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  • Jose Arrieta

On Mean Girls, The Paradox of Tolerance, and the Importance of Being Earnest



This wrinkle is what Karl Popper called the Paradox of Tolerance. In short, it explains that a society that values tolerance can be so tolerant to allow intolerant people their own opinions and for the people who espouse these opinions to hurt others through their intolerant actions all in the pursuit of tolerance. Yes. This sounds highly academic but it is a true phenomenon, imagine tolerating religious practices that enact hurtful practices (burying wives when husbands die, or not allowing women to be equal members of society).


Let's see another example. We live in a post-#metoo society. It is not ok to allow abuse in the pursuit of "not rocking the boat". Yet, we are not all supposed to be exceptional. Speaking out is not always fair to the speaker. For the ones on the fringe of caste systems speaking out could be a big problem.


But then should we be quiet? No. But SHOULD is a strong word. What we can be sometimes is follow Lindsay Lohan's classic movie and be mean and petty. We can exclude the people we can't denounce from being with us. We can help the ones they hurt and create structures that help the ones we can. These grassroots systems will be out of the radar of the hurtful for a while and they might even disrupt their behavior.


Sometimes, though the ones we can't denounce might find out and feel excluded. They might act out and want in. And that is where Oscar Wilde's genius comes in. We can be earnest and explain we just wanted to hang out with other people and that you forgot to invite them, That is true and honest. This strategy might make you seem like a klutz in the intolerant's views but played well, it can allow you to be yourself and help others for long enough to change the system.


Advocating meanness seems dumb. But being earnest is important. As Maggie Nelson once said we all "right now have a deep hunger for a tool with no blood on it". We live in a post-modern cynical world where there is no clear way out that is always better, as shown by the last season of the Good Place. The modernist ideal of using rationality to solve every problem leads to more problems. But we are still human and we have needs. We cannot always be strong and denounce the hurtful. Sometimes the only thing we can do is be earnest, mean, and petty in the hope of building a better world.

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