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Tolerance ceases to be tolerance when we prevent one group of people from offending another.
A recent poll of Millennials reveals the disturbing way in which young people understand what it means to live in a free, pluralistic society.
We are presently enduring one of the most divisive political periods in American history. No one is killing each other over political stances, and no Civil Wars have been started, but the rhetoric the past decade or so, it seems, has been increasingly inflammatory.
Most would agree, I think, that the evolution of the internet has had some role in this, to be sure. The internet has provided us with an entirely new category of mediums in which we might express disagreement with one another, regardless of how respectfully or disrespectfully we choose to do so.
At the same time, the country’s collective political trajectory has been more liberally-aligned. In the eight years of President Obama’s presidency, the Democratic party and more left-leaning issues have had some serious wins. The legalization of gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana in many places, the protection of Planned Parenthood, and other such matters have often gone the way of the Left as of late.
Unsurprisingly, exactly 50% of Millennials in America identify as political “independents,” while 27% identify as “Democrats,” and 17% identify as “Republicans.”
Further, yet still unsurprising, 50% of Millennials either identify with the Democratic party or lean toward the democratic party.
The stats simply show: Democratic views of government are more popular than Republican views of government right now. Here is set of graphs from Pew’s Millennials in Adulthood study that show how each generation identifies, when “independent” is taken out of the mix:
From 2004 to 2014, Democrats have had the upper hand in every generational category. This is important because, whether intentionally or unintentionally, whether true or false, the Democratic party has been seen by many as the “party of tolerance.” The question is this, “As Democratic points of view gain the upper hand in American politics, will tolerance remain an important value, or will it fall by the wayside, perceived to be a threat to power?”
“Tolerance” is often the song we sing until we gain the upper hand. Once our particular faction, political party or otherwise, is the ruler over our particular domain, we become intolerant of that which would dethrone us from our seat at the top.
Millennials have a tolerance problem. I’ve heard people described Millennials as the “Live-and-let-live,” generation. But this is only partially true. It’s really more like, “Live-and-let-live-unless-you-don’t-like-how-I-live-then-I-won’t-like-how-you-live,” and that’s becoming more and more apparent as those who once valued “tolerance” take over.
Here’s the stat that scares me:
40% of Millennials believe the government should be able to censor offensive statements about minorities.
I need to say it here before we go any further: I am not in favor of making offensive statements about minorities, but I am in favor of the freedom to make them.
Offensive statements about minorities are an unfortunate by-product of free speech. When we attempt to regulate speech we don’t like, we call into question the entire construct of “free speech” as we know it. It is good and right to not like it when people offend minorities. We should stand up for those in our country (and abroad, when able) who, because of their minority status regarding race, religion, or otherwise, are oppressed. But, standing up for oppressed minorities is not best done by restricting the free speech of jerks. Such restrictions may unintentionally set precedent for more restrictions that would be more harmful than helpful.
It’s like the election cycle this year. You might hate Donald Trump, but would you want to live in a country in which he was not allowed to run for office? I don’t think you would. I wouldn’t, at least. You may not like Trump, but you have to admit that our system allows for him, and that such an allowance is important despite its repugnance.
In the same way, an unwanted by-product of free speech is offensive speech. Unfortunately, in pursuing tolerance, 40% of Millennials have decided it would be more tolerant to restrict offensive speech than to allow it. As much as we all would like to prevent offensive speech, doing so is not tolerance or encouraging the freedom of speech.
On the surface, restricting offensive speech sounds admirable. The problem is this, though: we live in a moral environment in which the definition of “offensive speech” changes on a daily (hourly?) basis. Sure, today “restricting offensive speech” means being nice to minorities, which is good. But tomorrow, “restricting offensive speech” could mean speaking out against the government. We don’t want to be restricted from speaking out against the government.
Tolerance is more than protecting minorities, though it certainly includes that.
Tolerance is being willing to exist in a realm in which that which is gross or offensive to you is allowed to persist in the name of freedom, even though it’s gross or offensive.
To live peaceably, we must value tolerance and we must value minorities. However, we must not require obedience to these values in order to preserve the First Amendment freedoms we enjoy.