On Tolerating the Intolerable

by | Aug 24, 2002

Q: Dr. Hurd, I believe — as you write in your articles — that the U.S. carries moral superiority over many (perhaps all) of the nations [Iran, Iraq, etc.] you list in your article, and I believe it has the right to defend itself. However, the world would probably be a better place if all […]

Q: Dr. Hurd, I believe — as you write in your articles — that the U.S. carries moral superiority over many (perhaps all) of the nations [Iran, Iraq, etc.] you list in your article, and I believe it has the right to defend itself. However, the world would probably be a better place if all nations and peoples practiced tolerance and mutual respect, rather than a simple faith in their own moral superiority — because it is that faith which ultimately leads to the evil you deride. That is why the U.N. should not provide voting preference to nations that are “morally superior” as you seem to recommend.

A: So let me get this straight. The U.S. has a moral right to defend itself. The U.S. is morally superior to countries like Iran — whose former president recently spoke openly about how he looks forward to the day when Moslems obtain nuclear weapons so they can destroy Israel and the United States. He also commented, I recall, that if a third of all Moslems must be extinguished in a counter-attack, it’s not too high a price to pay in the interest of defeating the Great Satan of Israel and the United States. You mean to tell me that you’re claiming, in this context, that we need to be more tolerant? That we should give people like this an equal vote in the U.N.? That we should even spend five minutes meeting in some sort of phony legislature with such people defies even the most semi-conscious of comprehension.

If you had a crazy next-door neighbor who threatened to kill your children — and had come close to doing so many times — would you lecture to your family that, “Even though we are superior to this neighbor who threatens to kill us, we must not think of ourselves or come across that way. It wouldn’t be nice. And it would really make us no better than him.”

I doubt that you would. But somehow the rules change, don’t they, when it’s all of human civilization we’re talking about.

You’re insisting on tolerance. Tolerance towards whom, exactly? Iran and Iraq? If not them, then who are you talking about? An attitude of tolerance is the last thing we need to grant countries whose leaders — and I suspect a good portion of their people — want us all annihilated tomorrow. Tolerance of evil advances evil — and therefore becomes evil itself.

I simply don’t understand what people who hold this point of view are trying to say. I think what’s happening is that some of the people who hold this point of view sense, correctly, that the United States is morally superior to countries like Iraq and Iran — it’s self-evident by now, isn’t it? — but they don’t know why. The reason, if you’re interested, that the U.S. is superior to these countries is that it is based, by and large, on the values of reason as well as political freedom.

As important as freedom is, reason is the more crucial and fundamental of the two. What do I mean by reason? I mean a respect — if not a reverence — for the use of the rational mind in solving problems in business, medicine, science, and life in general. The results are literally all around you in the highly advanced United States, especially when contrasted with your typical third- or fourth-world country. If your heart bleeds for the poor people in these countries, then for goodness’ sake become judgmental. These poor people — the ones who don’t want us dead, anyway — desperately need someone out in the world of freedom to declare, loudly and boldly, that reason and freedom are superior. Otherwise, they’ll never find a way out of their own mess.

The dominant attitude in the United States is essentially the attitude of a rational society. When there’s a problem, we seek to fix it. The means by which we try to fix the problem — whether it’s an incurable disease, a terrorist threat, a need for more high-speed internet connections, better grocery stores, more choices of food, better tires for automobiles, you name it — is through reason. Even many of the wrong-headed people who look to government to fix things that should be left to — indeed, have to be left to — the private marketplace, still are appealing in many cases to the use of reason.

Reason is an objective need of all human beings, regardless of race or nationality. Yet reason is precisely what you don’t see in countries like Iran, most of all. For one thing, there’s no freedom. It’s a religious dictatorship and adherence to irrational religious rules is all that matters. For another thing, there’s no respect and certainly no reverence for reason in such places. Even in the United States, highly religious people tend to compartmentalize — i.e., they use religion on Sunday morning, and maybe temporarily during a crisis such as death of a loved one, but they utilize reason throughout the rest of their lives to succeed, advance, and progress. Not so in a country like Iran. It’s all about religion. Every day is Sunday morning, with the harshest and most miserably hateful preacher in charge of the whole society, right down to dictating whether women can show so much as their noses in public. Nothing can progress in such a climate. Nothing can sustain them for long under such a regime. They’re inferior not only because they have created a physical and psychological hell-hole in which to live; they’re also inferior because they don’t operate on the only means for survival and for flourishing in life: reason.

With reason comes freedom. The founders of the United States were men who celebrated reason, and only as a consequence began to see the importance and necessity of freedom. Thus began a virtuous cycle in the Western world which by and large never took hold in places like the Middle East (Israel aside). With freedom comes more and more ability for man to both survive and enjoy life on earth. Look how much further the United States came in two or three centuries than all of previous human history put together.

Yes, we’re a tolerant people in the political sense of that term. But it’s only our reliance on reason that enables us to be this way. If you insist, or imply as this questioner does, that one method of living life is as good as any other — that the Moslem faith-based method is as good as a reason-based one — then you see what starts to happen in the world. Look around you, and go to ground zero in New York, for some expansion of this point. For decades now, our intellectual and political leaders have said the U.S. is too arrogant, and should stop thinking it’s so great. They’re still saying it. People are still writing in to this site saying, “Don’t be so pro-America!” Think about who this attitude most helps, and who it most harms.

We seek to be reasonable and self-responsible in this country. The government of clerics in Iran hate us for our philosophical approach with a hatred that most of us cannot begin to imagine or comprehend. When you contrast a place like Iran with the United States, you have two more opposite extremes than have ever existed on this planet. One runs essentially on reason and freedom; the other runs essentially on the worst imaginable form of mystical, theological religious dictatorship ever developed. I’m sure I need not elaborate on why one is a better place to live, materially, than the other. Then why must I be forced to keep elaborating on why one is a much better place morally? Doesn’t the physical and political condition of each country imply something profound about the morality of each?

Even though we have, so far, given them little reason to be frightened militarily, dictatorships like Iran are getting more and more fearful. If you were a mullah in Iran, trying to protect not only your personal power, but also your ideology of anti-reason theocracy, you’d be frightened too. Despite our hapless leaders and our self-hating intellectuals, we are still overwhelmingly superior — if survival and happiness on this earth represent the standard. That’s why we need to do everything in our power to prevent these wildly out of control madmen from ever getting their hands on anything nuclear. The best approach is a preventative one, to be worked out by the best minds at our Defense Department. (Send Colin Powell home, by the way). If we wait until they can launch — or send, via a suicide bomber — something into New York or Washington or Nebraska — it will by then be too late. Unlike the Soviets during the Cold War, these are people you can be absolutely certain will strike once they have the means — and they’ll do so in a suicidal manner, quite happily so. You can’t play the Mutually Assured Destruction game with people whose basic goal in life is martyrdom.

If you want to live in a land of tolerance, you have to first get rid of the violent madmen who want to remove tolerance — and everything else which made tolerance possible, such as reason and freedom — from human life. There’s no escaping this fact, however many emotional and semi-intellectual contortions you attempt.

If you love tolerance, you’re going to have to learn how to be intolerant, when it’s required. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s now being required.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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