The philosopher Karl Popper once described an interesting phenomenon in his 1945 work, “The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol. 1.” Though the work as a whole is incredibly flawed, one concept remains poignant and, now more than ever, relevant: the paradox of tolerance. On this he writes, “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. ” He goes on to say that he does not advocate for the automatic suppression of all intolerant philosophies. However, he says that if necessary, society should claim the right to suppress the intolerant who will not listen to rational argument by force; in other words, we should claim the right to intolerance for the sake of tolerance.
One of the prime examples of this paradox can be found in the United States’ response (or lack thereof) to the Nazi regime’s persecution of the Jewish people in Europe. American history classrooms love to paint the U.S. and its allies as heroes, and while this is partially true, one thing that history classrooms often omit is the fact that the United States and allies were aware of what the Nazis were doing for years (the U.S. also did things like deny thousands of Jewish refugees asylum, but that’s a topic for another piece). They tolerated the intolerant.
As a result, around 6 million European Jews were murdered, constituting two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe at the time, not to mention the other disenfranchised populations who were targeted, including Romani people, disabled people, gay men, Afro-Germans and other groups deemed “inferior.” The only reason the Holocaust was put to an end was because of years of devastating war, not because we held hands with the Nazis and sang “Kumbaya.” We realized, much too late, that the intolerant could no longer be tolerated.
Given the terrifying uptick in outspoken Nazism in recent years, the idea that we should listen to, reason with and humanize the current iteration of Nazis displays a complete lack of understanding of history. Quite frankly, it’s ridiculous, ignorant and enormously privileged.
I am a mentally disabled, gender non-conforming, lesbian woman of color. Most of my friends and loved ones fall into at least one or more of the same or similar boxes. I am – we are –everything that Nazis hate. I personally do not have the time or energy to attempt to engage in “civil discourse” with people whose entire ideology is based on eliminating me and the people I love from the world. I can’t afford to “be the bigger person” when I am constantly terrified for my future in the era of Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte and Marine le Pen; when I am constantly terrified to do something as simple as hold hands with my partner or use the bathroom; when I am constantly terrified about the looks people give me in public that may or may not turn into physical altercations; when I am constantly terrified of becoming another statistic, another hashtag, another martyr.
But even though I am constantly terrified, my desire to live authentically as I am outweighs my fear. I refuse to compromise myself for the comfort of my oppressors. I can only afford to defend myself.
I’ll end this piece with a quote from the great philosopher Aldo Raine: “Nazi ain't got no humanity. They're the foot soldiers of a Jew-hatin', mass murderin' maniac and they need to be dee-stroyed.”
The views and opinions expressed in the Editorial section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors. The Chronicle reserves the right to not publish any piece that does not meet our editorial standards.