Stopping the Spread of Racism Overrides Tolerance

As you might know from earlier references, I like to read some internet advice columns.

Dear Prudence today got a very tough issue right (again). Here's the excerpt - including a dispute from a reader and his response:

Q. Parents’ problematic Facebook groups: My parents recently got invited to a neighborhood Facebook group that, alongside garage sales, traffics heavily in racist fake news concerning real and imagined crimes by “African youths.” Challenging them on facts doesn’t work. (“Why would someone post it if it wasn’t true?”) Would it be wrong of me to sneakily grab their phone and unfollow the worst offenders? They are pretty hopeless with technology, so they won’t notice, but the world would be a better place if their news feed reverted to baby photos and cat videos.

A: You are not violating your parents’ rights to constantly absorb racist videos on Facebook; go ahead and unsubscribe them with my blessing, and keep challenging their racism whenever they bring it up, even if you don’t make immediate headway.

Q. Re: Parents’ problematic Facebook groups: OMFG, do not modify your parents’ Facebook settings without their consent or knowledge. Would you like it if they did the same to you?

A: Yeah, I don’t really go for using the language of autonomy about something like the right to look at racist videos about imaginary crimes committed by nonexistent black people when you log into Facebook. I think it’s fine to be a little benevolently paternalistic in this case.

After thinking about it for a while, I got there: the right to read or say whatever one wants ends when it begins to harm others. And this LW's parents' digging themselves deeper into racist positions based on propaganda was definitely going to be harmful to others.

This solution may be counterintuitive but I believe this letter shows us a manifestation of the Paradox of Tolerance: that if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. We're facing that dilemma now. This is one small way to deal with it.

This article was updated on May 9, 2023

David F