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Is it necessary to freedom of thought that racist ideas must be tolerated?

Why isn't the paradox of tolerance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance) also biased? In other words, why can't we also claim a paradox of intolerance, where we just flip all the statements in paradox of tolerance? And why is this then meaningful?

I have these arguments against content moderation, but I would still be against unnecessary cruelty etc. due to wanting to distinguish between ideas and actions:

  • Everything originates from unique thought, so therefore such thoughts are naturally non-constrained.

  • Even if some ideas would be harmful, there cannot be a general consensus on appropriate emotions. That is, because no-one can know the "inside head" of someone else. Feeling low in self-esteem is not a problem, since nature does not guarantee some certain level of esteem.

  • In a more general sense, all ideas are arbitrary, since they originate from subjects.

Based on this, racist ideas cannot be generally non-tolerable, because they're essentially a similar bias as any other idea and their interpretation as emotions is entirely subjective. It's possible of course that racist ideas become false generalizations, but if they're ideas then they should be tolerated on the same grounds as "religious hocus pocus". Therefore one cannot claim that there's bannable speech without being favorable of protecting a particular set of emotions as more valid. One may wish to protect an insulted person, but what about the feelings of the insulters?

I guess there's some level of variability in expression though, but banning "inconvenient opinion" in place of "favorable opinion" is opinion totalitarianism.

Yes, it's possibly an enemy of democratic society, but democracy need not be everyone's preference. And it would be a generalization to claim that it is. In other words, must one tolerate "just another opinion" due to all opinions being biased?

And possibly even more fundamentally, the question is about balancing individual freedom to one's own thoughts vs what someone else perceives as tolerable.

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    Concerning the update. No you don't have to tolerate any opinion whatsoever. The question is just do you want to live in a society where people do that? Like freedom of just about anything beyond the mere physical ability is not a right it's an agreement and if you don't hold your part of it why do you expect others to do?
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 13:22
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    @mavavilj Hatred is simply not a productive emotion. Like it's harmful both to the hater and the subject of the hate. You don't gain freedom from it and you decrease someone else's freedom.
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 21:50
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    No racist ideology is about the bullshit people make up in order to justify discrimination and privilege which in terms of racism comes down to arguing that other people are of a certain superior/inferior characteristic because of "reasons" that are beyond their self (skin color, country of origin etc). So it's a no win situation as you can't stop being what the racists perceives you to be and as you don't change (because you can't) that makes the racist even more angry at you. Also anti-racism isn't one thing it's easy to be an asshole, to avoid being one takes a lot more effort...
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 9:54
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    See 'Paradox of resolving discrimination' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/84761/… I would look to The Golden Rule & intersubjectivity to understand the moral and practical benefits of treating others as we would wish to be treated - & competition between societies to spread their culture, in memetic selection. See 'Studies exploring the rationale of gender equality' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/90227/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 19:54
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    @mavavilj The problem is that you're engaging in racist thinking here. That is you assume that it's an inherent immutable characteristic of the individual, while people opposed to racism more often than not consider it to be a behavior that can be reflected upon, mitigated and finally be overcome. It's not the person that is the problem but their flawed thought process and their unreflected behavior. Which is quite different from the idea that the person is the problem which usually culminates in calls for discrimination, segregation and ultimately extermination.
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 10:18

6 Answers 6

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Afaik we are not able to read thoughts let alone regulate them (not even for ourselves). So this whole statement is kind of a straw man, as it's not about "thoughts" it's about speech and action following from that. At least that is what the paradox of tolerance is concerned with, so why else would you mention it?

Also obviously the paradox of tolerance is biased in that it asserts that a "liberal, pluralistic society", one in which everyone is able to express themselves, is a good thing. So it rejects ideas of authoritarianism and totalitarianism which would argue that the will of the authority or a certain ideology is to be followed dogmatically.

