Why Tolerant Coexistence Is The Only Way Of Living That Makes Sense

9 01 2012

Follow me for a bit as I explore this line of thought. Disclaimer: I’m not an anthropologist or historian, these are just my thoughts.

Let’s start broadly. As worldviews go, there are many. Worldviews are often religious in nature but can be religion-free as well. Every person in the world, by default, thinks that their worldview is the best. This often implies that other worldviews are inferior and/or a threat to your own. There are a few courses of action that a person could take at this point. I’ll first discuss the two that have probably been most common throughout history – extermination and conversion.

Extermination – one simple way to deal with those who you consider inferior and threatening is to eliminate them. This has been a very common technique throughout history and several extreme branches of modern religions still believe this is the best way to deal with those of opposing worldviews. I believe most modern thinkers would realize that this strategy is neither practical (on a global scale) nor moral.

Conversion – another very common way to deal with opposing worldviews. I think this is the most common modern method of dealing with opposing worldviews. However, few people are any good at it and nobody in history has yet been able to convert everybody, and I don’t think that anyone will ever achieve universal conversion. So then, what to do with the unconverted? Often, in history, failures at conversion lead to extermination.

So, I think everyone reading this post would agree that extermination, as a means of dealing with opposing worldviews, is off the table. Which leaves conversion, which, I hope we can all admit, will never be successful to the degree that everyone hopes it will (i.e. complete conversion of everyone else). Which leaves the question, as mentioned above, what to do about the unconverted? I’ll now go into three possible approaches to this problem.

Isolation – you can simply ignore the unconverted. Groups of people like the Amish, Hutterites, and the FLDS, for example, use this strategy. They create small isolated colonies and maintain minimal contact with anyone outside of their communities. These communities, despite being fairly peaceful, have their flaws and I think most people today would argue that the benefits of intergroup contact far outweigh the benefits of isolation. Isolation might work (kind of) for a few, small groups but it would never work on a large scale, especially with today’s global community. Look at North Korea, for example. Near-complete isolation, utterly unsustainable. It’s only a matter of time until the country starves itself out of existence. (Although, you could also make the case that North Korea is most interested in exterminating everyone else but they prudently choose not to try, and opt for isolation instead).

Intolerant Coexistence – this strategy implies an underlying desire for extermination or complete conversion that is tempered by the begrudged acknowledgment that it is prudent, in today’s society, not to attempt to accomplish those goals. Basically, a person using this strategy is always wishing that opposing worldviews didn’t exist or that they would change to their own worldview. It encourages a whole bunch of negative behavior – for example, segregation, racism and other discrimination, hateful speech and behavior, institutionalized inequality and so on. They never achieve the kind of success they desire and, so, live in a state of perpetual frustration. The only way to be happy is for their worldview to have the upper hand. This strategy is a recipe for frustration, disappointment and anger and, unchecked, could easily devolve into extermination behavior.

Tolerant Coexistence – This would mean living with and among people of different worldviews with everyone allowing everyone else the privilege of living their worldview insofar as doing so does not infringe on the ability of anyone else to do the same. No one tries to kill anyone else because of their beliefs and if reasonable efforts at conversion fail, so be it, others are allowed not to convert. As the title of this post states, I find this to be the most preferable strategy but it would require a few things of us. It would require that we admit to ourselves that many opposing worldviews exist and they always will. People would have to lighten up on their beliefs about salvation hinging on how many people you convert or how many non-believers you kill (This would be a tough one for some groups, admittedly). It does not require that anyone believe that other worldviews are “right” or desirable, only that others have just as much right to think as they do as you do to think as you do.

I realize, that if a person truly believes that they have paradise waiting for them if they kill a few heathens then my appeal for tolerant coexistence will have little effect on them. My appeal is really intended for everyone who is less fanatical than that.

In conclusion, if extermination is morally wrong, complete conversion is unrealistic, isolation is ineffective and self-harming, and intolerant coexistence is just plain unpleasant, it seems logically to follow that the most people could be the most happy if we lighten up a little and mutually agree to tolerantly coexist.

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One response

17 01 2012
Maren Leavitt

This is well thought out and well written babe. You have some great points!
xoxo

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