Today in "Culture Wars," we talked a bit about actions that exclude others from possibilities they may want to actualize. In particular, one student vented his frustration at last year's campus-wide strike. "We're all here for one reason, to get an education. What gives them the right to interfere with my education by going on strike?" I soaked in this sentiment, and thought about how the violence of values was playing itself out in the classroom.
- Carl Schmitt.
The student had given us a lot of information in the course of his short jeremiad. He acknowledged the existence of a hierarchy of values, and of an absolute, subordinating value (namely, the education of students, in the context of the university). Other values had to bow to this absolute value. His grievance concerned the existence of other, alternative hierarchies of value with different subordinating values at the top. The existence of these alternative values entailed conflict that informed real, material conflict (his ability to receive an education in a way satisfactory to him). Schmitt, in the above quotation, demonstrates how the assertion of values brings about conflict and violence. What is most interesting is the way in which he ties "tolerance" into the equation.
Tolerance is one of those values that are prized in post-modernity. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine someone criticizing tolerance in a post-20th century world without being heavily criticized and marginalized. One of the lessons of the 20th century that we have learned is that in order to avoid genocide, we must tolerate the customs, practices, and especially values of others. But what does it mean "to tolerate"? Merriam-Webster's gives one definition as "to allow to be or to be done without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction." To tolerate something, we must allow it to exist, to manifest itself, to its fullest extent. To that end, tolerance is seen as a means of bringing about an end of conflict and violence. After all, if we allow everyone and everything to exist "without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction," then that excludes the possibility of violence, right?
"Because of the ambivalence of values, that aggressiveness will not cease to renew its virulence, whenever values as such are brought by actual people to bear upon other people as real as they."
- Carl Schmitt.
To tolerate all values, even those that contradict our own, we must allow them to exist. The paradox in this is that for a value to exist, it must bring itself to bear in the real world in actual, tangible ways, and when two values conflict with one another, their actualization will inexorably precipitate conflict. Tolerance, then, is not a means of preventing conflict and violence. It facilitates and legitimizes that conflict. Attempts to inhibit conflict originate from an intolerant position. In order to put an end to the conflict of values (and so the physical violence, on whatever scale, entailed by that conflict), either all values must be devalued (the post-modern solution) or one hierarchy of values must be chosen as the single, universal hierarchy. So when people talk about the importance of "tolerance" as an end of conflict, are they telling us we should devalue all values, or that we should subordinate our values to a single, universal set of values? What kind of values are advocated in this second approach?
"However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. [...] Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God."
- Deuteronomy, 20: 12,16-18.
To be tolerant, we must allow things to exist as they are, and to actualize themselves to their fullest extent. The challenge in this is that, by doing so, we permit irreconciliable conflict to persist. Who would say "Yes" to this conflict? Who would allow a genuine diversity of expression? In a time when "diversity" means conformity on all things that matter and "tolerance" means the annihilation of alternatives, who has the desire and the courage to defend true tolerance and true diversity?
"Heraclitus says (Fragment 53): 'Conflict is for all (that is present) the creator that causes to emerge, but (also) for all the dominant preserver. For it makes some to appear as gods, others as men; it creates (shows) some as slaves, others as freemen.'
"The polemos named here is a conflict that prevailed prior to everything divine and human, not a war in the human sense. This conflict, as Heraclitus thought it, first caused the realm of being to separate into opposites; it first gave rise to position and order of rank. In such separation cleavages, intervals, distances, and joints opened. In the conflict <Aus-einandersetzung, setting-apart> a world comes into being. (Conflict does not split, much less destroy unity. It constitutes unity, it is a binding-together, logos. Polemos and logos are the same.)"
- Martin Heidegger.