Thursday, 24 August 2017

Popper's Paradox

Free speech,
Tolerance,
Unconditional love...

How do these things work in reality?

In 1945 the philosopher Karl Popper proposed the paradox of tolerance.

In a nutshell he said "if a society is tolerant without limit, their ability to be tolerant will eventually be seized or destroyed by the intolerant", or to paraphrase that: we can only survive by being intolerant about intolerance.

As we all know, white supremacy and all it's ugly variants are making headlines and empowering those who secretly embrace those views to speak out. There's also the current political mess in Australia over gay marriage, where conservative christians are doing all they can to stop it.

So where do we draw the line on free speech and religious freedom?

We have to draw it somewhere, or our society will become victim to it and we will loose those very freedoms!

The balance is in how we confront them. If we use "violence" (physical, vocal or in any form) we are playing the same game, and when confronted in this way, the intolerant simply dig their heels in and use the opposition to fuel more intolerance.

Respect for their humanity is key. To recognise that we could be the same if we'd been raised in a different environment is a sobering thought. It's a learned trait, something we aren't just born with. So compassion and empathy is the key to any communication, bypassing the rhetoric and reactionary thought processes and focussing on understanding why people are like this.

At the risk of being overly simplistic, it comes down to a lack of love. They never experienced the type of unconditional love themselves that breeds self worth and empathy for others. They are broken and angry, but instead of looking within, they are lashing out at the rest of us.

But they still have to be stopped from spreading this disease, and that's where we have to draw lines. Although love is the only "cure" for these people, we still have to deal with the affects they are having on our society.

The alt right issue is pretty obvious, but the christian right style of bigotry, especially towards LGBT people is more complex because of the religious freedom problems. And that opens a very large can of worms because it will eventually confront all religions on issues of bigotry and tolerance.

Perhaps it's time we stop being afraid of challenging people's belief systems?

We can do this with love and patience without compromising our stand. They believe they are doing the right thing, so we have to talk to their hearts, bypass the religious rhetoric and present compassion and empathy for the broken as our motivation.

We also have to remember that for most christians it's a case of "the bible says so", and that's a tough nut to crack. But with the same level of compassion we can help them to understand that their views are in error, as have been so many christian opinions over the centuries, that had to be adjusted and morality, ethics and science outgrew the ignorance of ancient culture.

We must be strong but loving - compassionate but without compromise - draw the lines but help them gently step over them. It's hard work, but if we can step back from our own reactionary thought processes we will be able to exercise the love they need to see in action.