That's not a some hidden agenda that's the plain and obvious premise. The paradox is whether you should accept people who challenge that very premise. Because if you allow for people to silence others and submit them to their will, then you're freedom to express yourself is gone. However if you overdo it you'll be the one silencing and submitting people to your will. That's the paradox. So despite having the intent to be tolerant you need some intolerance towards the intolerance to enable a tolerant society.

Now intolerance doesn't have that paradox. Intolerance simply doesn't care what other people have to say, what their perspectives are and whether they are able to express themselves and contribute to the public discussion. Intolerance specifically means that you "do not allow/accept" it, so it favors that there is no discussion and that people just take up their place in the Intolerant's master plan. So for the intolerant it might just matter whether they are in power to command others or whether they are subject to someone else who commands them. Silencing and subjugating other's is (to the intolerant) not a contradiction with their goal, it IS the goal.

Everything originates from unique thought, so therefore such thoughts are naturally non-constrained.

That's not really a sound argument. First of all not everything originates from thoughts and thoughts might themselves originate from experience and whatnot. And even if they did why would that mean that they are not constraint?

Even if some ideas would be harmful, there cannot be a general consensus on appropriate emotions.

There can absolutely be a consensus on appropriate emotions, why shouldn't there be one? Whether that's any useful, whether you're able to control your emotions to that extend, whether it's enforceable or whether that's a good idea to begin with. Would all be valid questions about such ideas but that doesn't mean you couldn't do it.

Feeling low in self-esteem is not a problem, since nature does not guarantee some certain level of esteem.

A problem to whom? To you who might not feel that way? Maybe, maybe not. Do you care about that person with low self-esteem and don't like to see them struggle? Then yes it is a problem. If you don't well, that's up to you. But to the person having low self-esteem that most likely is a problem if it means they don't enjoy being themselves. And what does nature have to do with that? Is nature any normative in that sense? People aren't naturally meant to drive, fly have computers or whatnot and we do it anyway, so why should we constrain ourselves to what is natural? It's not like everything there is in nature is by default good, there's death, harm, suffering and whatnot. There's a limit to that thinking in terms of pissing in the pool that you're swimming in (climate change, pollution, questionable industrial production of food optimized for profit not health, and so on), but that doesn't mean we have to feel bad because it's "natural". On doesn't have to accept a status quo especially not if it isn't working to begin with.

One caveat to the nature of ideas: Sure you might not be able to control the onset of emotions. Like if you're feeling sad, angry, happy or whatnot you're feeling that regardless of whether you want to or not and there's hardly anything you can do about that. But how you deal with those emotions is still at least partially up to you. And you can argue that certain ways of handling them work better or not as good as others.

In a more general sense, all ideas are arbitrary, since they originate from subjects.

That doesn't make them arbitrary... That just means you have to figure in a lot more individual context than you'd need to if you'd consider them to be subject independent or objective.

Based on this, racist ideas cannot be generally non-tolerable, because they're essentially a similar bias as any other idea and their interpretation as emotions is entirely subjective.

That depends on how broad you define racism here. Like whether you find someone likeable or abhorrent on first sight and based on a subconscious cocktails of whatnot is an emotion and/or bias. To construct a theoretical and practical ideology and engaging in political action with the goal to privilege your peer-group and/or disenfranchise another "group" (that might just be a group because you said they are), is a little more than a fluke of an emotion...

It's possible of course that racist ideas become false generalizations, but if they're ideas then they should be tolerated on the same grounds as "religious hocus pocus". Therefore one cannot claim that there's bannable speech without being favorable of protecting a particular set of emotions as more valid.

Why should you tolerate "religious hocus pocus"? I mean that's usually why you have a separation of church and state because you can hardly argue with religious people as their "god said so"-argument works for them and for nobody else, so there's no rational discussion. Which is why you make laws that are not based in religion and make religious people figure out how they can exist within these laws if they want to. Cults are literally one of these totalitarian groups which are intolerant and "unreasonable" as their acting upon axioms that may be false but are unquestionable.

