Don't ostracize a person for their opinions alone

Created 31 Aug 2015 • Last modified 8 Dec 2015

I argue for tolerating opinions one disagrees with, even opinions that are themselves intolerant. There's always the danger that we're wrong, and we all have a lot to gain by getting along.

Most of us would avoid a person who has been hurtful to us in the past, or seems likely to be dangerous in the future (e.g., because they're involved with crime). Putting these cases aside, as much as possible, what ideologies or opinions would you avoid somebody for? Would you, for example, avoid as much as possible a self-avowed racist against your own race, even if you had reason to believe he would never go so far as to attack you, physically or verbally?

Avoiding people who have opinions we find threatening is the natural thing to do. For me, for example, it can be stressful to be around people who think that I'm going to go to hell for being an atheist, or that I'm a spineless basket case for being celibate, or that I'm an anti-white "cultural Marxist" for being a socialist academic of Jewish ancestry, or that I'm a transphobic "shitlord" for defying the rhetoric of transgenderism. But I think we should be accepting of such people instead. Giving into the impulse to ostracize people with threatening opinions leads to a kind of fragmentation of discourse. It immunizes our beliefs, making it impossible that we should ever be convinced that we're wrong, even if we actually are wrong, and it makes our enemies feel like they're being censored because we're afraid they're right.

Being willing to associate with people regardless of the content of their opinions, so long as they behave civilly, sends an important message: more important than following any particular party line is being willing to get along with other people, even people you don't agree with. That's what liberal democracy is all about: giving every opinion a fair shake, not just liberal opinions.