The Meaning of Things

I first read AC Grayling’s book “The Meaning of Things” about 10 years ago just as we were setting up our education foundation in Nepal. The short anecdotes on a wide range of values and philosophies are easy to read and are an interesting take on personal philosophy and as I read the book again I find it interesting to consider each section in relation to my own life and current environment. You might like to do the same and add a comment, or even feel free to reblog any post.

#1 Moralising and Tolerance

A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite. (Oscar Wilde)”

So often this is overwhelmingly true, and hopefully I will avoid it in this post! Now a direct quote from Grayling: 

A moraliser is a person who seeks to impose upon others his view of how they should live and behave. Everyone is entitled to a view about what counts as acceptable behaviour, and everyone is entitled to put it forward as eloquently and forcefully as he can. But moralisers go much further. They want others to conform to their views, and they seek to bring this about by coercion –employing means which range from social disapproval to legal control, this latter often being their preferred option. In forcing others to comply with their preferences they show at least several of the following: insensitivity, intolerance, unkindness, lack of imagination, failure of sympathy, absence of understanding, ignorance of alternative interests and needs in human experience, and arrogance in believing that theirs is the only acceptable way.

Some recent experiences of this are occurring in the political world, especially in the USA regarding President Trump and in the UK regarding Brexit. In one country we have protesters who believe they are taking the moral high ground by accusing the president of racism and misogyny. In the other country we have politicians, celebreties, extremely rich business people engaged in a ceaseless battering of those who voted differently from them in a legitimate and democratic referendum. The virtue signalling and moralising involves their stereotyping people as fascist and racist, calling them ignorant and uneducated, and generally saying these people didnt know what they were voting for. 

However, to paraphrase Grayling: when we become immune to moralisers they merely appear comical –as prigs and curmudgeons who complain and blame, stamping their feet and waving umbrellas in outrage at whatever is different from themselves or comes too close to their own guilty desires. But when we are not immune to them they are a menace, causing not just general inflammation and irritation in society, but downright misery to the people whose ways of life differ from their own. 

This brings me to tolerance which you are probably already thinking about.

The peak of tolerance is most readily achieved by those who are not burdened with convictions. Alexander Chase”

I really only experienced or began to understand tolerance when I visited my wife’s home in Kathmandu for the first time in 1983. Here was a country and her people who were tolerant of each others religions, Hindus visiting Buddhist temples and vice versa, each taking part in the others festivals and ceremonies for example. Their conviction in their own religion not outweighing a respect for the other. Similarly, in UK general elections our first-past-the-post system can seem unfair to some, but when Labour won the election in 1997 the supporters of the other parties didn’t take to the streets as a shrieking horde, and nor did they plot and harangue in an attempt to overturn the election result. Yet these are the sort of intolerant behaviours we see around the world today, it is everywhere, in USA, across Europe, in Arab countries, Asia, Africa, a global phenomenon surely driven by different belief systems completely at odds with each other.

To end with the words of Grayling again:

Such intolerance is a psychologically driven phenomenon because it is symptomatic of insecurity and fear. But tolerance and its opposite are not only forms of acceptance and rejection respectively. One can tolerate a belief or a practice without accepting it oneself. What underlies tolerance is the recognition that there is plenty of room in the world for alternatives to coexist, and that if one is offended by what others do, it is because one has let it get under one’s skin.

Amen to that!