Intolerance in our society

Everywhere you look nowadays, there are people spewing hatred. Be it the Indian lawyers beating up a student, or a xenophobic presidential candidate calling all Mexicans rapists, or a whole continent up in arms against helpless refugees.

At the centre of all of these is the inability to see the other side of the debate i.e. intolerance. Assumptions, often incorrect, are made and conclusions are reached without scrutinising what the other party is saying. The Indian lawyers never looked at what the student was protesting about. They assumed he was unpatriotic because he was shouting what sounded like anti-national slogans. The World is brimming with intolerance. This couldn’t be very different from the 1930’s and 40’s Europe, when Hitler started his hate riddled brand of racism and purge. The tragedy of human existence is that we forget history, and as a way of reminding us, it repeats itself.

So, what is intolerance?

It is an amalgamation of ‘my views and beliefs over others‘ and ‘people with differing views are my enemies‘. It is when an individual and/ or a section of the society somehow begins to feel superior and starts imagining itself as the protector of all moral, and sometimes basic rights.  I am sure academics have studied in some detail what causes intolerance and there would definitely be multiple theories that straddle the realms of sociology and psychology to answer many of the burning questions. However, I believe that the following three factors are at the core of it:

Insecurities or hidden fears.

We all worry about something or the other. It ranges from as trivial as not knowing what to wear for the evening to the really serious issues of losing work, unable to make ends meet, or health concerns. In a homogeneous society, your insecurities, worries or fears are either just your own, for which, you can’t blame anyone, or the worries are shared by everyone, for which, the society as a whole takes the blame. But when you have a society that is divided into strata, it becomes easier to dump the blame on the section that is different from yours. Sectarian violences all over the World are a result of this.

Immigration is a big issue wherever you go in the western World now days. People are afraid that the immigrants would take away their jobs and their way of living would be disrupted. Excessive immigration definitely affects the fabric of the society but it shouldn’t be viewed as anything negative. Rather, I would argue, it enriches our society. Blaming the hard working immigrant for your incompetence or laziness is nothing but blatant intolerance.

False sense of pride in one’s own culture.

Taking pride in one’s culture is a good thing, however, we need to be cognisant of the fact that we as individuals had nothing to do with the great things our ancestors did. It is a wrong assumption that just because one of our ancestors got lucky and invented something, the World owes us everything. This is a severe case of misplaced pride. Moreover, a very important thing to keep in mind is that great many minds have contributed to where we are today. It is the collective achievements of the human race and not just one culture or country or race or religion.

Taking India’s example, people are always gung-ho about our rich past and the fact that we invented zero and gave the World yoga and kama-sutra. This sense of achievement is good as far is it motivates us to create something new, add value to the society. When the achievements are brandished in the face of others to show how superior the Indian culture is to the rest of the World, that is when the false sense stops being useful and starts breeding intolerance.

Perceived injustices (mostly historical events)

Hitler was able to rally the Germans to commit the heinous crimes in World War II because they felt they were victims of the injustices committed by the Allied powers during the first World War. Coupling that with the false sense of pride in the perceived Aryan supremacy, they went on to write the tragic history that still haunts us to this day.

The human condition is itself full of injustices. As we age, our eyes get weaker and the knees give away. Is that not injustice? Is that not unfair? It is and we learn to live with it. We don’t go around gouging our eyes out or chopping our legs off. So, injustice is a part of life and the sooner we learn to live with it, the better it is for the society. The truth and reconciliation tribunals formed in South Africa after Apartheid are really good examples of how we should proceed in rebuilding faith in each other. Learning to forgive goes a long way in creating long lasting trust.