Tolerance and discrimination are hot buttons words of modern culture. This means we're hyper sensitive to them. One thing to point out is that they haven't always been popular. Hate-based intolerance and discrimination were once the standard, so no one reacted to them with shock and disapproval. What's happened though is that our culture has become so sensitive to these concepts that it has disproportionately highlighted certain nuances, drawing us away from their actual meaning.
This boils down to tolerance and discrimination adopting ulterior meanings since around the time when human rights were being--rightfully so--enlightened. These concepts are at base tools of determining boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, yet they now have heavy social and moral implications.
Let's deal with tolerance first. Tolerance is used to describe the amount or limits of variation something can handle. For example, machined engine parts have certain heat tolerances. If an engine gets too hot, the oil can't lubricate and parts seize. If it gets too cold, the engine may also seize, should a lack of antifreeze be present. This type of tolerance is much simpler to understand because it applies to physical objects. There exist equations and formulas to specifically identify the tolerances of the objects, which we can't apply to concepts because they don't have specific physical manifestations we can use as points of reference, or what differentiates them from other concepts. This is why I think of our modern mistreatment of tolerance (and discrimination) as a product not of obscurity or complexity, but of us humans not completely ferreting out their meaning.
Tolerance inherently applies to multiple things crossing boundaries. Boundaries are crossed every single day multiple times a day, or as my teacher has said a million times, not only is conflict unavoidable and overlapping, but conflict makes up our reality. Entities and objects are constantly battling for space and resources, because that's just the flow of nature. So the fact that boundaries are constantly in conflict merely indicates the ongoing relationship of things within reality and that tolerance (and discrimination) are as natural for thinking beings as any other choice. Not that this process is inherently morally good for bad. This observation may sound trite and banal, but moral judgments are attached to tolerance as a matter of course.
Removing affects requires active intervention. Practice aloud, being conscious to avoid adding them. "The chair can only tolerate so much weight." Explain why objectively, avoiding subjective descriptors. Here's another: "The water supply can only tolerate so much runoff being becoming contaminated." Why? The purpose of such exercise brings tolerance into the forefront, allowing us to engage in more common conversations neutrally. The more we practice with it, the more we'll be able to detect the boundaries of those conflicting things, and won't feel so compelled to append subjective moralisms. Tolerance in itself is just a concept, but when it becomes morally charged through socially-compounded campaigns, we lose sight of the root of the concept.
Now let's move to discrimination. This one is even more charged. The term discriminate originates from the Latin discriminatum, which means to separate, or recognize a distinction. Huh? That can't be all it means. Well that's what the root of the word means. Again, socially-charged affects have weighted this concept down so much that telling someone you discriminate between cooking with extra virgin olive oil and light virgin olive oil will likely return looks of disapproval. But negativity has nothing to do with your discrimination, since each oil has different properties which are more suited to particular cooking tasks. Discriminating one over the other simply recognizes distinctions and acts accordingly.
A significant factor to discrimination's mutating is through the addition of the word "against." X is a bad person if they discriminate against Y. See what just happened? The distinguish nuance of discriminate was mutated through adding against, and since our culture is hyper sensitive to discrimination in any sense right now (hot button issue), then the affect experienced through adding against becomes wrongly merged with the core meaning of discrimination itself. Now, even when against is eventually separated, discrimination retains the negative, reprehensible tone. Even telling someone you strongly discriminate between skiing on real snow versus artificial snow will get you some suspicious looks. As in, "What's her problem?" Even though the texture of the two is different, the sheer fact that you discriminated is viewed by our modern culture suspicious behavior. Use a different word--distinguish--and you'll be welcomed and maybe even asked for advice. But use that hot-button word--discriminate--and saddle up cuz you're going for a ride.
So tolerance has slate-clearing exercise, does discriminate? Yes, although since discriminate is even more of a sensitive word in modern culture, the exercise has to be at least said aloud--so your ears can hear your words--but preferably in a conversation with another willing participant. Since discrimination is a cousin of tolerance in that they both apply to the boundaries and limits of categories, start by naming physical objects in a non-judgmental way. (I'm not advocating relativism, just temporarily suspending judgment to allow your mind to remember that discrimination isn't innately repulsive, reprehensible, or destructive). Here's a hint: If the word against comes into the conversation, you're not wiping the slate clean. Something like: "I discriminate between window X and window Y, because although they look and function similarly, the seal on Y is much thicker." When you excise and disqualify moral judgments and subjective qualifiers, you're forced to be more objective about the reality that's presenting itself. Clearly we get the impression the person buying windows will probably buy Y, but not because of any affect they brought into the store and applied to the windows. Based on evidence presented, the discrimination was made, because it fit a lifestyle that the thicker seal facilitated.
Both tolerance and discrimination are concepts that apply to categories in conflict. Although our modern culture has created many human-rights campaigns that address and reduce hate-based intolerance and discrimination, we may want to let up on the reins a little and give these concepts back their lives.
Click the RSS FEED button below to receive notification of new essays.