I made a Star Trek reference at last night’s public lecture, in response to a question about whether it was self-defeating or self-contradictory to be intolerant of intolerance. But not wanting to lose an audience that might or might not have appreciated the analogy, I held back, and in the end I didn’t feel that I made the point as clearly as I could have, and perhaps should have.
But there is always the possibility of expanding on the point further on the blog, thankfully. And so here are my thoughts on the matter.
On the one hand, I think that a key point is to pose the issue not in terms of “tolerance” but in terms of a commitment to positive embrace of diversity. That is the ethos that is expressed on Star Trek in terms of IDIC: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” It is a Vulcan motto, but it is one embraced by StarFleet. And in committing to difference as valuable, StarFleet is not being self-contradictory by fighting against the Borg, who want to assimilate everyone and everything and in so doing eliminate richness, variety, and plurality. If the motto was “We tolerate everyone” then not tolerating the Borg would indeed by hypocritical. But if the commitment is to diversity as something positive, then there is nothing self-contradictory about not embracing within that diversity a positive acceptance of those who wish to eliminate diversity. It is simply standing for our values.
We see this dilemma illustrated on Star Trek, as the question comes up of whether the appropriate preferred aim of the Federation ought to be to simply eliminate the Borg and the threat they represent, or to rescue and redeem individuals within the collective, however rarely that may be possible.
If we cease to value persons as human beings (or in the future, as sentient entities of whatever planet of origin) simply because we disagree with them, we have abandoned any commitment to the promotion of well being and universal rights for human beings, and risk becoming as intolerant and as forcefully-assimilationist as the Borg.
If, however, we are committed to valuing persons, and valuing diversity because we value the full range if variety of persons, then we can avoid both self-contradiction, and the pitfall of becoming that very intolerant thing we despise so much in our enemies.
As Martin Luther King famously said, hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that.
Is it any wonder he was a fan of Star Trek?