When Does Intolerance Work?

When Does Intolerance Work? April 8, 2014

In the wake of the Mozilla controversy, the Duck Dynasty controversy, the Chick-fil-A boycott/buycott, and the countless examples of intolerance and intimidation against conservatives on campuses across the country, it seems rather clear that — as Michelle Goldberg notes in The Nation – there is a “growing left-wing tendency towards censoriousness and and hair-trigger offense.”

But does this increasing intolerance work? In other words, does it help leftists impose their own social norms on society, or does it serve mainly to stiffen resistance and motivate opponents?

It does both, but where it works depends greatly on context. For years we’ve seen stigma defeat dogma (insults and mockery defeat beliefs) on college campuses, where relentless assaults on conservative values tend to leave students more liberal than when they arrived. It’s not hard to understand why. These attacks can make students feel isolated — like there’s something wrong with them — and the more casual adherents to any worldview find it relatively easy to shed impediments to social acceptance. This creates a vicious cycle, as shrinking minorities feel less and less empowered and the vocal majority feels increasingly vindicated in calling their opponents extremists or bigots.

But the same tactics can backfire, dramatically, when extended beyond the Left’s geographic zones of power. In attacking Chick-fil-A and Duck Dynasty, the Left went straight into the cultural and geographic heart of everyday American conservatism (here in Tennessee, I sometimes felt like I was the only person not watching the Robertsons). The attacks energized a critical mass of our friends and neighbors, leading to scenes like the ones my wife captured in our hometown of Columbia.

The end result of this intolerance is, ultimately, ever-greater polarization. Stigma is powerful unless it runs so contrary to cultural norms that it no longer functions as stigma. Insults that sting and isolate on campus tend to unite and enrage in “flyover country.” Blue America becomes more blue as red Americans silence themselves, the casual conservatives change course, and others simply move away. Red America becomes more red as we absorb the cultural refugees of the Northeast, even casual conservatives flirt with Tea Party-ism, and the committed conservatives strengthen their holds on key cultural institutions.

Red America, however, suffers from some profound disadvantages. First, most parents still send our kids through blue-dominated public education — exposing kids to contrary values that blue parents never have to contend with. Next, we still live in the left-saturated pop culture. But even with these advantages, blue intolerance has profound limits and — in my little corner of the country — is harming the very cause the Left purports to advance.

Increasingly when the Left talks about diversity, or the need to “coexist” (we’ve all seen the classic bumper sticker), this is what we see, and this is what we reject:

Read more on the Patheos Faith and Family Channel and follow David on Twitter.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Nathaniel

    If boycotting Chick-fil-A is intolerance, than what is boycotting Starbucks?

  • RustbeltRick

    I’ll have to read this article later. I have a busy day ahead of me, what with all the taunting and intimidation of conservatives here on my secular university campus, picketing Chik-fil-A, and then spray-painting glitter on my body ahead of the Pride parade. Never a dull moment here on the Left!

  • Sagrav

    Hey! I’m on the Left too, and I don’t get to go to any glitter parties!

  • Marcion

    Have you been remembering to get your Liberal Intolerance Card stamped? You need to report every instance that you oppress a conservative to you local Soros representative to get your card stamped, and then mail the card to Soros Command when you get 10 stamps. Then the invitation for the glitter party should arrive in 7-10 business days. It would be 3-5 business days, but the invitations are delivered by LAZY UNION THUGS. See you at the next glitter party, comrade!

    EDIT: Remember, you get two stamps if you’re a college professor who tells the students that there’s no god! Just make sure that none of the students are marines. Or Albert Einstein. Or bears. I once had a bear who was Albert Einstein, and the whole class stood up and clapped as he ate my face (don’t worry, obamacare covered a new face for me!). SOROSCOM banned me from the glitter parties for a month for that mistake, so be careful.

  • Al Cruise

    What is boycotting World Vision called?

