Main Page | About | The Contestants | Rules | RSS Feed
You have an opinion, but do you have what it takes to be heard?

Conor Williams
Washington, DC

Conor Williams

I’m working on a PhD in Government at Georgetown, so I’m full of ideals, but my optimism is tempered by experience.

Tolerance is precarious

Editor's note: The contestants were given free rein for their second post of the day. You can read Conor Williams's earlier post here.


The last few months have been hard times for multiculturalists in the United States.  Arizona set about dismantling decades (perhaps centuries) of American immigration policy, and the Tea Party demanded their country back from, well, a number of usurpers.  The Park 51 Cultural Center debate was just as dispiriting.  Robert Slayton over at HuffPo suggests,

There's something weird in the air...I'm forced to move to a cultural explanation. It seems like the country is changing, in so many ways--big and small--and some folks are awfully put out about it...Some people are overwhelmed by all these changes; it's just too much to deal with, all at one time. A lot of Americans today seem to be feeling like the right wing spokespersons who boldly and loudly declare, "I Want My Country Back!"

Slayton's definitely right about how Tea Party activists feel, but it's not just an American issue.  Here's the problem: pluralism is under siege the world over -- and not only recently.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently branded multiculturalism "a failure."  Like Slayton, Lauren Hogan thinks it might be cultural: "Germany isn't exactly known as a bastion of tolerance."  

But this can't be it, since France and Italy are targeting and deporting Roma (also known as gypsies) within their borders, while ethnic conflict continues to plague Sri Lanka.  There are countless other examples of the difficulty of achieving public tolerance in every region of the world.  If humans everywhere struggle with diversity, the problem isn't cultural -- it's buried much deeper in human behavior.  We all band together in search of a familiar, accepting, comfortable community of other humans.

Think of it like this: Tea Party activists aren't really concerned with "freedom" when they demand their country back.  After all, if they were concerned with small-government, libertarian freedom, they wouldn't support a variety of government invasions of privacy in the realm of national security or immigration (let alone massive military spending).  No, when they talk about freedom, they're actually showing their solidarity with others in their group.  This is why both conservatives and liberals have recently hosted "Take Back America" conferences.  Each wants a government that feels familiar to them, and unfriendly to their opponents. 

The point is that all of us want government recognition of our positions on matters.  If we look to our public institutions and find them comfortable with beliefs (or certain ethnic groups) we oppose, we feel politically marooned.  This is why it's so hard to push for a government that remains neutral on cultural positions...including our own.  Pluralist tolerance is precarious everywhere, all the time.  Political thinker (and political refugee) Judith Shklar was obviously right when she claimed, "Tolerance consistently applied is more difficult and morally demanding than repression."  It should go without saying (but any good blogger never stops there) that this means it's worth the effort.

Read more posts from this round. See what the judges are saying. And cast your vote on Friday.  

By Conor Williams  |  October 21, 2010; 3:12 PM ET  | Category:  Blogging Challenge
Share This: Email a Friend | Technorati talk bubble Technorati | | Digg | Facebook
Previous: Europe is from Venus ... | Next: What Matters


Please report offensive comments below.

"Tolerance consistently applied is more difficult and morally demanding than repression."

Liberals love the concept of tolerance and often express it as a moral mandate as though it were the very words of Jesus. In reality, Jesus never used the word tolerance at all, in fact his teaching were quite exclusive - “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Nor is it a term in the Old Testament.

That said, it is a good principle that is best express in the Golden Rule or in "What goes around..."

My advise, be discerning. Use the "what's wrong with this picture" logic than merely accepting something. The Mosque at Ground Zero for example, makes no sense and is insulting to say the least. That does not mean I am anti-Muslim, it simply applies some common sense to a sensitive issue.

Posted by: 2012frank | November 4, 2010 12:42 AM
Report Offensive Comment

As Armybrat1 noted, Conor speaks in knee-jerk cliches instead of delving into the complex issues surrounding multiculturalism. For instance, regarding the assimilation of minorities in Germany, why does he automatically ascribe all blame to the German majority? Isn't it possible that the minorities are also part of the problem?

Worse yet, Conor allows political bias to overwhelm editorial reason.

"Tea Party activists aren't really concerned with 'freedom' when they demand their country back," he simplistically asserts, going on to claim that the group's members "support a variety of government invasions of privacy in the realm of national security or immigration."

But in fact, Conor doesn't seem to understand the difference between the views of Tea Party protesters versus mainstream conservatives (hint: The Tea Party is much more interested in reducing government spending than touting the Patriot Act).

Not surprisingly, his final paragraph provides no real solutions -- just a predictable call for Kum-ba-ya.

Posted by: UponFurtherReview | October 22, 2010 11:52 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Interesting in places, but wanders a bit without really clarifying the issue. Less words, more clarity needed.

Posted by: chucky-el | October 21, 2010 6:26 PM
Report Offensive Comment


Watch out, your teabag is hanging out. You obviously missed the point of the post here.

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 21, 2010 3:41 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I'm a very tolerant person. I tolerate anyone who agrees with me, and anyone else that I deem useful. The rest are haters, and there's no need to tolerate them, is there?

Simplistic? Yes, but so is this blog post, which calls for "tolerance" while showing intolerance for (a) Arizona, rightly or wrongly trying to address an immigration issue that former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich rightly called a "bipartisan failure"; (b) Merkel (if you read and put in context what she said it sounds a lot different than what you might think); and (c) Tea Partiers/conservatives.

Real "tolerance" means tolerating and respecting those who disagree with you, even when you're convinced they're totally wrong. "Tolerance" is not belittling "intolerant" and "hating" people who happen to disagree with you.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 21, 2010 2:14 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company