On the Tolerance of Intolerance

On the Tolerance of Intolerance January 11, 2022

I’m not going to get all of the details right, on account of the whole thing went down right before I pratfell into the local scene. But the gist is this:

A regional Pagan organization was holding their annual board elections, and this guy  — I don’t recall his real name, so I’m just going to call him Steve — decided to run for the executive director position. And immediately, a small but very vocal group of members were like, “This is a terrible idea, and we shouldn’t let him run things.”

Steve owned several adult-oriented businesses in the Hill Country area, including a sex club dubbed “The Temple,” for which he’d managed to obtain a 501(c)3 religious exemption. Adult businesses in and of themselves are not an issue — I myself have worked for one — but a number of young women had joined the Temple with the understanding that they’d be exploring sacred sexuality, and shortly thereafter, they started finding pictures of themselves on X-rated websites.

“He’s really not a bad guy, though, if you look at him in the right light.” (Image via Pixabay.)

I don’t remember Steve’s rationale for sharing the pictures, but the consequence was that a bloc of people didn’t trust him and definitely didn’t want him on the board. Unfortunately, they were outvoted by members who were like, “Pagans are inherently good people. We don’t judge.

So Steve was installed as the new executive director, and his first order of business was to embezzle thousands of dollars, which resulted in a lawsuit and a highly publicized trial. Steve was kicked out of the organization, and a bunch of people left with him — not because they were in on the embezzlement, but because they couldn’t in good conscience be a part of an organization that was so critical.

Oh, Pagans. My sweet, summer children.

I’m relating this story today, because I was reminded of it while reading the comments attached to a post on a Pagan memes page: a screenshot of a Reddit thread with an affirming, trans-supportive moral.

It’s weird to think that the tale of the Pub Witch could cause any conflict, but several transphobes squirmed out of the woodwork to express indignation, including one diehard TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) who had herself a right proper fit over the inclusive message and averred that the OP was biologically female, no matter what their “wee brain” told them.

And I wanted to get angry and fling some vitriol at her, but she had so many filters on her profile picture that she looked like a Bratz doll from the Uncanny Valley, and I ultimately could not take her seriously.

Like, if you honestly believe that human eyeballs are meant to be that large and that far apart, then you don’t get to have an opinion on anyone else’s dysphoria. I don’t make the rules.

TERF: “YoU cA’nT cHaNgE BiOLoGY.” Me: “Um. Hon.” (Image courtesy of spablab via Flickr.)

Most of the replies to the TERF were aggressively pro-trans, which was heartening, but one commenter took everyone to task for how mean they were being. The comment has since been deleted, but it was basically a long rant on how anyone who condemns another for their views — regardless of how bigoted or discriminatory those views may be — is the real villain. Or something. It was kind of hard to follow. I think they were using talk-to-text.

It did get a response out of me, though, and I strongly encouraged the commenter to look up Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance. I have no idea if they did or not, but I’ll go ahead and flesh it out here.

The Paradox of Tolerance states that “in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance”: That is, if a given society is unconditionally tolerant, there won’t be any checks and balances to prevent the intolerant — along with those who are just out to cause harm — from oppressing others, and they will eventually take over. In Discordian terms, it’s the Law of Eristic Escalation: When we apply destructive order (tolerating intolerance), the outcome is inevitably destructive disorder (intolerance dominates).

So if we give the guy with the history of exploitation the keys to the treasury because we don’t want to judge him, we can’t be surprised when he exploits the situation. If we don’t clamp down on TERFS for defining biology by whatever they learned in sixth-grade Health class, we can’t be shocked when they end up in leadership roles and start censoring anyone who doesn’t meet their arbitrary gender criteria.

A workable definition of insanity is, “Doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.” The same goes for tolerating intolerance — we just end up repeatedly hurting ourselves. (Image via Pixabay.)

There used to be this dude in the Houston area who… okay, I can never remember the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath, but either way, there was Something Not Right about him, and while we got along, I tended to keep him at arms length. He moved out of state at one point — for a new job, I think? — and then he just kind of disappeared.

Anyway, I was out with some Pagan acquaintances one night, and I was like, “Hey, whatever happened to [dude]? I haven’t heard from him in awhile.”

“Oh, he’s in prison,” someone said.

“Wait, what? What for?”

“Possession of child pornography.”


“Yeah. We told him he shouldn’t be messing with that stuff, but he wouldn’t listen.”

“Wait… you knew about it?”

“Well, yeah. But we told him it would get him in trouble.”

That was the last time I had any interactions with that particular group of Pagans. I didn’t want to find out what else they might not be judging. And I definitely didn’t want to think about all the responsibilities dude had been given within the local community, because the people in charge were like, “Now, now. Everyone deserves a chance, no matter what.”

And, no. In fact, not everyone does.

Fly away, little Thumper. Fly away. (Image via Pixabay.)

I want to end with a Twitter thread from Michael B. Tager, because it’s pretty much a perfect, real-world example of the Paradox of Tolerance, and because sight unseen, I have an academic crush on the bartender in the story. But it also contains a really, really important lesson for us as we negotiate the path between tolerance and intolerance: Keep an eye out for it, then follow Tager’s lead and do not forget it.

I was at a shitty crustpunk bar once getting an after-work beer. One of those shitholes where the bartenders clearly hate you. So the bartender and I were ignoring one another when someone sits next to me and he immediately says, “no. get out.”

And the dude next to me says, “hey i’m not doing anything, i’m a paying customer.” and the bartender reaches under the counter for a bat or something and says, “out. now.” and the dude leaves, kind of yelling. And he was dressed in a punk uniform, I noticed

Anyway, I asked what that was about and the bartender was like, “you didn’t see his vest but it was all nazi shit. Iron crosses and stuff. You get to recognize them.”

And i was like, ohok and he continues.

This is what the bartender looks like in my head. (Image via Pixabay.)

“you have to nip it in the bud immediately. These guys come in and it’s always a nice, polite one. And you serve them because you don’t want to cause a scene. And then they become a regular and after awhile they bring a friend. And that dude is cool too.

And then THEY bring friends and the friends bring friends and they stop being cool and then you realize, oh shit, this is a Nazi bar now. And it’s too late because they’re entrenched and if you try to kick them out, they cause a PROBLEM. So you have to shut them down.

And i was like, ‘oh damn.’ and he said “yeah, you have to ignore their reasonable arguments because their end goal is to be terrible, awful people.”

And then he went back to ignoring me. But I haven’t forgotten that at all.

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About Thumper
Thumper Marjorie Splitfoot Forge is a Gardnerian High Priest, an initiate of the Minoan Brotherhood, an Episkopos of the Dorothy Clutterbuck Memorial Cabal of Laverna Discordia, a recovering alcoholic, and a notary public from Houston, TX. You can read more about the author here.

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