Tolerence


"I wonder where our underlying Polity lies."

The Puritan Roger Williams founded his Rhode Island colony on the principle of tolerance. The Massachusetts Bay Colony had earlier drummed Williams out of their society, which they'd founded upon the principle of extreme intolerance, as though he had failed to demonstrate true Puritan values. He had. Williams welcomed all comers, Muslims, Jews, even agnostics, though he never actively supported any of their ideals. He explained that tolerance does not extend to supporting anyone's beliefs, but only as far as supporting the right to hold any belief. He thought Muslims and Jews damned, but he also considered their damnation to be their own damned business. Williams was fortunate that his principle of tolerance failed to attract many intolerant Puritans to Rhode Island, for even a minority, dedicated to promoting intolerance, can utterly destroy any tolerant society.

Karl Popper reflecting upon Germany's initial tolerance of the Nazi movement, coined the term The Paradox of Tolerance.
It states that one essential part of every tolerant society must be a dedicated intolerance of intolerance. His point highlights an apparent contradiction well-understood in Ancient Greece. Those Greeks held democracy as a degradation of Polity, which served as a sort of shared baseline of what a society believed to be self-evident. To stray beyond that boundary, even if supported by popular democratic vote, welcomed disaster. Votes, under this perspective, imbedded affirmation of the underlying Polity of the populace. To attempt even a small-D democracy without an underlying Polity perverted the intention of popularity and should not be tolerated.

Our Founding Fathers were hardly omniscient. They might be fairly characterized as rather fanatical dreamers, but they saw an opening wrinkle in the fabric of history and jumped right in. Our Constitution might be most fairly characterized as a hypothesis, one promoted as a promise but without the means of securing what it promised. It served, and still serves, as a sort of vision statement of possibility. The self-evident truths touted in our Declaration of Independence were neither true nor self-evident, though its authors sincerely hoped that they might prove to represent a nascent Polity. This lofty vision was nudged out into the usual cross-currents of intolerance, jealousy, and rage familiar to every era throughout time. It was a paper boat, one relying upon belief to float, and unlikely to survive.

That originating dream has suffered considerable turbulence. It's been blown off course more times than anyone cares to count. It's been swamped and bilge-pumped to near saturation. It's been torched and tended, maligned and praised, and at times seemed hardly worth the flimsy parchment it was written upon. The proof of its propositions was never present on the originating paper, though, but resident in the aspirations of those still fool enough to believe in the founding propositions, which were propositions and never proofs. Many of the literal assertions have yet to be proven, but proof might be beside the point of these sorts of propositions. Like any halfway decent vision statement, the quality of the vision it induces far exceeds the value of any resulting product, the pursuit of which was the valuable purpose of the statement in the first place. Because we've not yet achieved all of those lofty dreams, we might yet persist in our collective uplifting delusion. For the dedicated delusionary, not yet achieving only further fuels and further justifies passionate pursuit.

All of this experimentation would be a lot simpler if we possessed an underlying Polity. We clearly do not. Or do we? I wonder what self-evident truths we might discover were we to focus upon discovering them. Perhaps the missing element of our ongoing, often disappointing experiment, might be the lack of focus upon recognizing and more fully appreciating our underlying Polity. Our progress seems to some as degrading permissiveness. Others revere an imagined past more than they treasure a tolerant today. We struggle to define reasonable tolerance, permitting an intolerant few to degrade our general quality of experience. Evil remains in this world, wrapped in intolerant cloth and cloaked in intolerably tolerant guise. I wonder where our underlying Polity lies.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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