Why Tolerance Is Condescending
Penn Jillette is a cultural phenomenon as a solo personality and as half of the world-famous Emmy Award-winning magic duo Penn & Teller. In the mid-'80s, Penn & Teller went from playing the tiki lounges at various Ramada Inns to being one of the most popular, big-budget, death-defying, nightclub acts in the country. After killing it in movies and SNL appearances, the duo went on to have their own Showtime series where they attempted to debunk everything from male enhancement pills to UFO sightings. Penn has independently produced the stand up comedy tribute film, The Aristocrats, and hosts a successful podcast with Ace Broadcasting, Penn's Sunday School. Penn & Teller: Fool Us, a current CW series, began its first season in London and now it has just begun its seventh, under the dazzling lights of Las Vegas.
\r\nPenn Jillette: What you've said, "a lot," sure. If you want to go to\r\n "most" or "all," then no but there is certainly people... there's a \r\ngreat quote by the physicist... What's his name? Weinberg. Steve \r\nWeinberg. The quote of with or without religion good people do good \r\nthings and bad people do bad things but for good people to do bad things\r\n that takes religion. I'm not sure that's word-for-word, almost certain \r\nit isn't, but it's important. I think it's not religion. It's much \r\ndeeper than that. My beef is not with religion per se; my difference of \r\nopinion is with objective and subjective reality.
Einstein said \r\nthe big question is when you turn away is the tree still there? And I \r\ntalk to Richard Feynman about this and Murray Goodman, there's a feeling\r\n that in particle physics the "experimenter effect," a lot of that stuff\r\n is distorted. I believe very strongly that there is a physical reality \r\nthat my perception does not change. Now you can make the argument that \r\nwe're all just brains in jars, the Matrix, and all of this is an \r\nillusion and that is an airtight argument. You can't refute it but let's\r\n just say it's not that. I think there's a real reality out there and \r\nthe people who say "I believe in God because I feel that there's some \r\nhigher power in the universe"—the problem I have with that is that once \r\nyou've said you believe something that you can't prove to someone else \r\nyou have completely walled yourself off from the world.
And \r\nyou've essentially said no one can talk to you and you can talk to no \r\none. You've also given license to everybody else who feels that. If you \r\nsay to me "I can't prove it Penn, but I have a feeling in my heart that \r\nthere is a power over everything that connects us," why can't Charlie \r\nManson say "I can't prove it but I can have a feeling that the Beatles \r\nare telling us to kill Sharon Tate and that the race riots are coming?" \r\nWhy can't Al Qaeda say "I have a feeling in my heart that we need to \r\nkill these particular infidels?" Why can't the men who tortured and \r\ndisfigured Ayaan Hirsi Ali—why isn't what they feel in their heart \r\nvalid?
The problem is if you have a sense of fairness simply by \r\nsaying you believe in a higher power because you believe in it, you've \r\nautomatically given license to anyone else that wants to say that. So I \r\nwould rather be busted on everything I say and I am, you know, when \r\nyou've put yourself out on television and on radio as someone who really\r\n does believe in objective truth there is not a sentence that I will say\r\n in this interview that won't get three or four tweets of somebody with \r\ninformation busting me on it. And they're right, you know, very rarely \r\nam I busted on something where I'm right. If someone is taking the \r\ntrouble to let me know I've said something wrong, chances are I'm wrong.
But\r\n that's the world I live in. I want to live in a world of a marketplace \r\nof ideas where everybody is busted on their bullshit all the time \r\nbecause I think that's the way we get to truth. That is also what \r\nrespect is. What we call tolerance nowadays, maybe always—I'm always \r\nskeptical about the "nowadays" thing. I don't think things get that much\r\n different. What we call "tolerance" is often just condescending. It's \r\noften just saying, "Okay, you believe what you want to believe that's \r\nfine with me." I think true respect... it's one of the reasons I get \r\nalong so much better with fundamentalist Christians than I do with \r\nliberal Christians because fundamentalist Christians I can look them in \r\nthe eye and say, "You are wrong." They also know that I will always \r\nfight for their right to say that.
And I will celebrate their \r\nright to say that but I will look them in the eye and say, "You're \r\nwrong." And fundamentalists will look me in the eye and say, "You're \r\nwrong." And that to me is respect. The more liberal religious people who\r\n go "There are many paths to truth you just go on and maybe you'll find \r\nyour way"... is the way you talk to a child. And I bristle at that, so I\r\n do very well with proselytizing hardcore fundamentalists and in a very \r\ndeep level I respect them and at a very deep level i think I share a big\r\n part of their heart. I think in a certain sense I'm a preacher. My \r\nheart is there.
Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman
Religion can cause "good people to do bad things," but Penn Jillette gets along better with fundamentalists than with liberal Christians who preach easy tolerance.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
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