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Tolerance is a vice?

Posted 18/10/2018

By invoking freedom of speech, one can say and write anything. That freedom also includes responsibility – is that responsibility only on part of the reader or the listener? Ethical foundations in art, science and journalism likewise lay the groundwork for democracy.”
- Pirjo Roponen-Lunnas

My first blog text could have been more positive, but in the end, I write about what is on my mind. – Anxiety, it is just not me feeling it. Mental mood and how it comes across in politics, media, tabloid headlines, to say nothing of social media.

 

 

If tolerance is a vice, is intolerance a virtue? It was a strange experience to go to an event in Oulu discussing racism – there were also two known right-wing extremist young men at the meeting place, glancing here and there while equipped with baseball bat like sticks. Where are we headed?

 

Crisis capitalism, non-alternative politics whose only goal is economic growth and competition, creates an increasing numbers of losers, people who feel themselves useless. Anxiety and the feeling of powerlessness produce not only apathy and depression, but also aggression. Violence is mute power, manifestation of powerlessness.

 

A prerequisite for democracy is being able to see past one’s own nose and seeing the consequences of one’s actions. What happens if knowledge, pursuit of knowledge and valuing civilization are abandoned? Or asking, questioning, considering alternatives? Knowledge can also be an instrument of power, even dangerous if left unquestioned. Political inexperience and populistic activities show themselves in different ways as belittling and disdain of democracy, also as belittling and disdain for the constitution, the constitutional act and international statutes. Authoritarianism invades democracy’s space.

 

Thinking is hard work; sophistication has meant the drive to see the big picture, perceive cause and consequence: at the same time learn from history. Vital part of civilization is the ability for empathy, ‘civilization of the heart’ – the ability to see an action’s ethical and moral values and responsibilities.

 

By invoking freedom of speech, one can say and write anything. That freedom also includes responsibility – is that responsibility only on part of the reader or the listener? Ethical foundations in art, science and journalism likewise lay the groundwork for democracy.

 

A lecturer at the Conference on Cultural Studies held in Oulu in December 2015 spoke about threats and vilification targeting scientists and their families. “I know where you live!” can be a powerful way of silencing someone.

 

Thought of the ‘security’ provided by street patrols terrifies. Mere demeanor of these gangs, representing sense of empowerment and bluster, in itself already invokes fear (which presumably is the intent). Back in 2008, Jussi Halla-aho wished that “as the number of rapes will increase regardless, the right people, meaning green-leftist reformers and their voters, are the ones who get raped.”

 

What has happened in dictatorships? What chain of events lies behind persecution and silencing? What can be said – in the name of free speech? Who benefits from suppressing voices of criticism? Suvacks and the far right are the extremes – a proper citizen is silently in the middle.

 

It wasn’t so long ago that I heard an assessment from a professor (whose name escapes me) studying questions on democracy, stating when economic growth starts sputtering, there is pressure for abridging democracy. During that same cup of morning coffee there was a news report about how the world’s wealth distribution is ever more imbalanced. To me the important question is, how are these two issues intertwined?

 

Ethical questions are increasingly more important: if dialogue is even possible in the first place, developing it provides plenty of work for creators of art, researchers and journalists. And above all else for everyday heroes, creating a peaceful future in commonplace meetings. Tolerance is about broader understanding, not accepting all evil.

 

Pirjo Roponen-Lunnas