I guess there's some level of variability in expression though, but banning "inconvenient opinion" in place of "favorable opinion" is opinion totalitarianism.

It's not about "different" or "inconvenient" opinion it's about the very foundation of a society and the kind of society you want to live in. Again societies are never unbiased and don't claim to. Modern societies explicitly fancy themselves for having equal rights, individual freedom, equality before the law, the ability to go into politics yourself or at least to elect politicians, equal suffrage and so on.

These aren't neutral, but these are fundamental to society as we know it. So if you try to chop away at those by making certain groups of people more privileged than others then you're eroding that very concept of society. It's not that this is a physical force or something that is impossible to do. But if you'd take Kant's perspective of the categorical imperative and envision yourself at the receiving end of such a system that strips people of their rights, freedoms and maybe even their lives then that's certainly not "good".

Also it might not even be all that great if you're not at the receiving end, but that's a different story for a different time.

TL;DR you can't just swap terminology these ideas are based on different premises

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  • "And even if they did why would that mean that they are not constraint?" Because this is the essence of freedom of thought: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_thought If one has a racist thought and expresses it, then there's ultimately no constraint to this. It just happens and it's individual. Def. of constraint: "The threat or use of force to prevent, restrict, or dictate the action or thought of others."
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 18:33
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    If we tolerate "religious hocus pocus", then we should tolerate any other belief. Since they're all beliefs. If we don't tolerate, then we have a case of "allowed beliefs".
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 18:35
  • "There can absolutely be a consensus on appropriate emotions, why shouldn't there be one?", because self-esteem is not a constant.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 18:38
  • @mavavilj I don't know where this definition of constraint is coming from, a constraint is more or less a "restriction", which can include natural and man made restrictions, including self-imposed restrictions. Or is your argument that you're able to think and express things in the sense of being physically capable of doing so? Well yes. But as soon as other people enter the scene that "freedom" is not an absolute thing but ultimately just an agreement.
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 23:53
  • @mavavilj Pretty much all societies have rules, laws and regulations so yes there are "allowed and disallowed believes" it's not that this is a surprising insight, is it? Like you might think murder is fine and the law might disagree with that.
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 23:55
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In a libertarian view, thought remains free whether or not the eventual articulation of those thoughts is tolerated.

Whilst the anticipation of intolerance might influence a person's thoughts, there is no external agent policing the thinker until the thought is expressed.

A person might experience a thought which if publicised would be considered taboo, but this taboo does not prevent the thought; it merely provides consequences for any expression of the thought.

These consequences might complicate, temper or encourage the thinker's thought processes, but until 'thought police' eventuate, we are free (barring determinism) to think as we wish, regardless of how our ideas are tolerated by any community in which we live.

Mind you, 'barring determinism' asks that we ignore the way prior events (including external pressures such as taboos) manifest even in our thoughts. If determinism or randomness is true, it is likely pointless to consider questions such us this without allowing for the fact that our thoughts might in fact never be free; that they are always the consequence of forces beyond our control, including the forces present in environmental factors such as tolerance and intolerance.

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    If a person expects 'that someone tolerate racist speech', it may be because they are a) racist and/or b) believe in an absolutish freedom of speech. As for your fat/thin example, you are free to value thinness more than fatness if you wish, regardless of how tolerated such a view might be by others. Once you articulate this idea, you may be required to defend this stance against people who disagree. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 8:12
  • And if a person expects 'that someone tolerate anti-racist speech'? "Once you articulate this idea, you may be required to defend this stance against people who disagree.". Again, this is not a problem, debate is not a problem. The problem is when a particular form of speech is criminalized. While others are not.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 9:41
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    You might find this SEP entry worthwhile. It includes sections on hate speech, the Harm Principle, the Offence Principle, and free speech in democracy. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 9:46
  • Fair, but there's no objective standard.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 9:48
  • Also, why can't we accept intolerance as a real feature? As part of true freedom. Why isn't a restriction on it itself intolerance?
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 15:41
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Well Britain has a free press and is a free liberal democracy but if you started shouting racist sterotypes like n***** or w** on the streets you'd be arrested for spreading hate speech.

