Scott Alexander, in his celebrated post I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup, identified tolerance as “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup.” I think this is a good sentimental definition, but somewhat limited in the breadth of analysis it permits.
What does respect mean? Kindness? How can we know whether a given action contains these features? Further, it’s subjective: perhaps from his perspective, Cotton Mather was acting with greatest respect and kindness.1 We had to burn the witches to save them, you see.
I don’t think the limitations of Scott’s definition undermine his post because as I read it his concern was around what is being tolerated in the first place. Here, I offer another framing that generates a broader spectrum of implications, and that might serve as a platform on which further analyses might be erected.
A Tolerance Spectrum
Consider a series of possible positions one social group may hold toward members of another group. Let’s call this other group the heterogroup just for the sake of avoiding the valence of “outgroup.” All outgroups are heterogroups; not all heterogroups are outgroups.
The group that holds one of these stances toward the heterogroup, by symmetry, will be the homogroup. The homogroup is the subject; the heterogroup, the object. Who, whom.
I’m choosing labels for the positions casually; use different ones if you like.
Extermination. Members of a heterogroup are sought out and killed by the homogroup. The Jews (heterogroup) of Nazi Germany (homogroup) in the war years are the canonical example.
Expulsion. Members of a heterogroup are banished to penal colonies or prisons, or sent overseas, by the homogroup. Consider King Edward I’s edict.
Persecution. Members of a heterogroup are actively sought out and punished or disadvantaged, but may continue to live in a society. Reaching once more for a familiar example, see Hitler’s Nuremburg Laws; for another case, see FDR’s approach to gay men in the US Navy.
Suppression. Members of a heterogroup are not actively sought out, but are not permitted to openly identify as members of that group in public spaces and will face punishment if they do. Historically many religious movements have operated in secret, and GenXers and Boomers will remember the closet.
Exclusion. Members of a heterogroup may identify as members of that heterogroup publicly, but if they do so they may be excluded from certain social spaces even if they’re not otherwise punished.2
Neutrality. Mostly no one in the homogroup cares about membership in the heterogroup.
Inclusion. Identified members of a heterogroup may be advantaged in certain homogroup social spaces but are not otherwise sought out.3
Promotion. Members of a heterogroup are actively sought out and advantaged by the homogroup. Unfortunately I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head.
Mandate. Membership in a heterogroup is required for participation in some homogroup activity or for social advancement, perhaps not obviously related to membership in the heterogroup. Consider the Varangian Guard and its role in Byzantium’s court.
These stances toward a heterogroup are meant to be illustrative; they are neither mutually-exclusive nor exhaustive. They’re presented in a manner hinting at a line, but the space is richer than a single dimension and reality is nebulous. I anticipate that you will quickly be able to imagine other positions not covered in this ontology and I applaud you for it.4
My point is to observe that tolerance is not a binary state, and a more helpful framing might often be “How much tolerance are you demonstrating,” or even better: “What is the nature of your tolerance?”
Neutrality in a sense may be seen as the terminal point of tolerance. If no one in a homogroup cares a whit about one’s membership in a heterogroup,
that heterogroup is tolerated; and
also it probably doesn’t have much distinct power from the homogroup anymore, it’s kind of a social nullity really;
the heterogroup in fact may as well not exist tbqh, it’s just vestigial
this is why we can make fun of Irish and Italians and Poles
What might be some motivations for a homogroup extending its treatment of a heterogroup to a place like Inclusion or Promotion? Here are some non-mutually exclusive ideas.
The homogroup is trying to integrate the heterogroup into itself.
The heterogroup retains some outside power and needs inducement to ally or join with the homogroup.
Or, more generally, the homogroup is obtaining value from the heterogroup in some way and is in a position where it must offer compensation.
It’s just out of the goodness of their hearts!
Generally I’m skeptical that integration or engulfment of a heterogroup is a likely outcome of the transneutrality stances, because those stances highlight distinctions between the homogroup and heterogroup and may drive mutual resentment.,
In a way, transneutral stances may as well be designed to maintain separation between the homogroup and heterogroup.
Neutrality is Not Neutral
As discussed in the previous section, neutrality may over time represent the absorption of a heterogroup by a dominant homogroup. This historically has been a semi-deliberate policy of the US hyperculture. Consider the experiences of gay men and nonorthodox Jews in the United States. Wherever Jews have been excluded from society for millennia they have tended to retain their identity as a separate group; wherever they are tolerated they have tended to be assimilated.8
Some members of a minority heterogroups may consequently resent a neutral stance toward them, and in a sense neutrality is an insulting position inasmuch as it implies that they are not seen as consequential enough to be viewed as distinct or as a group with social power. I don’t think this is an irrational view.
Passive vs Active Stances toward the Heterogroup
One can imagine that in a given context, a given position from the above spectrum might be the “organic” stance that requires no collective action or organizational effort to maintain.
For example, before 9/11, very little effort was required to prevent violence against Muslims in the United States. After the attacks, Bush (in one of the better things he did in office)9 went out of his way to oppose an updated, more-hostile position toward Muslims in the United States, and so the general US homogroup position to the Muslim heterogroup didn’t shift much after the attacks. But he did have to say it; the context had shifted and a different organic stance was possible as a result of the changed context. In this subsection’s framework, we might call his effort to maintain neutrality toward Muslims in the post-9/11 era an active stance.
“Scares” are often an attempt to identify a heterogroup amidst the homogroup and move the stance of that homogroup from a more passive excluded or suppressed stance to an active persecutorial stance. Communists have never been viewed neutrally by the majority in the US; during the Red Scares they were actively prosecuted. However, that kind of prosecution takes effort without fuel feeding the fire, and without an ongoing impetus people wander off.
FDR’s attempt to purge the Navy of gay men was even by contemporaries viewed with disgust. This was not because contemporaries were pro-gay in any meaningful sense, but because they were averse to an active position of persecution and content with exclusion or suppression.
Active stances are costly and difficult to maintain over time.
Transneutral policies are generally active stances.
Positions Need Not Be Reciprocal
This is facially obvious but is worthy of note. Off the cuff I suspect that stances between groups will probably only be reciprocal when
power is equal,
at the extremes, or
when the groups have attained total indifference to one another and aren’t actually separate groups anymore.
Evangelism is almost never tolerated in nearly any sense by any group. It is one thing to live side by side with another group; it is entirely another to allow another group to send its emissaries among them.
When a homogroup tolerates evangelism, it either
perceives the heterogroup to be so undifferentiated from themselves as to be harmless;
perceives itself to be utterly impervious to evangelism; or
is so weak that it cannot prevent the evangelism.
In nearly all cases, conflict around evangelism occurs in environments involving children, as adult conversion is a rare event.10 This practice is nearly universally proscribed at the extremes, and roundly condemned in history; consider examples like Indian boarding schools in North America, or the separation of children from families in China for “thought education”.
When a homogroup perceives a heterogroup to be aggressively evangelical its tolerance for that heterogroup is likely to decline significantly.
Implications are left as an exercise for the reader.
[ed note: i have slightly revised this piece after posting to remove grammatical porblems and similar. any remaining errors in text or conception are the fault of my daughter]
I have no idea what his actual theological view of the witch trials, vis a vis the victims, was.
Perhaps: how’s the culture fit?
Which is to say I’m not gonna argue about them.
Partly because I don’t know whether I believe them.
This had to be deliberate.
Broad strokes, I am not a historian of the Jewish people, etc etc.