First, our official definition of a paradox:
A puzzle concocted with premises we know are false but which lead to a conclusion we wish were true.
Thus, because the conclusion is something devoutly to be wished for, the premises which lead to it cannot be abandoned. One such paradox, and a popular one, is the tolerance paradox. It is best explained by example.
Consider progressivism. This philosophy demands from us tolerance, a wellspring from which flows that magical thing diversity, the ultimate source of all of our blessings. This, as we all know, is the catechism of any modern university, the storage places of our smartest folk.
Suppose at one university enrolls a student named Gary. Gary has sexual preferences, perhaps involving feathered creatures, which are different than the majority’s, preferences which the majority consider deviant. Tolerance demands that we respect Gary’s experiment in living; some even claim that tolerance implies we must embrace Gary’s way and engage in a little experimentation of our own so that we appreciate Gary’s difficulties.
The first premise of tolerance is that we must be tolerant, or non-judgmental, of other people’s beliefs, sexual desires, cultural practices, and so forth. To be intolerant is to be judgmental. The worst kid of intolerance is one that leads to action, political or physical, which restricts the so-called unacceptable practices of another person or group.
It is difficult to imagine any university where Gary would not be cared for, protected from the opinion and actions of those that cannot tolerate him, perhaps even to the extent that Gary is given funds to begin his own officially sanctioned Bird-Lovers club
So much for Gary. But now along comes Mike, as cussed an individual who was even invented. Intolerant to the core! Mike thinks Gary is disgusting and refuses association with him. Worse, Mike publicly denounces Gary’s activities, he even writes vicious letters to the editor and blog posts which cry “Foul!”
Should we, in our enlightened philosophy of tolerance, tolerate Mike? Or should we be intolerant of him? Should we create a code of speech that bans Mike from talking against Gary? If Mike breaks these codes, should he be punished?
If we do any of these things, we are being judgmental and intolerant. Since that is not allowed by our first premise, a premise which we desire to be true, we must tolerate Mike’s intolerance. Well, that’s fine. Perhaps Mike should be allowed his rants. They are just words: sticks and stones and all that.
Enter Vladimir, a foreign student. One night as he passes by Gary’s quarters he hears a strange choked clucking and enters to investigate. What he sees is anathema, an affront to his most deeply held beliefs. Vladimir kills Gary. And is happy to have done so.
Should we, in our enlightened philosophy of tolerance, tolerate Vladimir’s action? Or should we be intolerant of him? His actions were certainly diverse, were they not? And we have praised diversity more than Bach praised God.
If we are to be consistent, we must tolerate Vladimir. In fact, we must tolerate any action at any time by anybody. This, of course, includes murder, rape, robbery, and so forth. To even have a police force or military is in contradiction to the philosophies of tolerance and diversity.
Of course, nobody, not even the insane, believes that all actions should be tolerated. Everybody believes that certain behaviors must be proscribed. Thus, the paradox of tolerance is no paradox at all. Even stronger, the reasoning that led to this conclusion is so trivial that all must know it.
Yet the paradox persists: a veritable flood of talk of tolerance, non-judgmentalism, and diversity abound. How can this be? The answer is that when a person uses the words “tolerance” and “diversity”, these words do not retain their dictionary definitions. They must mean something else.
What they do mean is obvious: the opposite of their senses. Thus, when a university administrator, politician, or activist speaks of tolerance, he is implying that there are certain actions he finds intolerable. He is also saying that these intolerable actions or beliefs should be proscribed.
For example, if an activist shouts “Homophobia!” he is saying that he finds a dislike of homosexual activity intolerable and, further, he thinks that any such dislike should be proscribed, at the least by restricting speech, and maybe even by a forced reeducation of those who hold opinions different than him.
We can now see that another (practical) definition of paradox is when an intellectual feels cause to use the words, “What I want to be isn’t so. How can this be?!”