The Struggle to Live and Let Live: The Psychology, Ethics and Politics of Tolerance, or, Why Discrimination is Preferable to Tolerance
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When faced with the intolerance of the imperialist who denigrates and annihilates other ways of life, one answer is the principle of tolerance as advocated by multiculturalism and biculturalism. This asserts that each way of life has its own legitimacy, to be valued on its own terms, and that its differences with other ways of life ought to be tolerated. The concept of figure and ground is a helpful way of conceptualising the practice of tolerance, making room for inclusive, both/and forms of existence. It is an image for the attempt to live and let live, in which differences — mountain and sea — coexist in harmony with each other. Whilst broadly in favour of this world view, I will nevertheless inquire into some of its beliefs and assumptions. Amongst other things, I argue that the “cultural group” is not the straightforward category it is often portrayed as, but always a conflictual, problematic and politicised entity. This in turn problematises the activity of tolerance: what is the psychology of tolerance and how is it informed by the political context? What is taking place within us when we are actively tolerating something? Is tolerance necessarily and always a good thing? Are there occasions when intolerance (and therefore, conflict) is the ethical requirement? In this article I argue that the ideals of “respecting difference”, “inclusivity”, “tolerance” are not only ethical but also always political. In sum, I argue for the virtues of discrimination over those of tolerance.