28 April 2010

Tolerance

Tolerance means that you do not change your behavior towards someone whose thoughts or lifestyle are "strange" to you.

There are two types of tolerance. In the first, you either fail to notice the other person's strangeness or fail to take it into account when interacting with them. In the second, you do notice -- and are perhaps are bothered by that strangeness -- but do not make any explicit action or comment because it's in your best interest to work with that person.

This means that someone who accepts others will have non-business interactions with them (since they really don't care about that person's "strangeness"), but someone who merely "puts up with" a strange person will interact only when it's beneficial.

Now you can ask the litmus test question: "Ah yes, you have [black, gay, asian, non-economist] acquaintances. Do you have them over for dinner?"

I'll note that my background (growing up in San Francisco, traveling in 80 countries) has given me an accepting tolerance of many types of people. The only type of person for whom I have very little tolerance is a hypocrite. (I tend to avoid people who do not accept others; they can be passively or actively dangerous to society and our common future.)

Bottom Line: We can "just get along" when we are tolerant, but we can thrive* when we accept otherness -- and allow it to enrich our lives.
* In economic terms, we know that social cooperation for the provision of public goods and management of common pool goods depends on EITHER shared norms OR social preferences, i.e., the ability to see others as our equals.

7 comments:

The Outsider said...

That's a nice buy-the-world-a-Coke thing to say, but is it true? Are we really better off if we embrace each and every "other"?

At least one study (http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/05/the_downside_of_diversity/) suggests the answer is no, "social capital" is reliant on high levels of trust that are not present in highly diverse groups.

If that's true it doesn't mean we should start rounding up the Jews or anything, but maybe we should take slightly more hard-headed view of the value of a particular culture.

Marcus said...

Umm, some of us also read Robin Hanson's blog too. When appropriating or riffing on someone else's ideas it may be good to acknowledge or provide a link...

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/04/truetoleranc.html

David Zetland said...

@Marcus -- something in the air? I don't read his blog, and I wrote this 2 months ago when I was in New Zealand...

(tolerance!)

Shane said...

I was going to mention Robin's post, too -- odd that they were only three days apart -- although I figured that David hadn't read it, as Robin seems to anticipate David's "first type of tolerance":

That, however, isn't "tolerance." "Tolerance" is where you tolerate things that actually bother you.

You could say we're really talking about acceptance vs. tolerance, in that you can tolerate things that you don't accept. California generally accepts gays, but apparently won't tolerate gay marriage.

Apropos: Robin argues that we should tolerate polygamy, polyandry, and paraphilia, the same plagues that await us, we're told, if we even consider tolerating gay marriage. Run for your lives!

Note that tolerance often evolves into acceptance, just as Dr. King's metaphorical arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. (He also said that this happens slowly, although that was before the Internet.)

Note also that we tolerate hate speech. May that we continue to tolerate it, but also to reject it.

David Zetland said...

MR emails: "David, I see the frustration in your post, and wonder what happened...

I think you've missed the boat a bit here. I'd like to nix the word 'tolerance' from the social lexicon. Merely 'tolerating' or 'putting up with people who are different from us isn't the goal.

To get from 'tolerance'... (I disagree with your definitions, but that's peripheral to my point) "There are two types of tolerance.

In the first, you either fail to notice the other person's strangeness or fail to take it into account when interacting with them.

In the second, you do notice -- and are perhaps are bothered by that strangeness -- but do not make any explicit action or comment because it's in your best interest to work with that person." ...to 'acceptance' -- "yes, you have [black, gay, asian, non-economist] acquaintances, but do they come over for dinner?" -- there needs to be understanding. Understanding takes humility and work. It's a lofty goal, sure, but 'tolerance' as you defined it does nothing to purge prejudice, or to damn bigotry. Understanding comes with relationship and forces us to work through our prejudices, our bigotries (we all have them).

Lastly, everyone is a hypocrite. We all contain internal dissonances. Admitting that takes humility, but it's a big first step towards understanding.

Just some thoughts. I enjoy your blog."

David Zetland said...

@MR -- I agree that tolerance and acceptance are different ideas, but Ive heard the word used in a way that -- to me -- doesn't mean tolerance. That's why I applied two definitions.

(Yes, I was frustrated, and I still am. It's the hypocrisy of people who say that they are tolerant, but are not really accepting...)

Understanding may be too much work; I accept many people who I don't understand (that's Burning Man :) -- I just give them a little more space in my head, so that I'm not surprised...

I think that we all have conflicts; hypocrites don't admit them.

andrew547 said...

Feminism addresses issues of tolerance - although in the context of the production of science - by challenging processes that marginalize groups or views tht don't fall into the mainstream, and exposing the nature and effects of "intolerance". Donna Haraway and Sandra Harding are the two I'm familiar with, and their concepts of "strong objectivity", "situated knowledges", and "standpoint theory" are all solutions to intolerance.

If you're not familiar with their work and have an interest in philosophical debates about tolerance, they're well worth the effort it takes to read them, and the takeaway is applicable - as many things are - to more than just the narrow context in which it was written.