(CCU Faculty) As a professor of European history, I often travel to where tolerance supposedly reigns supreme. Many Europeans consider Americans to be very intolerant. During my last visit to Britain, while in the social hall of an Anglican parish, I endured over an hour long tirade on how ignorant and intolerant Americans were. The speaker was Laurence, a leftwing intellectual and lay leader of the parish, who decried Americans protesting against the mosque at ground zero. I found his arrogance extremely hard to tolerate, as he lumped all Americans together as ignorant bigoted tea partiers, who supported Sarah Palin, whom he equated with Adolph Hitler.
How much should we tolerate? Should I have tolerated Laurence’s tirade? I did. Should we tolerate the mosque at ground zero? I would. But how much do those supposedly tolerant people tolerate me? Do they tolerate those who smoke, those who wear fur, or those who voice their opinions on whether a mosque should be built at ground zero?
As a graduate student at the University of California, a seminal work in my doctoral research on toleration in late 17th century England was John Locke’s Letter on Toleration. A key quote from that book is Locke’s declaration that “Every man is orthodox in his own eyes.” Laurence is convinced that he is right, the protestors at ground zero are convinced they are right, and the Muslims wanting to build that mosque at ground zero are convinced they are right. Locke concluded, that the government has no right to persecute those who follow the dictates of their own conscience, but he never advocated that individuals be forced to abandon the dictates of their conscience, or deny others their right to peacefully criticize what they find objectionable.
At an interfaith gathering in a “progressive” church here in Colorado the topic was toleration. To the best of my knowledge I was the only conservative in attendance. At my table sat a Sufi Muslim, a new age guru, an openly lesbian clergywoman, and a DU professor of religion. The professor declared that toleration was insufficient. What was needed, he advocated, was something greater…affirmation. It wasn’t enough merely to tolerate another person’s aberration, we must affirm it. Those who refused to affirm the aberrant idea or behavior were considered intolerant. I responded, that I preferred the word “toleration”, for to affirm every aberration may violate certain values which I held. He was clearly uncomfortable with the fact that I even had values, at least any values that would not allow me to affirm the aberrant views of others.
I continue to prefer toleration to affirmation. I can put up with things with which I disagree, yet still wish to maintain my own values. However, when forced to affirm what violates my values, I lose my freedom to hold those values. Surely the value of freedom trumps toleration or even affirmation. I will allow others the freedom to be aberrant, but they must allow me the freedom to disagree. How ironic it would be for us to impose tyranny in the name of toleration.
(CCU Faculty) In a graduate seminar at the University of California 30 years ago, I made the mistake of using the word ‘gals’ instead of ‘women’. The feminists in the class verbally assaulted me at being insensitive to their gender issues. It seems that wherever we go now, we must be careful not offend the hyper-sensitive feelings of those who wish to limit our speech, and force us to use the words they prefer.
Last week the NBC cafeteria served fried chicken, collard greens, and corn bread in honor of black history month. The chef, who happens to be black, had wanted to do this for years but didn’t understand the controversy that flared as other African-Americans claimed they were offended. NBC apologized, took down the sign in the cafeteria, and quickly changed the menu. Had it been St. Patrick’s Day would some have been offended by corned beef and cabbage? Had it been Cinco de Mayo would some have been offended by enchiladas and beans?
The overwhelmingly number of those ‘political correct’ whom I have met were disciples of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty. Those who cajoled me 30 years ago to use their words were leftist feminists, who often cited these thinkers in our class. Marx stressed the overturning of traditional power structure based on wealth. Nietzsche stressed the ‘will to power’ that impels the intellectuals to dominate others. Lenin stressed the seizure of power by a small group of intellectuals, who would then remake society by eliminating traditional power structures and re-educate the masses.
Foucault considered power to be “actions upon others' actions in order to interfere with them”, to make them “behave in ways than they otherwise would not have done.” These disciples of Foucault want new “belief systems to gain momentum as more people come to accept the particular views associated with that belief system as common knowledge.” The politically-correct hope through intimidation to dominate our language and our minds, and thereby alter our culture into one which they believe is more ‘socially just.’
Derrida insisted that ideas don’t even exist outside of the language we use to express them, and that language actually constructs reality. If progressives can change the meaning of words, they believe they can alter reality itself. When the meanings of words change, they believe they can change the nature of truth itself.Rorty claimed, that truth “cannot be out there, cannot exist independently of the human mind, because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own—unaided by the describing activities of humans—cannot.” There is no objective truth, only what we subjectively create by our use of words. By manipulating vocabulary, we impose whatever truth we wish. Grammar destroys science. The politically-correct have read (or are at least following the agenda of) Foucault, Derrida and Rorty. They want to sweep away our world and create their own.
Let’s recognize these claims of ‘offense’ for what they often are, attempts to use power over language to take away our freedoms and way of life, all in the name of their ‘progressive’ agenda. Let’s not allow the thought police, the tyrants of ‘politically-correct’ speech to feign ‘offense’ and intimidate us any longer. Let’s recognize their actual agenda, which is to force us to yield to their use of power, to force us to use their terminology and accept their aberrant world-view. In doing so we will expose their claim to power for what it really is, another attempt to take away our freedoms (especially of speech) and impose their radical agendas.