As has been made evident by numerous incidents in our world’s history, it can be difficult for members of society to peacefully tolerate viewpoints that are extremely different or at odds with their own, regardless of the provisions that society has made for free speech and thought.
In Murder in Amsterdam, Ian Buruma suggests that second generation immigrants become isolated and thus make extreme alliances because of an alienation from both Dutch culture and that of their parents. I have trouble accepting this line of thought. Conflicting cultures won’t necessarily result in a resort to extremism, though that is a definite possibility in the case of deliberate rejection by one’s peers. Beyond simply promoting assimilation, I think this issue is more a question of how we tolerate and respond to other cultures.
The question of how we should tolerate, like most interesting questions, brings up many more:
- Should we be tolerant of concepts we know are incorrect? There is significant evidence backing the existence of global warming and evolution, yet our society continues to cultivate the unscientific opposing viewpoints. Maintaining this marketplace of ideas is critical in supporting free speech and general progress.
- How do we compromise between the need to promote plurality of ideas versus the need to protect potentially dangerous information? The rapid production of knowledge and the Internet’s infinite capacity for storing it allows easy access of practically any idea to anyone (unless they’re in certain countries). If that information happens to be sensitive, offensive, or dangerous, what do we do?
- Can we be tolerant of intolerant opinions? When extremists promote ideas of prejudice and or violence towards others, how should government arbitrate?
- If the stakes change, can (and should) we violate our ideals of freedom in exchange for other protections? The USA PATRIOT Act comes to mind.