Why Tolerance Is Not a Virtue
Megan Erickson is an Associate Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, she taught reading and writing to ninth and tenth graders in NYC public schools and tutored students of all ages at the Stuyvesant Writing Center, which she helped launch. In her spare time, she worked in the communications department at the Center for Constitutional Rights and served as a mentor at the Urban Assembly, where she designed and led an extracurricular civics course on grassroots community action. She’s written on education, small business, and the arts for CNNMoney, Fortune Small Business, and The Huffington Post. Megan received her master’s degree in Education from Teachers College. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What's the Big Idea?
There are not only wrong answers -- there are also wrong questions, says Slavoj Žižek, philosopher and author of Big Think's most recent Book of the Month. And sometimes the way we ask a question obscures the answer. Watch the interview:
For example, "Did you notice how almost automatically we tend to translate issues of sexism, racism or ethnic violence, whatever, into the terms of tolerance?" he says. But tolerance is a value shaped by a particular perspective: "We have different cultures. What can we do? We can only tolerate each other."
The question "Why can't we all just get along?" suggests a particular framework for thinking about the answer. Implicit is the idea that a solution to institutionalized racism and sexism lies in convincing the dominant group to relinquish their biases and share the power.
Never once did Martin Luther King Jr. use the word tolerance in his speeches, says Žižek. "For him (and he was right) it would have been an obscenity to say white people should learn to tolerate us more." The goal of the Civil Rights Movement was not simply appealing to liberal magnanimity, but demanding equity, including economic equity. Tolerance is a request that represents a retreat from that ambitious vision. When King marched on Washington D.C., he didn't say, "learn to live with us." He said, "We're here to cash a check":
One hundred years [after the Emancipation Proclamation], the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check.
In the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, delivered in solidarity with striking workers during the Memphis Sanitation Strike the day before he died, King addressed the issue of tolerance head-on, saying, "True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It's the presence of justice." In Memphis, he called for non-violence, but he also emphasized the importance of direct action: protest, boycotts, and challenges to the U.S. government.
What's the Significance?
Tolerance is a gift we give each other (or don't). Rights, on the other hand, are inalienable. Distinguishing between the two requires conscious thought. At stake is the difference between reaction and reason, conventional wisdom or a code of ethics. Whenever a question or an issue appears to "go without saying," it's philosophy that helps us understand what is not being said.
Tolerance is one example of conventional wisdom setting the tone for the conversation. Ecology is another. "It’s a terrible crisis," says Žižek, but the way we formulate it matters. We can see it "either as a pure technological problem or in this New Age way – we, humanity, are too arrogant, we are raping the mother earth, whatever, it’s already the way we perceive the question that mystifies the problem. Here philosophy enters correcting the question, enabling us to ask the right question."
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
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- Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
- The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.
Want a happy, satisfying relationship? Psychologists say the best way is to learn to take a joke.
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Tiny and efficient, these biodegradable single cells show promise as a way to target hard-to-reach cancers.
- Scientists in Germany have found a potential improvement on the idea of bacteria delivering medicine.
- This kind of microtargeting could be useful in cancer treatments.
- The microswimmers are biodegradable and easy to produce.
Metin Sitti and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany recently demonstrated that tiny drugs could be attached to individual algae cells and that those algae cells could then be directed through body-like fluid by a magnetic field.
The results were recently published in Advanced Materials, and the paper as a whole offers up a striking portrait of precision and usefulness, perhaps loosely comparable in overall quality to recent work done by The Yale Quantum Institute. It begins by noting that medicine has been attached to bacteria cells before, but bacteria can multiply and end up causing more harm than good.
A potential solution to the problem seems to have been found in an algal cell: the intended object of delivery is given a different electrical charge than the algal cell, which helps attach the object to the cell. The movement of the algae was then tested in 2D and 3D. (The study calls this cell a 'microswimmer.') It would later be found that "3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers increased more than twofold compared to their 2D mean swimming speed." The study continues —
More interestingly, 3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers in the presence of a uniform magnetic field in the x-direction was approximately threefolds higher than their 2D mean swimming speed.
After the 2D and 3D speed of the algal was examined, it was then tested in something made to approximate human fluid, including what they call 'human tubal fluid' (think of the fallopian tubes), plasma, and blood. They then moved to test the compatibility of the microswimmer with cervical cancer cells, ovarian cancer cells, and healthy cells. They found that the microswimmer didn't follow the path of bacteria cells and create something toxic.
The next logical steps from the study include testing this inside a living organism in order to assess the safety of the procedure. Potential future research could include examining how effective this method of drug delivery could be in targeting "diseases in deep body locations," as in, the reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts.
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