Monday, January 19, 2015

Pick One

Be very cautious of anyone who tells you that they want a world where people live in harmony.

You can have Harmony or Tolerance, but never both. For tolerance is only possible where people are allowed to disagree; whereas harmony only exists where opposing views are not tolerated.

In a land of harmony you have no assurance whatsoever that the prevailing view will be yours, whereas in a land of tolerance you can rest assured that you will not be persecuted for your beliefs.


I posted this to Facebook where the hoped-for discussion took place. Since they didn't post here in comments, the comments I'm reproducing them here without identification, along with an expansion of the more terse answers I gave. I'm not reproducing them all, as there was overlap. I may paraphrase, and if I got something wrong in spirit, feel free to comment and correct me below.

The first commenter thoughtfully considered my metaphor:
"Well, at least musically, harmony implies a level of both difference and agreement. Total agreement of sound with no difference is just plain old, boring unison. Total difference of sound with no agreement is dissonance. So harmony implies a set of "rules" to limit the acceptable differences, and how they get resolved. 
"So in this metaphor, tolerance is like atonality: dissonance is just as acceptable as consonance. Of course, not many people actually enjoy listening to atonal music for very long. Interesting..."
He should have finished the metaphor. Harmony further implies that everyone is playing the same song. If you're a fan of baroque, you might want to ponder those that pick the tune, and consider how likely it is that your tastes are represented. 

I, for one, like the idea of writing my own tune.

Moreover, dissonance has value, and is used in some compositions by choice. So yes, it is acceptable. Not only that, but in a free society, dissent (for which dissonance is an analog) is not only acceptable, but encouraged. We have exceptions to copyright law reserved specifically for parody and commentary because we value the right to disagree. The value to society is immense. Dissent tells us where the problems exist.  It is purely for the protection of dissent that the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment exists. There's no need to safeguard the rights of those in power.

But he knew that. And he brings to mind a point regarding "acceptable differences". In politics, a huge fuss is made over opinions that are acceptable or unacceptable. It is not enough to be tolerant; one must be "accepting"... which is simply another way of saying "intolerant of those who do not agree with this opinion/lifestyle/etc." I may give a specific example or two in a while.

Another thoughtful comment:
"If, at a minimum, everyone agrees to disagree, one can have both harmony and tolerance. Otherwise one encounters the conundrum of how to tolerate intolerance."
Not really, no. The phrase exists to mask the fact that these are mutually exclusive concepts. "We agree to disagree" is just an inefficient way of saying "we disagree". 
"It's far more harmonious than it might be."
That's a measure of tolerance, not harmony.

You need neither agreement nor permission to disagree with someone. Each person has a right to an opinion. As in inalienable right, the kind that is bestowed by no other person.

Furthermore, it's condescending to say to someone, "we'll have to agree to disagree" as if you had a controlling interest. They will agree with you or not as they wish. When you offer your stamp of approval of their disagreement, you tacitly claim that you have the authority to do so. There are few better ways to piss off those who jealously guard their independence and are paying attention.

But the phrase is more insidious than that. While you're assuming approval authority over their opinions, you're simultaneously fishing for their approval of yours. Not only should you not need it; they're under no obligation to provide it. Should they give it, then that is an endorsement of the validity of your position. Though it's weak as endorsements go, it blunts the emotional pain of having an opinion someone else doesn't like.

Reality check: the fact that you have a right to be wrong doesn't make you right when you exercise that right (and I blame the English language for any lack of clarity in this sentence)

In other words, you may believe whatever you like, but that doesn't keep you from being wrong. I've mentioned this before in the context of science vs. pseudoscience... not all opinions are created equal. Some are bolstered by fact, evidence, logic. Others are spun out of dreams and wishes. You have a right to them, but don't expect me to endorse them with useless empty platitudes of "agreeing to disagree." Likewise, I expect you to stand by your opinions when you know them to be right. I could be wrong, but you might have to work at convincing me with evidence and logic. You're not going to do that if you're flapping around in the breeze.
"I disagree."
And I tolerate that.
"I guess my point is that I see the potential for something I see as harmony in a tolerant environment, even in the absence of total consensus."
That used to be called "disagreeing without being disagreeable", which describes Tolerance; and as phrases go is a big step up from "agree to disagree". I noticed the hedging here, but someone else beat me to it:
"Well agree doesn't mean unison, right? Two people agree on a stance for different reasons or agree on a course of action for fear of the alternative rather than because they hold the same view point."
My take on it is this: 

Of course there's potential for agreement even if it's not total. In any large group of people, there will be substantial consensus. But there will also be disagreement. It's not potential; it's unavoidable. And the real test is how we treat those whose opinions we find offensive

Here in America there's a growing tendency to sue; to vilify; to ruin the lives of people who don't know you, weren't thinking about you, and don't give a shit about you for the supposed "crime" of holding an opinion of which others choose to take offense. To my mind, that can't be right.

You have choices: you can tolerate opinions of others or you can force them to hide or abandon those opinions. The use of force, including the force of legal action, doesn't make you right. Usually it just makes you both wrong.

A third option is segregation, which is how we get national borders, and frankly, I'm OK with those, too, when they're by choice, not force. I like the idea that when the differences are great, people can pick up and move to a place here other people do endorse their choices. If communism works for you, you should be in a communist country. There's no need to transform yours if there's already one out there that fits. Pick One. On a smaller scale, the United States is full of states that should be distinct in many ways, while adhering to the same Constitution. Pick One. I think that those who try to erase those boundaries are misguided, to put it politely. Vive la diffĂ©rence.

I'll get to examples later. For now, the final word is this contribution:
"There's no Museum of Harmony. Your Honor, the Defense rests." 
There is, however, this: [link]. And of course, there's the Harmony Museum, which totally not what he's talking about. 

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