The juxtaposition of intolerance

September 29, 2010

This week, while bloggers placed bets on whether society’s moral tolerance of homosexuality will progress or regress, a Rutgers freshman committed suicide days after his roommate secretly posted a webcam video of him having sex with another man.

This isn’t a typical blogging topic for me. But when I read about the tolerance bet, I felt annoyed by its senselessness, and literally a minute later I read about the Rutgers student, and felt dejected by the pointlessness of his death. And the juxtaposition of those two articles, and those two emotions, compelled me to write.

Let’s not waste time betting whether the progress of human equality will fall victim to a resurgence of Leviticus-fearing folks. Instead, let’s spend that time trying to teach people that intolerance is not just some game you play on a moral chessboard. It’s not just some emotionally detached debate. It’s not a bet you place at the sportsbook. Intolerance is a destructive force. It’s a deadly weapon. It has real victims. And everywhere it has ever existed in history, it has always been the enemy of peace.


7 Responses to “The juxtaposition of intolerance”

  1. Michael D. Thomas Says:

    You might not fully appreciate what Brian and Tyler mean by betting. They are trying to establish empirical claims about future events using a betting model as a device to get to help articulate Bayesian priors.

    I wonder, are you saying that if someone killed themselves after having a video (of themselves having sex with a woman) shared it would be a totally different issue?

    I am taken by the necessary contexts in both of these that then create a juxtaposition.

  2. There’s no need to dissect this too much. I think my point is clear: that people can treat a topic such as intolerance in a somewhat desensitized manner, and in the process forget about or underestimate the real-life tragic effects intolerance can have.

    I don’t mean to suggest that Brian and Tyler themselves are being intolerant or deliberately insensitive. My post may come across as chiding, tho that was not my intention. I understand they are simply discussing probabilistic outcomes, not necessarily endorsing outcomes.

    I also concede that I’m assuming some context, specifically that the student was driven to suicide not only because of public humiliation but also because of shame — the shame a young person may develop being the target of organized intolerance. I admit I have no evidence to support this assumption.

  3. Michael Thomas Says:

    I think it is horrible that someone, a freshman at a great university, would decide to end everything for any reason. I am moved in this way, but I am such an incorrigible skeptic that I can’t view this in any other way than to look and see what groups are using this tragedy to serve their own ends. I don’t know if it is 50% legitimate outrage over what the roommate did to violate his privacy and 50% something else, but I was walking across campus today and every computer had this article up, every facebook account linked to this. I can’t help but wonder — what is the lesson. It is not clear to me that it is a lesson about tolerance in any specific way, that seems too opportunistic. It does strike me that there is a lesson here though about how people generally see other people as entertainment. We treat everyone else like our own private clowns.

    None of the articles that I read made the leap to provide any evidence that this kid killed himself because he was outed, specifically because he was outed. I reserve about 20% skepticism that it was unrelated to the details at that level of abstraction. That said, I am open to the idea that the Rutger’s gay community is small enough he had not fully integrated into the very open and supportive community there.

  4. Michael D. Thomas Says:

    More on the story:

    This CNN article is good.

    See here, presumably from the victim: “I guess what he was doing was…he was in another person’s room, with other people… and so I feel like it was ‘look at what a fag my roommate is’ … and the fact that the people he was with saw my making out with a guy as the scandal whereas i mean come on…he was SPYING ON ME….do they see nothing wrong with this?”

    So it is more complex than we want to make it. The fact that he has to submit to spying and thinks that he doesn’t have a defense on those grounds make it an issue of intolerance, it is one of fairness — but it is a far different issue than being “outed.”

  5. I agree the issue is complex. I disagree that the issue ever revolved around him being “outed”.

    I admit, I cannot fathom what was going thru this kid’s head to make him decide that suicide was his only way out. Judging by his last few comments, it seems he was battling against the prevailing attitude among his roommate and colleagues that viewing his homosexual encounter was such a spectacle, such a carnival freakshow, that it voided or muted their general sense of decency and privacy and respect. To me, his comments speak directly to intolerance — the kind of careless nonchalant status-quo intolerance that people rarely give a second thought to. The kind of ubiquitous organized intolerance that can eat away at a young insecure person, until they conclude that suicide is their only escape.

  6. Michael D. Thomas Says:

    Another possible juxtaposition:

    This person, Mitchell Heisman, is an extremely complicated case.

    Suicide is something that seems more complex than the proximate cause.

  7. Karyn Says:

    It goes without saying that intolerance is a destructive force, but who is immune to it? There are so many degrees of intolerance. Criticizing others’ habits and mannerisms is a form of intolerance.

    I think the incident you describe isn’t about intolerance, but cruelty. Invading someone’s privacy on YouTube is vicious… even sadistic.

    The visceral response people have had to that story is due to empathy – we all feel a flush rise to our cheeks when we recall our own small or large moments of public humiliation.

    I am as heartened by this mass display of empathy as I am disheartened by the act that prompted it.

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