Tolerance is overrated.

In order to appreciate this, some basics should be covered. First, tolerance is not kindness nor is intolerance hate. Second, tolerance as an unswerving philosophical principle leads in equal part to acts of decency and of savagery. Third, for most of its votaries, tolerance is simply a euphemism and cover for utter cowardice.

Judgmentalism is underrated. “Live and let live” sounds great but in fact provides cover for horrendous and immoral acts. Without judgment, there would be no ethics and no distinction between kind or heinous acts. Those who claim they do not judge in fact judge those who are judgmental, thereby proving themselves to be weak of both mind and spirit.

What really matters is what and who one judges, how one judges them, and what one does after making the judgment. Put differently, judgement is a practical act. Both judgement and lack thereof have material consequences; the former allows one to act to change things for the better, the latter allows one only to feel proud of one’s higher moral state while abetting forces of reaction with acts of prideful omission.

Sure, judgement begins with the self. One should be one’s own harshest critic and least vociferous advocate. Each person should use the power of judgement to create an ethical framework to live by. This framework suggests an alignment of what a person believes in, thinks and does. 2 out of 3 is not good enough.

Judgement bestows upon each of us our most basic strength- the power to be skeptical and to reject. Judgement allows for clear and sharp language and not for mealy-mouthed expressions and eternal cavils to justify lack of vigorous action.

So what does this all mean? Why pray tell would a progressive person laud intolerance and judgmentalism?

There are 3 scenarios (typologies) that explain this idea in full:

  1. Tolerance of Hate is common. The world is awash in philosophies of hate. Whether religious zealotry that denies certain people, life, liberty, and livelihoods or obscurantism that bludgeons women, lower castes, and other minorities, whether untrammeled greed that reduces vast swaths of the population to utter penury or militarism that rends children’s’ limbs, these philosophies have recrudesced. Is tolerance of this fair? Does philosophical tolerance mean tolerance of hate?

  2. Lack of judgement creates moral stagnation. The overall sum of morality grows when we push each other to be better, more generous, and less willing to create compromises with hate and greed. Only judgement can offer a framework for dynamic moralism. Tolerance creates the stagnant pond of cowardice in which –in fact- action is frowned upon.

  3. Tolerance implies a decent status quo. Stasis is a fine state if reality is fair, equitable, and just for all. If it is not, then inaction is as much a vector as action- one allows for an unfair inertial state and the other allows for change. This change is born of shedding tolerance for that which is unjust and for who stands in the way of revolutionary change.

If we posit, then, that tolerance is overrated and judgmentalism underrated then the question arises as to who one should judge and how.

This is where the real nuance arises. This is where one must have a real framework by which one judge. The framework is mandatory because it creates “must” and “never” statements that must be adhered to in the absence of an overwhelming and justifiable reason not to.

A simplistic primer on judgment flows easily from this point:

  1. On any matter X, one must decide what position aligns with the framework. This is easily managed in a binary situation. Take for instance the judgment one would make about another’s generosity. “Is X person generous?” is the question. A “yes” is acceptable in my framework while a “no” is not. However an infrequent invocation of “yes, but…” is also acceptable as long as the reasons for the “but” are legitimate in the framework.

  2. Judgement is best when it is consistent. Most people have the tendency to give friends and family a break on judgement but that is not sensible; all people are someone’s friends or family so if we all get a “by” on the morals round, then society would be in utter ruination. So judge liberally.

  3. Judgement hones the senses. Most people find themselves falling lazily into illogical mental patterns defined by bias. The more tolerant a person towards everything, the less the person is able to discern or to create a moral hierarchy.

  4. Judgement identifies the selfish and exposes them. Judgement allows us to have a consistent measure by which we expose all people on any matter of ethics. Selfishness exists in places often hidden by our “love” and “like” of those close to us and generosity exists often in places that defy the expectations of the tolerant.

Live by this or tear it down. But don’t simply be tolerant. And if a person lives by it, then act in the service of the type of humanity that can only exist and flower if we reject more and accept less.

Romi Mahajan can we reached at

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One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Judgements are ‘ dialectic ‘ in nature and depend upon the way one looks at the verdict. Even a person perceived as ‘ thief’ by people or judges may, in fact, have valid reasons for his theft or robbery. Lot of reasons make any verdict or morality very complex and each person views differently. So, every view has admirers and detractors.