How does the Paradox of tolerance work?


I’ve read several explanations, but I think I need it really dumbed down to grasp it.

In: 7

If you permit the intolerant to do whatever they want, they will be intolerant to others, thereby paradoxically raising the general level of intolerance by being too tolerant.

So, first, the paradox: if you want to create a space (a community, a society, a subreddit, whatever) that is tolerant of other viewpoints, then you absolutely **cannot** tolerate views that are racist, sexist, or otherwise intolerant of others.


Because bigots will do their best to dominate the discourse with their views, and bigots will actively work to drive away people with whom they disagree. Intolerant people will do their best to destroy spaces where other viewpoints are tolerated, so allowing them into a space ensures that space will be full of conflicts until either the bigots are banned, or everyone else leaves for a less conflicted space.

We saw this happen in real time with various social media platforms like Digg, Voat, and others that were dedicated to “we allow all viewpoints here and no one is excluded!” Each of those platforms became flooded with intolerant people, who proceeded to drive out everyone who didn’t share their views.

It essentially means that a completely tolerant society will be destroyed by the intolerant. In other words, a tolerant society needs to be intolerant of intolerance.

This was formulated around 1940 so there were some very strong emotions around intolerance (WW2).

But it’s also raised discussion and philosophy around the practicality of complete tolerance and how we need to be careful when it comes to tolerance or intolerance of intolerant people.

It’s pretty easy to get in the weeds with it. Pretty much we should only be intolerant of intolerance but it’s easy to get carried away with that ideal and become intolerant of more than just intolerance.

Imagine you have a play date at your home with several friends. You are very tolerate, you don’t care whether your friends take their shoes off or not. Some kids do, some kids don’t. One friend tho is intolerant and wants everybody to take their shoes off. He gets very aggressive and tries to make kids take off their shoes. At this point you can no longer tolerate the intolerant behavior. Otherwise he would take over and make everyone very unhappy. Therefore tolerance can never tolerate intolerance.

To create a tolerant society the one thing that the society can’t tolerate is intolerance itself. So tolerance in society breaks down when you tolerate people to act in a racist or bigoted manner.