November 6, 2016

MORADI | In Defense of Intolerance

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I recently mentioned Facebook-unfriending a Trump supporter from my high school in a tweet (Can you imagine a bigger millennial stereotype?). One of my former classmates tweeted back, “you unfriended someone just because they had a different political opinion than you?”

His statement reminds me a lot of those sappy social media posts about unity in the face of division. You’ve seen them, or something like them: a Facebook photo of a car that has both a Trump and a Clinton sticker captioned, “My husband and I don’t always agree, but we don’t let politics get in the way of our impassioned lovemaking! Don’t let the media fool you!! We can disagree as a nation and still all be intimately in love with one another. #ONELOVE #HUMANRACE” followed by the “couple with heart” and American flag emojis.

It seems like a proper time to invoke what I like to call Vallandigham’s Law, named (by me) after Clement Vallandigham, the primary leader of the anti-war Copperheads during the American Civil War. Vallandigham’s Law dictates that for every Instagram photo of a Hijabi woman being egged, there exists a Facebook status about two neighbors with opposing political lawn signs breaking bread at their community barbeque. The former is meant to demonstrate the vitriol surrounding politics; the latter, to demonstrate the goodness that still exists in spite of it. In other words, public responses to presidential campaigns consist of a tug-of-war of polarized rhetoric and feel-good anti-polarization stories.

There’s this fundamental understanding in political discourse that when all this (whatever “this” is) is said and done, we’re all going to be pals. According to this general perception, the most respectable partisans and ideologues are those who are able to set their differences aside and interact as human beings, rather than as ideological antipodes. There’s a huge underlying assumption in this attitude, and in the aforementioned cutesy Facebook posts: that somehow ideology can be separated from the individual. This assumption is dubious. True, you are more than the sum of your political beliefs, but your political ideology is deeply rooted in your predispositions and your personal history. Similarly, your personal behavior is deeply affected by your political beliefs. The relationship between individual and ideology is anything but alienated. It’s connected. It’s circular.

Macropolitics cannot be separated from micropolitics. There’s a tough line to toe here: how do you reconcile beliefs that are deeply offensive to you, and still maintain politesse with those who hold those beliefs? How do you uphold the ideals of capital-D Discourse in a democracy, yet exhibit intolerance for the most repugnant of beliefs? I think it’s easier to have this sort of happy, friendly Discourse when mainstream politics is simply people with differing means of protecting similar values. Today, I don’t think that definition fits.

Honestly, I am no longer asking myself these questions of how to tolerate vulgar rhetoric, because I have decided to tolerate it no longer. Yes, I should be tolerant of other beliefs, especially when they differ from mine. After all, I expect the same tolerance from others. However, I don’t think I’m obligated to provide the same tolerance when a belief is rooted in a fundamentally malicious value. To give an extreme example, if someone says, “I hate Black people,” I will not respond with “Wow! That’s such an interesting and fresh perspective. I love Discourse and talking to people with different ideologies.” Instead, I will lose respect for that individual, because the individual is inseparable from their hazardous belief. We are no longer children who are excused from our statements and beliefs because we “don’t know any better.” We are adults, and we should be held accountable for our opinions.

It’s difficult for me to admit to intolerance. While writing this, I’m reminded of a Dalai Lama quote that says, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” I’m also reminded of comedian W. Kamau Bell having a meal with a member of the KKK in order to understand where their malice stems from, in order to humanize this hateful group. It’s strange; I’m ordinarily all about listening and empathy even when others are so profoundly against my beliefs. But at this point, I’m not sure if this sort of tolerance is effective. I think a more applicable quote is one from Gilbert K. Chesterton: “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”

So, yes, I did, and continue to criticize people in my personal life for their political beliefs, because now these beliefs have become personally offensive to me. These are comments excusing sexual violence against women, excusing the mass profiling of Muslim-Americans, excusing authoritarianism, excusing blatant racism. I am generally tolerant of differing opinions, but I cannot be tolerant of this. I have to draw the line somewhere. This is it.

Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester. 

  • Alum

    Know what you mean. Feel the same way when college paper moralizes about all manner of things but has no interest in murder of innocent student on campus. Hard to remain civil under those circumstances especially when that paper routinely adopts holier than thou attitude.

  • Alum

    How do you feel about someone who says “I dislike LGBT people. I’m Christian.”?

  • Alum

    Same or different than “I dislike LGBT people. I’m Muslim.”? I feel same level of strong disagreement with both statements but I suspect garden variety Sun editorial writers have strong negative emotional reaction to former and tendency to rationalize the latter.

  • notGood

    The problem is that most people at Cornell agree with you. So many people unfollow and ignore other viewpoints that Cornell now has a massive uniformity of ideology. This uniform ideology chills free speech from individuals with ideas outside the far-left mainstream

  • George

    I agree. It is very hard to tolerate liberals. Probably no use in trying.

  • Dr. Necessitor

    Your view, which you share with too many on campus, is short-sighted and will ultimately accomplish nothing but increased division. I strongly urge you to read the Washington Post article linked below about why Derek Black, the heir apparent to the White Nationalist movement, was convinced to abandoned the movement and, as a result, his own family. I’ll give you a hint: it involves an Orthodox Jew and several POC at Black’s college who learned about his racist past but, instead of ostracizing him, they actively befriended Black to attempt to change his beliefs by getting to know each other and discussing his views in a civil, non-threatening manner. I promise you it is a worthy, enlightening and very uplifting read.