In order to reach compromise, people try to be tolerant of others with different beliefs. Despite its value, there are numerous factors that may hinder our exercise of tolerance.
What should you do in the face of radical disagreement? Do you live and let live, or try to convince the other person they’re wrong? Are some ideas just too terrible to tolerate? These are some of the questions we're tackling on this week's show.
In some cases, the best response to disagreement is just agreeing to disagree. If you like Marvel and I like DC, or you like Katy Perry, and I like Taylor Swift, what’s the problem? But when it comes to serious moral disagreements, that might not cut it. What if one person thinks abortion is a fundamental human right, and the other thinks abortion is murder? How can they get along?
One possible measure of success is tolerance: we can ask that nobody resorts to violence, or sabotages the democratic process. But grudging tolerance seems like an awfully low bar. How would you feel if your friends or your spouse barely tolerated you? Shouldn't you expect some measure of dignity, respect, and affirmation from your fellow citizens?
Even if you take a dim view of your fellow human beings, you still might not be satisfied with a policy of "I don't bother them and they don't bother me". Their views might strike you as not just wrong, but downright dangerous. And wrong views can to lead to the deaths of innocent people, or the destruction of the planet through climate change.
Silencing people who disagree with you, even if they're deeply wrong, would be morally fraught. But silencing isn't the only alternative to mere tolerance. You might hope to engage in rational dialogue that persuades others. If you do, it seems that in fairness, you should also be open to persuasion yourself. But then, opening yourself up to persuasion makes you vulnerable to various kinds of error. What if you open yourself up to flat-earthers, or Holocaust deniers, or homophobes who want to put queer people through conversion therapy?
Sometimes ideas are so ignorant and morally bankrupt that they're not worth considering. Or what if you open yourself up to a conversation with someone who doesn't want to sincerely persuade you, but is just trying to wind you up, or strong-arm you into supporting their cause, or make you click a link that generates advertising revenue?
On the other hand, the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, and gay marriage were all, at one time or another, ideas that struck the majority of people as wrong, perhaps unworkable. What if everyone had dismissed those ideas just because they were unfamiliar? Not everyone who disagrees with you has to be foolhardy or bigoted.
Sometimes listening to the opposition can be useful, and sometimes it’s a waste of time that won’t get you any closer to the truth. The trick is figuring out which disagreements are which. When should we open ourselves up to moral persuasion? Please listen in, comment here, or send us an email and help us figure out the answer.