The Tolerance Trap
There are few instances when a book has struck me as lazy as "The Tolerance Trap." Suzanna Danuta Walters begins with an unexamined premise that tolerance is ""something negative or undesired"; and argues from unproven assumptions using examples taken from pop cultural ephemera or her personal history.
Nowhere does the Constitution guarantee freedom of religion, only that there shall be no state religion. In other words, freedom to worship is expressed as a negative. Madison, in "The Federalist," was pretty clear that he thought tolerance was not only the best mankind could do, but overall a pretty good idea.
For him, Europe’s religious wars were an example of what happens when one religion tries to get the upper hand. He didn’t want a kumbaya moment when Christian, Jews and Muslims "accepted" each other; more like the mutual repulsion that keeps subatomic particles moving around each other.
The examples of Walters’ cluelessness appear on every page. To give just a few random examples:
• Jody Foster was an object of lust to millions of men before she was a teenager, and precipitated a national crisis when a smitten fan tried to kill a president to get her attention. So maybe she had a reason for valuing her privacy.
• She quotes Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodah as tacitly blaming the kid who got shot by a fellow student in California as an example of accepted wisdom. But this was the same tool who was universally ridiculed for maintaining that a gay actor is unbelievable as a straight horndog (disproven every day by Neil Patrick Harris).
• Jason Collins was never a "basketball superstar."
• "The coming out of TV anchor Anderson Cooper was no ’news’ - - it had long been an open secret"; a few lines down, she cites "the ’cozy omerta’ that protects celebrities." The media were full of gossip and photos detailing Cooper’s love life, Chelsea buddies, etc. So where was the code of silence?
Large sections about coming out then (Walters) and now (the Internet; social media); and the whole "nature v. nurture" argument left me scratching my head as to why these discussions were included, especially as Walters concludes with to a "on the one hand ... on the other hand."
In the case of marriage, Walters maintains that the fight for marriage equality is one of normalization, assimilation, a giving-up of gay uniqueness. But the key case here -- not Prop. 8, which was a sideline -- was Edie Windsor’s fight to get back over $300,000 more she had to pay the federal government in estate taxes than the widow of a man.
OK, many of us are spending money on big weddings that Walters thinks should go for AIDS research. Or something. "There’s a de facto boycott in many of the European and Scandinavian [aside: Scandinavia is in Europe] social democracies," Walters writes, "where social benefits accrue to everyone regardless of relational status." If we could get all of the same benefits without bothering to get hitched, many if not most Americans probably wouldn’t bother, either.
Her other underlying premise is also fatally flawed: Most of us believe that the battle for equal rights is over. We’re now accepted. I live in Hell’s Kitchen, for God’s sake, and I don’t know anyone --gay or straight -- who believes that.
There is one passage that seems to make a cogent argument for "tolerance v. acceptance," from activist David Mixner: "One of the things we have to get over as a community it wanting to be liked. Or proving to others we’re just like them." The quote ends "If they will embrace us and our gifts and our talents because we are not like them. They need us."
Myself, I’m not looking to be embraced by the larger society. Just give me my rights, don’t take my money, don’t beat me up, don’t insult me. The rest is fluff.
"The Tolerance Trap" is 336 pages hardcover, and is published by New York University Press.