So that is one answer: what is the laws in the country in which you are speaking which regulate what can be said in what context.

But perhaps you are talking about social media and the internet? Well in that case, and in my opinion, it should be the publishing laws of the countries involved - both hosting and where the material is published - which means everywhere - that should regulate that particular world. This will be expensive. Luckily for social media they managed to gut that particular possibility when a piece of US legislation ruled that internet publishers were third party hosts rather than publishets.

I see this as a lamentably short-sighted piece of legislation. But I expect this to change in future when it is understood that social media companies cannot be trusted to moderate their own activities as the evidence of Facebook Whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who worked in Facebook's Civic Integrity team, before Congress showed so amply. Essentially, the social media companies have coerced private individuals to police their products for free whilst raking in billions of profit. This is where they are making their billions. If they had to cost in the costs of moderation and policing then their profit margins would dramtically fall.

They have, as has happened with Big Tobacco and Big Oil, socialised costs whilst privatising profits. It's a profitable racket - which is whilst they're still at it - you might say it is one of Capitalism's original sins.

This 'coercion' is slavery by a new name. Both the UK & the USA have legislation on modern forms of slavery. It's perhaps not at all surprising that the nation that has most profitted from the transatlantic slave trade has invented a new form. This is another original sin of Capitalism.

For example, one commentator at a well-respected institution states that digital slavery has aspects of both chattel and modern slavery and the trade is npt being enabled - as it was in the 18th C - by sailing ships, guns, whips and chains - but this time by an unholy triumvirate of surveillance technology, personal data trafficking and AI.

He (I'm assuming it is a he) explains that the trafficking of personal data should not be seen as simply a question of privacy as it was seen in the daus of the early internet but in todays surveillance society it should be also understood the control of people. And mental control is mental slavery and ergo slavery...

This I think is grounds for a class-action suit. It merely requires a civil liberties law firm taking out some newspaper adverts requesting people who feel that they have been "digitally enslaved" to come forward in all confidentiallity so a casebook of evidence of wrong-doing can be built up.

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The core (generally unrecognized) problem here is that public speech has two components:

  • The semantic element, comprised of the production, expression, and elaboration of meaning (thoughts and ideas), and...
  • The syntactic element, comprised of the rules of proper communication, without which communication is ultimately impossible.

A Liberal society must necessarily be tolerant of racist thoughts and racist expressions (the semantic element), but must necessarily be intolerant of any expression which violates the rules (syntax) of communication. Liberal society depends on the rules of communication to eventually resolve disagreements, so activities and expressions which result in the suppression, denigration, or dismissal of proper communication cannot be tolerated without destroying the fabric of Liberal society.

Put bluntly, one might talk about the inferiority of a particular group as a political position; that's a theoretically acceptable matter of semantics. But one must talk about such in a way that includes that group in the conversation meaningfully, not rejecting, dismissing, or oppressing their views on the matter. The paradox isn't a paradox of liberalism; it is a paradox of bigotry, that the bigot must communicate his bigotry in a way which does not presume the bigotry as true.

Those who have been paying attention are aware that most of the current kerfuffles about 'free speech' are in fact arguments that one should be allowed to insult, degrade, defame, and/or abuse disliked people or groups. They are explicitly arguments that attack the rules of proper communication, offered to allow forms of expression that preclude or suppress certain viewpoints from being offered publicly. That is strictly and stridently illiberal. Even the most intolerant bigot can express his views in ways that allow for proper communication and discussion, but doing so is often antithetical to the goal of bigotry since it assumes that the target of bigotry is necessarily an equal in the discussion. Liberal society does not need to suppress the vies of such people; it merely needs to prevent such people from suppressing the free expression of others in society. It must guard the syntax of communicative spaces and allow the semantics to play out as they will.

