christian attitude towards homosexuality wouldn't bother me. The Bible says that God will punish homosexuals at the last judgement, so they can be left to do what they want till then. That's a critical but tolerant policy. Islam, on the other hand, is totally intolerant by telling its followers to murder homosexuals."

      In my opinion you are experiencing some kind of cognitive dissonance about what is tolerant and what is not. First. The argument of misinterpretation. The Torah, and the Koran have an EXACT number of words in them. All versions are nearly identical. The likelihood that the Koran is mistranslated or misinterpreted is exponentially less than the likelihood that the Christian Bible is mistranslated or misinterpreted because every single version of the Christian bible is different and we're talking dozens of versions.

      As far as the Christian idea that God will punish LGBT people on the day of judgement... That is in no way a tolerant ideal. It's literally still demonizing the LGBT community. Deeming them less human. Not to mention, American Christian Zealots are almost solely responsible for the modern anti-LGBT laws in African nations. In this respect the Christians who in America think it's alright to kill LGBT people, are NO better or more tolerant than the Muslims you have called out.

      Delete
    2. Also, on Russia. To state that Russia is in the right demonizing a certain demographic because your other friend could not defend her point properly is fallacious. Every single modern country has accepted that Gay people have the same human right as the rest of it's citizens. Except for Russia. It is not pro LGBT propaganda that has sparked tolerance for the LGBT community, it is properly educating the public that has done so. Yes, the answer is yes russia is less civilized. When the whole world, except you and a few third world intolerant countries say you're in the wrong. It's not that society is wrong saying LGBT people are humans too and deserve the same rights. It's homophobic countries and people Like Putin's Russia that is in the wrong, by removing basic freedoms and criminalizing what amounts to love.

      Delete
    3. Replying to your comment that you wrote at 14:41, you're absolutely right about the departure from Abrahamic ideals being one of the reasons for accepting homosexuality. The "church", or whatever the active religious body of a society is called, is also a form of media that tells people what's right or wrong. People believe what they're told. For centuries England has been a Christian country. Now Christianity is dismantling itself, which is a good thing, and television is replacing the church as the entity which tells people what's right and wrong, which isn't a good thing.

      On the other hand, I don't believe the Abrahamic religions are solely responsible for the condemnation of homosexuality. For instance, the prejudices against homosexuality in Africa existed long before Christian missionaries arrived. There have always been cultures that accept homosexuality and others that don't, and we have no idea which viewpoint is older. It doesn't really matter. The two viewpoints have always existed at the same time in different cultures. For instance, the early Roman Empire accepted homosexuality at the same time that Judaism forbade it.

      Delete
    4. Replying to the comment that you wrote at 15:33, you're correct about the consistency of the Torah, but not about the Koran. The problem with the Koran is that Mohammed wrote it when he was about 40, but revised it later in his life when he had different ideas. This is strongly denied by Moslems, because they insist that the Koran was revealed to Mohammed by God, so it must have been right first time. Archaeological finds contradict this. The oldest Koran texts are different to what exists today. The most blatant difference is that in the early version of the Koran it was said that believers should face Jerusalem when they pray. This was later changed to Mecca, the town where Mohammed was born. Today's Moslems reject the older texts as fakes, because they can't bring themselves to accept that Mohammed just sat down and invented his own religion on a whim.

      There's no cognitive dissonance in my thoughts about differing levels of intolerance. One religion says "Kill homosexuals". The other religion says "Don't kill homosexuals". Even though the second religion says that homosexuality is wrong, it still allows them to live, which is a big difference.

      Of course, there are Christians who kill homosexuals, even today. This exemplifies what I said to you in our recent Facebook discussion: "I strongly condemn anyone who says he's a Christian but doesn't read the Bible". Anyone who follows a religion that he knows nothing about is likely to make up his own rules of conduct. He's likely to become a bigot. It's inconceivable to me that anyone who reads the Bible every day would kill homosexuals. He might still say that homosexuality is wrong in God's eyes, but he would restrict himself to talking to homosexuals and telling them to stop. Is that intolerant? Yes, inasmuch as the Christian totally denies that homosexuality is correct and refuses to listen to counter-arguments. That's my core belief (2). But it's not intolerant in another way, because the Christian allows the person to practise homosexuality, even though he considers it to be wrong. That's my core belief (3).

