Are we tolerant enough?

Eve Hodgson gives her take on the limits of tolerance, and where the line should be drawn

Eve Hodgson


Tolerance is a tricky concept. In terms of politics, lately a lot of very intolerant movements have emerged. There’s the Milo Yiannopoulos/Richard Spencer neo-Nazi white supremacist alt-right groups, who seem to be very proud of their lack of tolerance. There’s also an increasing sense that intolerance should not be tolerated. Arguments over whether or not punching Nazis is alright is entirely based on whether or not we should tolerate the expression of those views in our society.

On a level, or at least one of a lower scale, Jacob Rees-Mogg expresses total abhorrence towards abortion and gay marriage. Then his event at UWE is broken up as a result of violence apparently directed at his supporters.

In highly political settings such as university, tolerating the views of others – or feeling like you must moderate your own views to make them tolerable – becomes something a bit more necessary.

Before coming to university, I thought being a Tory was The Worst Thing a person could be. I had not encountered many young Conservatives at home, and I had quite a moral attachment to Labour, or at least left-wing, views.

“Then I came to uni and encountered a lot of people with big- and small-c conservative views, and they weren’t The Worst. I found it very confusing”

Then I came to uni and encountered a lot of people with big- and small-c conservative views, and they weren’t The Worst. I found it very confusing. I sometimes still find it very confusing. I often still think of these ideologies as something I can’t not hate, yet I am quite willing to mitigate the problematic elements of my own politics.

I find it difficult to tolerate the ultra-right-wing views of men like Jacob Rees-Mogg, especially when they deny or threaten the safe existence of marginalised groups, yet I continue to support the Labour Party despite its huge and apparently mounting problems, including sexism and anti-Semitism.

So clearly tolerance has its limitations. Or, rather, the amount of tolerance that can be afforded to separate groups can be very different. It definitely depends on how willing a person is to understand or try to sympathise with another viewpoint.

We probably all like to consider ourselves to be very tolerant in this political way. Very few people openly admit to being sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist and so on. That’s why we have groups like ‘meninists’. Sexism is no longer a publicly acceptable ideology to have, so it has to be dressed up as a just agenda that emphasises the apparently intolerant nature of gender equality movements.

So, probably everyone believes themselves to be relatively tolerant. We definitely are not. Everyone has things they will never understand and never be able to see the reasoning for, and so feel like they cannot tolerate. Pet peeves.

For me, my little annoyance with a big impact is lateness (stroke flakiness). It sounds super minor given what I’ve been talking about so far, but it works on the same principles. I will never understand why my time or my commitment is somehow less important than another person’s. I will not tolerate it. Maybe that makes me uptight, but I guarantee everyone has something, because people are very annoying.

I live in college with people, I have lived at home with people, and they all do things that, at one time or another, annoy me and that I don’t want to tolerate. But you kind of have to. It’s part of rubbing along with other people. I suppose you need to work out where your boundaries are.

So, where are my boundaries? Is it okay if somebody’s a Tory, but not a Rees-Moggian super-Tory? Or is that fine too? Is it okay if somebody’s five minutes behind schedule, but not fifteen? Or is five still too many?

I honestly struggle to reconcile with the idea of tolerating the expression of extremist views. For example, this New York Times piece received a great deal of criticism for presenting such an arguably tolerant image of a neo-Nazi. I don’t at all think we should give alt-right views a fair hearing – I think they’ve had one, and it went horribly – but I’m unsure about how intolerant a person that makes me.

Arguably very intolerant, because that could be seen to shut down debate. Arguably very tolerant, but unwilling to entertain intolerant viewpoints. I don’t at all think it’s wrong or intolerant to close down discussions that, again, threaten the mere existence of others, such as neo-Nazism. I think the notion that they should be listened to only comes from a place of extreme privilege, in which an individual may not experience negative repercussions but whole other groups are made aware that there are subsections of society who want them not to exist.


Mountain View

Am I tough enough?

I also get twitchy when people are a minute late if I’ve been whiling away the day waiting for our plans, but could quite happily wait fifteen minutes if I can usefully fill the time.

It’s difficult to know where the line is tolerance-wise. Maybe it’s best to think about the impact of your tolerances on others. If I could learn to tolerate lateness, I’d be far less angsty overall. But if I tolerated something that would immeasurably damage people different from me? Not such a positive vibe