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When Tolerance Kills

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When I was younger, a staunch defender of free speech full of mostly-untested beliefs, I wholeheartedly proclaimed "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

It sounds great. It makes you appear revolutionary and dedicated.

But I didn't realize what I was really saying.

I was speaking from privilege -- a young, white, middle-class male whose only real adversity came from being mercilessly teased.

And I really did believe that words could never hurt me, though I should have known better by then.

Now, people tried to tell me what I was enabling racism and hatred. Sometimes they even did it politely.

Me? I just laughed. I mean, didn't they believe in freedom of speech?

How else do we progress if we can't speak our minds -- even if what we have to say is unpopular, offensive, or just plain wrong?

The difference was where tolerance came into it.

Tolerance doesn't mean I accept you, your ideas, or your desires for societal change. It just means we have an understanding.

Tolerance means you can do your thing, and I'll do mine. Hopefully we can argue politely.

In most cases, freedom of speech works within the boundaries of tolerance. If something offends you, or is unpopular, you can confront it, or just ignore it.

(Hopefully you make more speech to counter it.)

But there is a point where tolerance no longer works. It's when someone's not tolerating me, anymore, and is agitating for the removal of my rights -- Censorship being what I was focused on at the time.

And in some cases they agitate for someone's removal from society, one way or another.

That's when tolerance breaks down, and you can no longer merely tolerate the other person. They have, after all, decided not to tolerate you, or the weakest among you.

Of course, they still have the right to speak. They can march, organize, even run for President.

But so can everyone else.

And we sure as hell don't have to sit on our hands while they march and call for anyone's death, out of fear of being called intolerant by the bloodless and overly-reflective.

When I was young, I could be quite naive. I didn't know you could only turn the other cheek so many times before they broke your neck.

Now, sadly, I do.
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J. Edward Tremlett is a lot of things, currently. He's back in the states after a seven-year stint in Dubai, UAE. He's been published in such diverse places as The American Partisan, the International American, The End is Nigh, Pyramid Magazine (more...)

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