The Case for Less Tolerance and More Discrimination. (Our View)

Article excerpt

Let's be iconoclasts. Here are a couple of icons we can shatter. Discrimination is a bad thing. Tolerance is a good thing.

We say, discrimination is usually a good thing, tolerance is usually a bad thing.

You don't believe it? Hang in.

We condemn discrimination with a blanket. So why is it an insult to call someone indiscriminate?

We shout "discrimination" when we feel insulted, injured, or slighted. Yet we discriminate every day: when we choose our friends, whom we vote for, our church, the organizations we join and the ones that we don't. We discriminate in what we eat, what we wear, when we watch Studio 2 rather than Survivor, when we choose this paper and not that paper. The truly indiscriminate are apt to wear running shoes to a formal reception, and a suit and tie to a backyard barbecue.

We once deplored discrimination against anyone in a harmful or insulting way because of race, religion, gender, age, or something similar. That's a real no-no. But we've come to think of all discrimination as bad. We need to be more discriminate!

We need to be discriminate, too, when it comes to tolerance. Some commentators complain that society has become too tolerant -- of bad manners, drunkenness, foul language, drug addiction, petty crimes, lying, cheating. Perhaps.

But there's another reason: tolerance can be discriminatory in harmful and insulting ways.

"Tolerant is a slightly negative word," David Lam, BC's former lieutenant-governor (Canada's first of Chinese origin) said a few years ago. "It's like saying, 'You smell, but I can hold my breath."'

In the May issue of Atlantic Monthly, Islamic historian Bernard Lewis was more blunt. "Tolerance," he wrote, "is an extremely intolerant idea, because it means 'I am the boss: I will allow you some, though not all, of the rights I enjoy as long as you behave yourself according to standards that I shall determine. …