Maarja Vaino: Tolerance seems like serious business

Maarja Vaino
Maarja Vaino Source: ERR

The tone used by people who preach openness and tolerance is everything but understanding and friendly towards those whose opinion might differ in some matters, Maarja Vaino says in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

This week, we have heard more about tolerance, persecution and hate speech than usually. The Fookus section of Postimees was dedicated to bullying, an interview with Viivi Luik was titled "Sallivus on tegelikult ükskõiksus" (Tolerance is really indifference), while it turned out in the middle of the week that Estonia could be fined by the EU for failing to pass anti-hate speech legislation.

The news bought with it an interesting paradox on social media and elsewhere. In truth, the paradox has been visible for some time, while it suddenly became especially pronounced as similar topics piled up.

What initially puzzled me was just how angry people who identify as "tolerant" became when they read the title of Luik's interview.

Of course, it is rather peculiar when a person needs to identify as tolerant. /.../ Empathy toward other people could be a given.

The paradox lies in that if you dig deeper into what people who preach openness and tolerance say and write, the tone they use is everything but understanding and friendly to those who might disagree on some matters. At times, we can almost see hatred on a personal level.

It is frighteningly dogmatic and intolerant and brings to mind an especially strict cult from which one can be cast out and sentenced to eternal damnation following the minutest of missteps. Tolerance seems to be serious business.

Performers who accuse other public speakers of roaring while tending to be just as vocal are no less surprising.

Synonyms of roaring include bawling, braying and boastful shouting. I recently read former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves' opinion piece on ERR online that describes as roaring the literary genre of publicism. According to Ilves, publicism seeks to "force one's position on the reader, usually by attacking someone else" and consists of boorishness, scolding and cursing.

I was left very much at a loss by this redefinition of the term of publicism. What should we do with the publicist volumes by Kreutzwald, Tammsaare, Vilde and many others? Ban them as ugly roaring? And what to think of Ilves' own superciliously boastful and labeling tone – the very thing he seems to be accusing other people of.

My perplexity lingers when I think about the subject matter of hate speech. Once more, we stumble upon unexpected manifestations. Namely, that the people who most feverishly seek the outlawing of hate speech consider themselves the greatest champions of liberties and freedom of speech. Suddenly, existing rules and limitations that describe criminal behavior in the Constitution and legislation are not enough.

Why do I find myself thinking that criminalization of hate speech might also follow less noble goals and serve as a brilliant way to eliminate inconvenient opinions from the public sphere?

I do not think that such a development could benefit liberty or freedom of speech nor would it help clear the air. Already, a considerable number of people engage in self-censorship. It is obvious that a lot of people are afraid of freely speaking their mind in fear of being socially ostracized.

I cannot wonder enough at how it is possible to mock someone without any sign of remorse and in the same sentence urge people to notice mental violence and condemn intolerance. It could hold a certain paradoxical beauty were it not so evidently hypocritical. As a result, many beautiful words in Estonian have lost their original meaning, while people have lost something of their inner freedom that should serve as the foundation of every free society.

However, all those who cannot stand so-called incorrect opinions in their fervor to be tolerant or would legally constrict freedom of speech in order to ensure it would do well to remember a simple historical truth – that the only way to improve freedom of speech is more freedom of speech, not efforts to curtail it.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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