Over on Facebook I’ve been engaged in another round of a continuing argument that a friend and I have been having over the years. He charges that my criticisms of those I call intolerant are hypocritical, because, in essence, this is just another form of intolerance. To be intolerant of intolerance, he says, is a type of circular reasoning.
He’s not the first one to say this about me, or anyone of a number of people outspoken against intolerance. On the face of it, this argument sounds logical but to me it seems so obviously incorrect. This accusation must be the one based on circular reasoning. To be intolerant of intolerance just seems to make sense, like having nothing to fear but fear itself. But I have never really been able to come up with a solid rebuttal.
Until now. It really boils down to a simple matter of semantics. We are not talking about the same thing here. According to no less an authority than Merriam Webster, “tolerance” has multiple, subtle yet significant, meanings.
Definition of INTOLERANT
unable or unwilling to endure
a : unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters
b : unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights : bigoted
This clears things up. I am doing my best to be the first definition as it encounters both elements of the second.