Against Tolerance

Gianni Cumbo
Gianni Cumbo

One of the great catchwords of neoliberalism is tolerance. We must tolerate gays and people of color and Muslims (as long as they’re not, you know, all covered in black or, no duh, terrorists). This pretty much sums up white liberal nonsense succinctly: we might not like all these weird, gross people but it’s our ethical obligation to tolerate them. After all, we can’t just, you know, get rid of them as that would be not right and stuff. America was built on tolerance! So we must tolerate them (just keep ’em in their own neighborhoods that I might visit, once in a while, to add some color to my life — no pun intended).

Oy vey. I’ll come out and say it: I have a hard time tolerating tolerance. But not because I am opposed to people who are, uh, different. It’s because tolerance is such an egregiously condescending word — as if this was all our (whose?) world to begin with and now, oh, we have to put up with all these odd and distasteful people. As if we were not all different! As if difference was not the very stuff of life!

So I don’t want to tolerate difference. I don’t want to tolerate queers and blacks and browns and commies and kikes and retards and cripples. I don’t even want to tolerate white middle class liberals. Nope. I want to affirm them.

I don’t want to find myself begrudgingly accepting anyone or anything — ok, maybe I’ll tolerate the occasional bartender in a vest or a backwoodsy beard on my barista. But as for all those other freaks and miscreants? Nope, no tolerance from me. I wanna love them, affirm them. And hopefully ignore them because just like you, I’m a weirdo too and I don’t really care what color you are or whom you fuck or wanna fuck or how you fuck.

A word, then, on respecting and ignoring people. To ignore other people is sometimes to respect them. It’s to assume they have their own lives, their own kind of happiness and distress and ecstasy. Of course, I also ignore those for whom I have no respect. But in this case I’m talking about two different modes of respect: a fundamental or natural respect for someone as a form on the planet versus a respect (or lack thereof) for someone within the human social. I’m talking about the former here: to ignore people who are different than me is to respect their fundamental presence on this planet. If I find myself tolerating them, it’s as if I assume I was here first and they entered my space. Which is absurd.

Now, I don’t have to respect your authority as my boss or co-worker; I can very well know and believe you are an incompetent douchebag. At which point I might or might not tolerate you. I may, for instance, throw a knipshit. Or quit. Or ignore you. But I still respect that you are a different human being and that, alone at night, you wrestle your strange demons just as the rest of us do. Only your demons are your demons and my demons are my demons and that’s ok. In fact, it’s better than ok: it’s beautiful. I may not tolerate your douchebaggery but I love your oddity as a form on this planet. I love that your demons are ugly and weird and very much your own. They make the world more colorful. I don’t have to like you to love that you exist.

I truly believe that tolerance is dangerous. It is one of those words and concepts that sounds right but that actually works to placate, to justify, our racism, homophobia, our disgust with things that are different — such as loner misanthropic horny hebes. While the distinction between tolerance and affirmation may seem pedantic, the distinction is everything. Tolerance is predicated on an architecture of entitlement. It’s a sensibility that breeds hatred. Affirmation, meanwhile, fosters and foments a multihued life.

If tolerance is nearly passive, performed begrudgingly, affirmation asks something else of the affirmer: it asks for a reckoning, for a recognition of the other that may yield ignoring but, first, demands empathy. Tolerance is something you do behind your back, while looking away. Affirmation demands all of you; it demands your presence within this life, your attention to what’s around you, a reckoning of this life.

Affirmation begins with the radical idea that all there is is this life. That all there is is difference, that there is no foundation but that everyone and everything is different and flows with the cosmos and, yes, it’s beautiful. There is no alternative to life. Life is not to be tolerated. It’s to be affirmed — or not, as the case may be. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Daniel is an independent writer, reader, teacher, and philosopher. Follow him on Twitter here.

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