      Delete
    5. Replying to the comment that you wrote at 15:38, I think you misunderstood me by mixing up different points that I was trying to make. My friend and her lack of arguments has nothing to do with the Russian question. Not directly, anyway.

      Concerning Russia, the majority of the population believe that homosexuality is wrong because the media tells them it's wrong. I'm not criticising the Russian population, it's the media that's at fault. The people need to be educated better.

      As for my friend, she's an example of a non-thinker. Let me tell you a bit about her. She worked in a record store (CD and vinyl). She associated with a left-wing subculture that's very typical to Germany, which is of a type that doesn't exist in England and certainly not in America. Young people sit in cafes and exchange left-wing-ish thoughts, a mixture of anti-Americanism and rebellion against anything their parents believe in. I went to places like that a lot in Germany, but it's difficult to describe them, sorry. They're so typically "German".

      Now, my problem with my friend is that she went to these places and soaked up whatever they had to say without question. They told her that homosexuality is cool, so that's what she thought. I didn't disagree with her, but there was a big difference between us. I accepted homosexuality because I'd sat down and thought about it; she accepted homosexuality because someone had told her it's okay. I would still hold my opinion if 99% of the population disagreed with me, but what about her? She'd never thought about it, as was obvious from our conversations, so if she'd lived in a different society or associated with different people she would have had the opposite opinion.

      People should think. Think! Our brain is the most important thing we have, and we should use it. Everyone should make his own mind up about things of importance, especially subjects where there's no simple right or wrong answer. Homosexuality is a good example. It's not objectively right or wrong. It's a matter of opinion. If we don't make up our own mind we're just running with the crowd.

      Delete
    6. I come from a very strict Christian family. I know my parents would never kill anyone but they're intolerant in other ways. Homosexuality is the ultimate sin for them. They call it Sodom and Gomorra. They would ban gay marriages if they could.

      Delete
    7. That's bad, Anne. It's proof that people can be intolerant, whoever and whatever they are. People like to ban whatever they personally don't like. i.e. your parents aren't homosexuals, so they think nobody else should be allowed to be gay either. Then they use their religion to prop themselves up. They put the blame away from themselves by saying, "The only reason that we don't want to allow homosexuality is because our holy book says it shouldn't be allowed. It has nothing to do with our own personal preferences". That's what's wrong. There's nothing wrong with a person not liking homosexuality. Some people don't like apples, some people don't like pork, and some people don't like gay sex. It's a matter of personal taste. But as soon as I say "Because I don't like eating apples nobody else should be allowed to eat apples" it's wrong. Using a holy book as an excuse for turning my personal taste into intolerance is very bad.

      Delete
  3. Finally, about your liberal/conservative comment. The very definitions of those are important to remember. Considering Liberal means open to new schools of thought and ideas based on empirical peer reviewed evidence. As we know scientific facts are constant until proven otherwise. With new information, comes new constants. Conservatism, Specifically Social Conservatism, isn't for the intelligent. There is a physical difference in the brain structures of liberals and conservatives. Liberals have increased reasoning capability and corresponding regions of the brain. Whereas Conservative brains have decreased reasoning function, as well as an increased Amygdala which increases aggression, and close minded-ness. Obviously, extremist liberalism is just as bad as all of social conservatism, which lends the argument to Moderation and political pragmatism. Conservatism, not liberalism has been responsible for every major case of oppression, racism and bigotry of any kind over the last 400 years. Every. Single. Time. And uses the same circular reasoning, and fallacious and baseless arguments in every case of oppression.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please note that I put the words "conservative" and "liberal" in quotes at the end of my article. That was very deliberate on my part. I agree entirely with your description of what liberalism should be about, i.e. being open to new thoughts. The problem is that this isn't always the case.

      If you just accept liberal ideas because you're a "liberal" and know that liberal ideas are right, you've turned liberalism into a new form of conservatism. You've stopped thinking. Your brain has shrunk.

      Just because the conservatives have viewpoints that they've held for hundreds of years doesn't mean that they're all wrong. Maybe 5% of the conservative opinions are right, maybe only 1%, it doesn't matter. If you're a real liberal (without the quotation marks) you have to sit down and analyse every single viewpoint for yourself.

      Delete

Tick the box "Notify me" to receive notification of replies.