The tolerance dilemma is on our mind and the magnitude of the issue seems larger and more urgent than ever before. And this time it started with a statue.

Robert E. Lee, the general who fought in the US Civil War 150 years ago, still stands in Charlottesville, Virginia on his horse. And like the continued use of the Confederate Flag, this poses a major problem. Why?

They both, in effect, celebrate racism with nostalgia and pride – patriotism in their eyes, and yet in such contradiction of what we hope are the country’s beliefs. To call it ‘heritage’ is to wash over the horrifying reality of the past.

In a positive move, the decision was made to remove the statue from Charlottesville, and a similar debate is ongoing about the continued use of the flag. What happened next was difficult and dreadful. On August 12th, a large group of white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of the Lee statue.

Calling themselves the ‘Alt Right’, “Unite the Right” protesters were met with antifascist protestors who felt they needed to be themselves intolerant of the intolerance shown. During the clash, a car was driven into the left-leaning protesting group and a liberal counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed and many others injured. Allegedly, this car was driven by one of the white supremacists.

Many people have left Saturday’s events feeling confused, let down, angry and even hopeless at the state of their country’s attitudes towards equality. And these concerns are not limited to issues such as racism, but also misogyny and sexism, homosexuality and anti-Semitism. The white supremacists the world met on August 12th vocally embodied all of the above in their actions.

But the horrifying reality of it is that this has been going on in the underbelly of our country for far longer than we realize. These people have been here all along, and they’re not just going to back down or go away.

We can’t deny anymore that these people exist, and (unfortunately) we can’t just dismiss them from society altogether. It’s been argued that President Trump’s win was an angry alt-right backlash from years of feeling shut out by modern, progressive society. So how do we stop this from happening again? How do we reach people who are intolerant without being intolerant ourselves?

The idea of tolerance is itself contradictory. Undoubtedly extrapolated from Plato’s ‘paradox of freedom,’ the tolerance paradox claims that unlimited tolerance will lead to the vanishing of tolerance. According to Karl R. Popper, if the world was to extend tolerance without limit to people who are intolerant and not protect the idea of tolerance itself against this side of society, then the tolerant will be eradicated and all tolerance along with them.

Wow, that’s a head spinner.

What we can really take from that is, entire censorship of all intolerant philosophies has proven counterproductive, so countering intolerant philosophies with rational and educated debate formed from open-minded philosophies could be a recommended suppression.

The tolerance dilemma tells us we can reject intolerance with rationality and public opinion. That we, in effect, can win over prejudiced philosophies through reasoning, which is essentially education. Discussion about race, class and gender issues can and should be integrated into children’s schooling from a young age and across the board, and not just in the more elitist schools.

This has proven to be a powerful force in universities especially, and has seen the progressive mindset grow and grow where it hadn’t before. Thoughtful debates are encouraged on campuses, particularly in courses such as history, humanities subjects and those in social sciences.

Since the end of the Second World War, the discussion of these controversial concepts has transformed views from closed-minded to open-minded, and towards maximizing the benefits of equality and acceptance. By the 1970s, universities had become, and continue to be, left of center.

Some extremist conservatives are now souring towards the idea of more swathes of liberal graduates entering the workforce, civil society, congress and the general discourse of culture, claiming that universities have negative effects on society. As such, universities are coming under pressure from media, lobbyists, alumni and donators to become less political.

As a result, campus groups on both the right and left are feeling the need to shut down certain speakers. However, as Lawrence Davidson says, if a group or student doesn’t like a university speaker, they should not be shutting them down, but rather using that presence as a moment for re-education and controlled debate. And as such, groups like the “Stop the Hate” Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center have risen to the challenge to create powerful campus movements, giving students the outlets and tools to express their emotions and accept others.

What we can take from the recent tragic events at Charlottesville is strength from the fact that groups of counter-protesters refused to let the hate go unmatched. However, the clash also proved that so much more needs to be done in the form of education, and more than likely much earlier than university, given that many individuals are so far removed from such institutions.

Re-education, particularly in places of the country that are not as exposed to other cultures and mindsets, needs to be our top priority in the coming years. We need to recognize these people and work on re-integrating them back into our societal discussions in the hopes that future generations won’t raise their kids in homes of hatred.

Kate Harveston
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