Manifesto for Welcoming
September 14, 2021
I do not make this offer lightly.
There are some terrifying people in our world but I still extend my welcome to everyone who is able to talk respectfully, no matter who they are.
Even if I cannot bear your politics, or (worse) your tactics, I still welcome you to speak here - indeed, I want to hear what you have to say. Now, perhaps more than ever, we truly need to talk, because we seem to have forgotten how to do it.
I welcome with an especial warmth all the outcasts, the misfits, and the besieged; the metaphysical vagabonds, the ethical enigmas, and the wild and beautiful freaks who make this world wonderful without ever realising that they had this gift.
I welcome everyone who has made a mistake and not been able to realise it, or who came to understand yet could not bear the truth revealed. I greet with open arms all those whose world barely hangs together after suffering through all the distractions, lies, and confusion inflicted upon us by the powerful, the deluded, or the complicit.
I welcome all you desperate immigrants - legal or otherwise - whether you have fled from the ruins of a life that my nation or its allies intentionally or inadvertently bombed into oblivion, or are just hoping to eke out a life somewhere new. I have been - and am about to be again - an immigrant, but I have not suffered like many of you have since I am a white, English-speaking male, and can “pass” almost anywhere that the desperate pin their hopes.
I welcome the unvaccinated, these new lepers, accused witches, and despised untouchables who face segregation and hatred on all sides. All those with medical beliefs outside the majority I welcome, all those who are told they are vile by panicking hordes. They call you ‘anti-scientific’ with a sneer, yet ironically those who revile you still have (like everyone else, alas) quite a slender grasp of the complex puzzle box that even the simplest of empirical investigations represents. And even they, for all their ill-begotten hatred, are welcome here.
I welcome all those iridescent trans folks who are suffering still - even (especially?) all those outcast trans folks in the shady corners of discomfort who risk being abhorred if they admit that their own beliefs diverge from the party line. So too I welcome those lesbians and their allies who staunchly defend a regimented view of sex that is not my own, but that is logical, consistent, and clearly crucial to your understanding of being in the world. Whichever side you find yourself, whether in this heartbreaking culture war or any other, you are welcome here.
Please know that no matter how we disagree I will never tell you what you are obligated to believe about politics, medicine, sex, gender, patriarchy, God, the Goddess, hot dog buns, or anything else. Every 'ought' I speak depends upon the principle it follows from, but it is up to you and you alone to choose those principles you must follow. And whenever someone tries to silence, deplatform, marginalise, abuse, ignore, or demonise you - or anyone else engaged in peaceful discourse - I will always lend my support to your free speech, and the freedom of thought it defends. How could I do otherwise...?
I won’t say I don’t take sides - even journalists lie to themselves when they think they can play at neutrality - but I want to listen. I want to hear what troubles you, I want to know how others have marshalled pressure against you, and if you have been excluded I want to include you here, even (especially?) if you are not welcome elsewhere. Because nothing good comes from seeing other people as demonic. Even those grotesque dictators, those Nicolae Ceaușescu and Idi Amin who brutalised the innocent, they too were still human, all too human.
So, be welcome.
Be welcome whoever you are.
Be welcome whatever you believe.
Be welcome here for as long as you can talk respectfully. Yet even if you lapse into demon-scrying screeds, I will still forgive you. I must. For you are my sisters, my brothers, and everything in between and beyond.
Be welcome, and please, no matter how difficult it may be, no matter the extent of our pain, distrust, or fear, let us try to talk.
The origin of the opening image is unknown to me, but if anyone can identify it I will add the attribution. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked by the respective rights holder.
What do you make of Karl Popper's paradox of tolerance?
Posted by: Thomas Olson | September 14, 2021 at 06:10 PM
Thanks for raising this extremely salient question about Popper's 'paradox of tolerance', and please be welcome here! If we are going to discuss this topic, we ought to start by understanding it, so I'd like to begin by quoting directly from the first volume of The Open Society and Its Enemies (p226):
Right from the outset it should be clear that Popper is in no way endorsing the silencing of contrary opinions - far from it! The limit he places on toleration is at those who will not engage in rational debate and who instead resort to violence. We should not be surprised by this! He was writing during World War II, and to some extent Popper was justifying why World War II had to be fought. Popper would not and could not support the kind of no-platforming and censorship that has become popular today on the 'new left' (what I have to think of as the 'right-left', with the necessary contradiction that entails.)
The limits of free speech until very recently were at incitement to violence. That was Popper's ideal, and it is mine.
I have written much more on this topic in Chaos Ethics, in the second part of the first chapter, Intolerant Tolerance, in which I draw against the work of Isabelle Stengers (who is extremely familiar with Popper's work). She marks out 'the curse of tolerance', which is our capacity to distinguish between knowledge and belief, and to claim knowledge for ourselves. Historically, this has been the means of colonial oppression - we have the knowledge and we will use it to civilise you, since you only have beliefs.
In a contemporary setting, however, the curse of tolerance has served to undermine and destroy the Open Society that Popper was defending because now even in our own nations we are claiming knowledge and dismissing as belief our political rivals - and often in cases where we do not have knowledge (and may in fact by highly ignorant of what facts there are) or where there is no knowledge (i.e. metaphysics). This is a growing political disaster that destroys Popper's Open Society entirely! And therefore I feel he would be horrified at the way his paradox of toleration is now being deployed to undermine the very ideal he sought to defend.
Popper's limitation, which I believe Stengers transcends, is that his Open Society is based upon valuing humanity, equalitarian justice, and human reason (volume 1, p165). But as we have come to realise so greatly in the late 20th and early 21st century, there is not one practice of human reason as such. Up to World War II, when Popper was writing, the common corpus for university study actually did create a strong impression of a singular ideal of reason, and Kant and others certainly set the path up for this. Kant's faith was that our differences of understanding could still be resolved into commonality, a project that was taken up further in the twentieth century but which has now faltered. My attempt to rescue it in Chaos Ethics begins by ditching the idea of a singular human reason, since this can only lead to what Stengers called 'the curse of tolerance'. And the moment we know and they believe, we are indeed cursed, exactly as Stengers warned.
Note that giving up singular reason is not giving up reason. On the contrary, I believe Alastair MacIntyre already saw extremely clearly that reason was grounded in practice, and therefore in traditions of thought. What I fear may be happening now is an attempt to make up practices of reason 'on the fly', which I do not believe anybody has mounted a credible defence of. If we do not ground our reason in a practice, it will not be reason of any kind - it will just be nonsense dressed up in importance by our outrage.
The best defence of the Open Society as Popper envisioned it was rational debate, but the kind of rational debate we must now pursue is one in which we accept that different kinds of rationality can come into conflict and we cannot know that our rationality is superior without falling prey to the curse of tolerance and destroying our ability to listen.
It is listening, speaking, exchanging thought that is at the heart of the Open Society. The boundary Popper places here is at violence. It is not a limit to free speech he argues for, but its necessity.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to clarify this frequently misunderstood point, and I hope and trust that you and yours are well.
With unlimited love,
Posted by: Chris | September 15, 2021 at 07:26 AM