Why tolerance is not so easy?

There is one experience with tolerance that changed my attitude toward this seemingly 100% positive human attitude. A post in a small Italian restaurant some 10 years ago saying: Smoking is tolerated but not appreciated.

Although I never smoked, I would have ceased to smoke after reading this immediately. After that experience I do not want to be tolerated not even in my dreams.


Tolerance has ambiguous contextual heritage. In the very basis tolerance only if there are at least two particles of life that differ one from another. One cell has to differentiate from another first, and only then they could a distance (tolerance) be measured. Tolerance is thus ultimate expression of selfishness. You can not have self without being selfish. Only after being selfish to the highest possible degree, you can start to relate do everything that is not-self. Only after that you can appreciate other entities – but again only to support your-self. Cells start to differentiate only to provide an environment that is evolutionary more stable (evolutionary stable strategies, ESS) for them – and with that for other cells as well.


Tolerance is also technical term that defines the span within which two bodies interact safely. Not too close but also not too far apart one from another. Tolerance breaks in both directions. Highest tolerance is not highest closeness at the same time.

We should thus acknowledge that tolerance is a concept that has no positive or negative value neither for physical nor for human “particles”. Highest tolerance brings self annihilation. Do we have any objections against self annihilation? Let us check.


Self annihilation is prophesied both by buddhism and by communism. Those two examples tell us that tolerance is not easy one-dimensional concept. While self-annihilation was ordered by collective central authority in communism, it comes from within individual in buddhism. Quite a difference in respect of individual freedoms, I would say. But in the end both extreme points are utterly destructive at least for our presence in this world.


There is another ancient tradition, that of freemasonry, that focuses very much on tolerance. It is their strong metaphor of building a temple of universal love with bricks where bricks symbolize individuals. If bricks are rough (not tolerant) one needs a lot of mortar so that bricks stick together. More the bricks are polished (the goal of freemasonry) less mortar is needed for construction. But what really differentiate this tradition form any other utopian is that it is accepted in advance that no one can polish his stone perfectly. Not only that perfection is rejected in principle (and with that option of highest possible tolerance) but also each one has to put on his stone his individual sign. Stones are branded, individualised, while in pure utopian ideologies stones become de-individualized and with that unrecognizable.


At last, there is and should be always evolutionary perspective on each phenomena that can be understood as alive. Within certain tolerance there always open questions like: do association with tolerated objects or humans benefit to my (our) evolutionary strategy? Tolerance is not an absolute. It is relational; as so many other phenomena of humanity. Do not mistake relational with subjective. It is not arbitrary, but intersubjective and as such objective meaning, that it is obligatory for each of two subjects being in such relation. So to judge tolerance from outside by definition leads not only to mistakes but also to tragedies.

Andrej Drapal