  • Asemodeus

    This author, like pretty much everyone on the right these days, is confusing freedom of speech with freedom from responsibility. You have the right to say what you want, but that doesn’t immunize you from others calling you out on your speech and using their right to refuse to buy products.

  • ernestmiller

    Stigma? Like the stigma of official government discrimination? Cuz, if that’s what your referring to, it has been a rough time for homosexuals in red states.

  • Zeke

    You probably aren’t eating enough babies. Or maybe because Satan. You should read 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leftists.

  • Tell me something: why should the left be ashamed of discriminating against Evangelicals when Evangelicals have no problem discriminating against everyone who isn’t a part of your twisted tribe?

  • We also call kittens mean names and go around popping the balloons of young children. Plus, we all look like Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

  • Got to love how the comment section proves your point. I think the problem will be self-correcting over time; college especially isn’t sustainable for a lot of people as the level of debt you need eats into your future earnings. The left will lose a potent form of indoctrination simply because people can’t afford to be preached at and turn to the trades or service work.

  • Simon Fay

    All those years excoriating the Eastern Bloc and it turns out the revolution-making tyranny was being incubated at home in a much more insidious form.

  • Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? Most Evangelicals want to ban marriage equality, they want to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools, they want public schools to openly profess Christianity as the religion of America (granted, their narrow version of Christianity)…

    All because most Evangelicals think that everyone should and must live according to their myopic reading of the Bible.

    I don’t demonize the right or the left because there are good and bad aspects to both sides of the argument. What too many on both sides have an issue with is compromising to reach a balanced medium.

  • radiofreerome

    No. Benedict XVI won the Internet for looking like Bela Lugosi as Dracula.

    I remembered this scene


    Every time I heard B-16 speak.

  • radiofreerome

    The Southern Baptists also want to ban gay adolescents from public schools. The Louisiana Baptist Convention endorsed a bill (LA Senate Bill 217) that would have made it possible to refuse admission to gay students to public schools.

  • You really don’t know many evangelicals, do you?

  • Actually, I do. And I pay attention to state news as well as national news. Thank you for playing. Good night.

  • ortcutt

    I’m sure there were (and are) many in the South decrying the “intolerance” of “the Southern Way of Life” and other such euphemisms for racism and Jim Crow.

  • radiofreerome

    i knew one too many, my father who read the story of the Binding of Isaac to me when I was 4. He told me that God told Isaac to kill his own son and that Abraham loved God so much that Abraham tried to kill Isaac. My father then told me that God was the only one he loved more than me.

    I should have called child protective services. Life was down hill form then on.

    When I was 25 he gave me an article to read that said that AIDS is natures way of getting rid of mistakes.

    i forgave him his anti- gay hatred that he focused on me. I discovered he had a personality disorder (OCPD with a puritanical subtype) that made him sadistically self-righteous. This personality disorder is common among religious fanatics. The Ayatollah Khomeini was thought to have it.

    I don’t want to know any more Southern Baptists; they seem to select leaders with this disorder.

  • And there are jerk atheists as screwed up as your dad was too. So? Most evangelicals honestly exist under the radar and react to things more than make life this tyrannical theocracy you think they want. Basing your perception of evangelicals on your dad isn’t particularly fair, any more than me basing my perception of atheists on all the bullies online or who bullied me in school.

    Most of the actions evangelicals have taken in the public sphere have been defensive. They don’t want to pay for contraception. They don’t want to be forced to do something against their morals like SSM. Whenever they try to do anything the least bit aggressive, it gets slapped down hard. They want to be able to homeschool. They worked to limit SSM in the public sphere, but when they lose battles they accept the law of the land. Does this honestly seem like a theocracy? Are they the ones closing down campuses over protests?

  • Sven2547

    “Why won’t you liberals tolerate our intolerance?!”

    Seriously though, there is nothing hypocritical about wanting unity, equality, and coexistence, while also being highly critical of people who want to legislate inequality.