In their ceaseless war on language, leftists have wounded yet another word. This time, “tolerance” has drawn the ire of 79 year-old Nancy Pelosi.
Though it garnered attention recently, this is an old saw for Pelosi. Her campaign against tolerance appears to have begun at the GLAAD gala in San Francisco in November of 2017, when she claimed that people compliment her home district in San Francisco for being so tolerant. Her reply?
“Tolerant? Tolerant? That’s a condescending word to me. Do not use that word.”
Taking a compliment and turning it into outrage: this is the New Left.
She added, “This isn’t about tolerance. This is about respect. This is about taking pride.” But Ms. Pelosi–tolerance is respectful. The act of accepting people who are different is in itself a display of respect.
She went on to repeat the same lines almost verbatim at a National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce banquet in November 2018, and again in a House debate ahead of a vote on the Equality Act in May of 2019. It would appear that whenever LGBT folks gather, Nancy reaches for her “Gay Crowd” file and retrieves her dog-eared “Tolerance equals condescension” notes.
Before we go any further, let’s define our terms. What is tolerance? From Merriam-Webster:
1: capacity to endure pain or hardship : ENDURANCE, FORTITUDE, STAMINA
2a: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own
2b: the act of allowing something : TOLERATION
3: the allowable deviation from a standard especially: the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece
4a(1): the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance (such as a drug) or a physiological insult especially with repeated use or exposure developed a tolerance to painkillers.
Pelosi is employing an old wordsmith’s trick, conflating one meaning of a word with its intended definition to render an argument invalid. If she knows she’s doing so, she’s cynical. If not, she’s a dullard. In any case, we are concerned with definitions 2a and 2b above.
The 2a definition is what we (and Pelosi’s hypothetical interlocutors) mean when we speak of the virtue of tolerance: sympathy for beliefs or practices not our own, even in conflict with our own. This is the iteration of tolerance essential to the great American experiment. It is at the heart of the Voltaire-inspired line, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” the essence of free speech. Tolerance is inextricably American.
Pelosi claims the word is “condescending” based on the 2b definition, the act of allowing something. What is implicit in the act of allowing is that the person doing the allowing has the power to disallow, such as a judge choosing whether or not to tolerate a prosecutor’s line of questioning.
It is this power dynamic inherent to the 2b version that Pelosi uses as a lever to move the 2a version into bigotry territory.
People too busy to parse Pelosi’s phrase pause, scratch their heads, and say, Huh, I guess it is sort of condescending, when in fact it is no such thing. It’s a crude trick, but effective.
Everything I Don’t Like Is Condescending!
Pelosi has also referred to the word “merit” as condescending. Further, she called Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report condescending. For such a veteran politician, she’s a bit of a one-trick pony. Some new speechwriters might be a good idea.
In the case of a merit-based immigration system, Pelosi said, “Are they saying family is without merit? Are they…without merit because they don’t have an engineering degree?” Confusingly, she added, “We’ve heard titles like ‘merit,’ which is non-merit.”
Manipulating Language, But To What End?
Tolerance is, if not one of Aristotle’s eleven moral virtues, certainly a sublime human modality. It is entwined with liberty. It is the bedrock of religious freedom: of choosing not to harass, maim, or kill those who worship differently. It is the reason all the world’s major and minor religions are freely practiced in America, and atheists are free to disbelieve. Tolerance is the antithesis of holy war, of jihad.
So why does such a noble concept rankle Pelosi?
Leftists attempt to control language to further an anti-tradition agenda. The staples of American life–marriage, family, the church, and capitalism to drive innovation–these are anathema. The leftist agenda is to tarnish, erode, and tear these institutions down, and language is their primary tool. A heterosexual male is relabeled as “cisgender,” accused of “toxic masculinity,” and if he’s caucasian, made guilty of “white privilege,” all before getting out of bed.
Identity politics is, of course, about dividing people up, not uniting them. Now that America fully accepts gays–grants them equality in matters sacramental and legal, from marriage to tax status–now that the battle for equality has been won, instead of a collective sigh of relief and a celebration, the left’s search for more anger only grows more frantic.
For such is its ugly science: the poisonous plant of leftism only grows when watered with tears of outrage. They’re harder and harder to find in a society that has patiently tolerated the fantasies and inventions of the sexual wing of the leftist anti-tradition army. The most replete acronym for the anything-but-straight “community” is LGBTIP2SQQAPKA. Gays have been accepted, so the time has come to fracture still further: on to the next several fronts. The regressive anti-science of normalizing the psychiatric disorder of gender dysphoria is but one battle.
To be “woke” is to be intolerant. To be woke is to stamp one’s feet, insisting everyone learn special new terminology and do the mental gymnastics of recalling one’s preferred pronoun in every interaction, to demand they share one’s outrage about the same prescribed list of global, national, local, and personal outrages.
Much like bright hair dye, conspicuous tattoos, and facial piercings, woke behavior is a cry for attention. Instead of engaging in self improvement as a means to improve one’s lot–hitting the gym, picking up a self-help book, taking classes–the new way is to throw a tantrum, for a tantrum is the physical act of intolerance. It is the stubborn refusal to tolerate one’s own ugly reality.
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