Intolerance is the inability to tolerate something. The dictionary puts it this way: tolerate >v. allow the existence or occurrence of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference. Let me use my mother as an example of how this plays out. My mother objects to my family’s life-way. To reiterate, my family lives a more ‘ancestral’ life-way, as most of humanity has for countless millennia: bare foot, no furniture, family sleeping space, ‘home’ school…
Now my mother loves us dearly, even though she believes that the modern American life-way is ‘right’ and ‘better’, and ours is ‘abnormal’ and somehow ‘crazy’. Fortunately she is not mean-spirited, so her view seldom manifests itself as intolerant interference in our life.
My family, on the other hand, doesn’t view its life-way as ‘right’. It is just the way that satisfies us. We have no thought that my mother should abandon her way for ours. We simply accept her as she is and tolerate, as best we can, those occasions when she vocally rebukes our ways.
Why aren’t we as intolerant of my mother’s American way as she is of our ‘ancestral’ way? We can’t help but be tolerant of her (at least rationally) for one fundamental reason: we know we (people) are animals, and that instinct drives us to do what we do. Helplessly, we are who we are. We’re driven by our fears, insecurities, ideals, expectations and desire… none of which did we ‘chose’, i.e., create independent of instinct and circumstance. Of course, in my mother’s eyes this absence of belief in free will and choice only ‘proves’ we’re ‘crazy’.
The belief in ‘free will’ runs deeper than any other. It’s held in common by most everyone regardless of political or religious leaning. The notion that we, unlike animals, have free will promises us a sense of personal superiority and control over life. As a former true believer in free will, I have been seeking a solid example of its existence for over 20 years, since doubts about it first surfaced. So far, I have found nothing.
So far, it appears to come down to need. The most pressing need we feel at the moment is the one that drives our action. Thus, when I pondered people’s ‘doings’, it always boiled down to… “they are simply doing what they need to do, just like me.” This was a problematic observation until I accepted the possibility that it was true. Once I did, I found peace in no longer being ‘forced by free will‘ to be judge and jury.
Besides being threatening, this earthy observation is an un-romantic view of our species. But, then too is an autopsy. We know enough through the sciences, biology in particular, to know that ‘free will’ is more likely to be wishful thinking on our part than factual. So, what’s the bottom line? When a natural observation conflicts with what we believe, belief invariably win out, as Galileo discovered.