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  • Liberal societies work, others self-destruct. It seems like a pretty simple lesson.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 10:47
  • You make a good point concerning the ideas being expressed and the way in which they are expressed. But I'm slightly skeptical as to whether "syntax" is the correct word for what you're describing. From what I know and can find syntax is really more about form, grammar, structure of a sentences and so on. So I'd be less concerned about a dyslexic person violating syntax than about one arguing that other people's opinions are invalid because they are inferior.
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 11:33
  • @ScottRowe: Liberal society gave us colonialism, fascism, and Trumpism. Most modern tyrants get themselves elected to power by easily manipulated masses. Your 'lesson' isn't 'simple'; it's facile. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 14:37
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    @haxor789: yeah, I know, I'm extending the use of the term 'syntax' in weird ways, because there isn't really a good term for what I mean. Basically I mean this: just like there are rules of sentence construction, there are rules of conversation construction. Break either set of rules and you end up with gibberish, though the latter is harder to see. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 14:40
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    Our answers agree following different lines of thought.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 22:05
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Is it necessary to freedom of thought that racist ideas must be tolerated?

Concerning the place of racism in one’s thinking, I think it is wise to take a cue from Robin DiAngelo, who wrote White Fragility. Here is the personal goal: there exists no evidence in relation to which one’s thinking is fragile. In short, there are no “no-go” zones in thinking, so long as the evidence is present. “Fragility” means (to me, at any rate) that there is a set of issues that one just does not think about; a person’s mind shuts down before there is any risk of having to question this set of beliefs. In the absence of fragility in one’s thinking, one’s thought is truly free.

To achieve such a goal, a person cannot tolerate racist ideas even in his or her personal thinking, because to entertain such notions would be to introduce one brand of fragility into that person’s thought. This technique also seems to avoid the paradox of tolerance, given that all challenges to thinking are accepted, but must be evidence-based.

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    This sounds biased, because it's certain that racist ideas exist. What about: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denialism
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 6:08
  • "This technique also seems to avoid the paradox of tolerance, given that all challenges to thinking are accepted, but must be evidence-based." How exactly does that work?
    – haxor789
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 15:52
  • Also I think some racist ideas are highly evidence-based. Such as preference for beauty.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 18:17
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    @mavavilj. The cite to Denialism answer the first comment adequately. On that page there is a picture of a sign: “Denied facts are still facts.” Race is a social construct. Racist ideas to the contrary certainly exist, but are merely examples of Denialism. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 21:46
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    @haxor789. There must be affirmative evidence to support a conclusion that a belief is true. An absence of evidence that something is false is not the standard. Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 0:45
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The paradox is this: I am tolerant to all ideas as a matter of principle, including ideas which are specifically opposed to the idea of tolerance itself. Thus tolerance is undermined in itself, leading to intolerance.

The resolution to the paradox, in my opinion, is that the ideal of tolerance, freedom and openness itself should be accepted first and foremost in order for the paradox to lose its appeal.

Specifically, a racist, for example, can express his racist views freely, only as long as he accepts the same right and existence of the opposite ideas on an equal footing.

A similar view has been expressed by Jainists in the multi-sided reality principle which itself stems from basic respect for beings and non-violence

If this does not hold, then tolerance is under no obligation to accommodate the racist in expressing such views. Because the principle itself that would make this possible is not accepted.

A somewhat similar "paradox" appears for democracy, in that some people may use the rights democracy grants them, in order to abolish those very rights (for others). One can argue that in that case democracy is abolished as a result. But by default limiting those rights to avoid this, is also abolishing democracy. So what to do?

Again the resolution, in my opinion, is that the framework, the principle is accepted and respected first by everyone involved, thus itself is under no attack.

Can this be enforced? For better or for worse, no. It has to be consciously and willingly accepted as the best alternative against others. And it can be argued, that indeed it is the best alternative.

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    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 7:56

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