When We Tolerate Others' Beliefs, None of Us Gets Anywhere

Penn Jillette explains how it’s more respectful to argue than just let anyone believe anything.

It’s not that Penn Jillette likes to argue—though it may well be that he does—it’s just that he’s got a problem with tolerating other people’s beliefs. If you want to be a fair person, he says, then every time you let someone off the hook with, “Okay, you believe what you want to believe that's fine with me,” you have to offer that same carte blanche to everyone, no matter how repugnant, stupid, or dangerous their beliefs may be.

It’s also actually disrespectful to that person because you’re operating on the assumption that they lack the brains to have anything to say about their belief that would be worth your hearing. That’s not so nice after all. Maybe tolerance is really just a fake-sincere way of being condescending.

It may seem weird to suggest that if you really respect someone, you’ll start an argument with them, but it makes more sense than it may seem. For one thing, one or both of you might learn something new.


I get it. I was once stuck on a phone call with someone I considered bats@#t-crazy, just waiting for the call to end when there was suddenly silence on the other end of the line. And then: “You know, when you just humor me, neither of us gets anywhere.” Busted. Not so bats@#t-crazy after all.


Headline image: Mikleman

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