Respect and tolerance, people and ideas

Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:

Should Cambridge University academics and students “tolerate” or “respect” the views of others with which they might disagree? Should we tolerate Millwall fans booing players taking the knee? Should gender-critical feminists who argue for the importance of female biology and reproduction in defining a “woman” be tolerated, or are such views themselves intolerant of trans women?

These are all very different discussions and debates. Underlying all of them, however, is the question of how we should understand “tolerance” and “respect”, issues that run through virtually all “free speech” and “culture wars” discussions. Too often, though, we fail to recognise how far their meanings have changed in recent years.

Tolerance as a concept has a long history and many slippery meanings. But, from 17th-century debates about religious freedom to recent discussions about mass immigration, a key understanding of tolerance is the willingness to accept ideas or practices that we might despise or disagree with but recognise are important to others. These might include the right to practise a minority faith or to possess beliefs contrary to the social consensus.

Today, however, many regard tolerance not as the willingness to allow views that some may find offensive but the restraining of unacceptable views so as to protect people from being outraged.

More here.