When did “Acceptance” become the new “Tolerance”

I stumbled across an interesting post in my google alerts. It concerns the more popular political issues of our time, the older ones like race and class having become more or less accepted as “truths.” Specifically, it concerns “gayness” and “fatness,” neither of which are real terms, but seem most appropriate in terms of description. M. LeBlanc writes:

Both fat people and gay people who are trying to fight bigotry spend a lot of time arguing that their condition is genetic. It’s pretty easy to see why: it seems like a very obviously bad thing to hate or discriminate against someone for something that is not within their control. So if you can just show someone that it’s genetic, or “it’s not a choice,” then you will show that they are being an asshole for judging you on that basis.

The thing is, I think this argument is selling the concept of “acceptance” really short. What if there were someone out there (and given the vagaries of human existence, I’m sure there is) who, at some point, really did “decide” to be gay? Made a conscious decision to date and have sex with only people of the same sex? Would it be ok to discriminate against that person, or hate them, or deprive them of rights that other people have, because of that choice? Nope. What if there was someone who really was fat because they purposely ate 10,000 calories a day (which is about how much it takes to make a “naturally” thin person fat), would it be okay to say awful shit about and hate on that person? Nope.

In general, I agree with statements made. Discrimination based on whether a person chooses to do something versus being born that way makes little sense. In most instances discrimination and hatred are based on emotional responses, most of which rarely if ever follow any sort of reason or logic. As was discussed in one of the links in the original posts, some people get miffed when an overweight person sits next to them on the bus or train. There is no logic in this response. It is purely emotional and visceral. Some people are upset at being inconvenienced by having to make space or having their private space violated by someone overweight. Similarly, some people feel that their sexuality has in some way been attacked, pushed, nudged or even questioned simply because someone is gay.

However, there is a huge difference between tolerance and acceptance. What is implied in the post goes far beyond the concept of “live and let live” and reached more into the mindset of dictating who and what people should like. Tolerance is the rather wonderful notion that a person can absolutely detest something, hate it to the core and want nothing at all to do with it, and yet that person allows that thing to exist without any attempt to remove it, block it or treat it any differently than anything else. Acceptance, on the other hand, is the notion that a person cannot find fault with a thing, but instead endorses it, supports it, or in short, enjoys it.

The poster asks the question:

What if there were someone out there … who, at some point, really did “decide” to be gay?… Would it be ok to discriminate against that person, or hate them, or deprive them of rights that other people have, because of that choice?

It would of course not be okay to discriminate against that person or deprive them of rights others have, but it would be absolutely okay to hate them. Similarly, it is perfectly fine to hate someone for being overweight, though it would be socially and morally unacceptable to “hate on” them for it. Why? Because ultimately that is an emotional, personal decision and one cannot dictate to others who they can or cannot like or why they should or should not like someone. The judgment that it is wrong or not okay is completely subjective, which the poster freely admits:

“Choice” or “environment” is the wrong way to determine what reasons are good reasons to hate others. Discriminating against or hating someone for being fat or gay makes you an asshole because there’s nothing wrong with being fat or gay. Not because it’s not a choice.

We discriminate against people for things that are genetic, and don’t discriminate against them for things that are 100% their choice. For example, someone might have poor impulse control due to a genetically-linked mental illness, and end up committing a crime. We incarcerate or otherwise incapacitate that person, not because of their choice, but because of their genetics, and we do it because we can’t have people running around committing crimes. By the same token, we don’t hate on or discriminate against people who choose to bite their nails or eat vanilla ice cream or go to graduate school because there’s nothing wrong with those things.

Again, the determination that something is right or wrong is a subjective decision. That one personally finds it acceptable does not mean others will nor that others should. After all, we do “hate on or discriminate against” people who drink alcohol, smoke (tobacco or marijuana), live in their parents’ basement and become defense attorneys. All these are choices that are inherently neither right or wrong, but people still make judgments on them.

The poster goes on to say:

There’s nothing wrong with fucking people of your own sex, and there’s nothing wrong with being fat. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it doesn’t hurt anyone … It’s just something you are. Chew on that.

True, but so are the people with genetically-linked mental illnesses. Why should that make them “bad” people? Arguably speaking, should we as society not be more inclined to accept those who clearly have no choice in their actions, even if they commit crimes?

But, that really is not the issue. It is not a question of whether gays or overweight people “hurt anyone.” It is about taking one’s personal reactions and projecting them onto others. Ironically, that is the very thing being criticized in the original post. People’s reactions will vary. Some one will agree with, others one will not. Regardless of that, one cannot force, compel or otherwise impose one’s own decisions or views onto others. If one wishes to find those people ignorant, so be it. But, technically speaking, that is no different than people finding gays “nasty” or overweight people “disgusting.”

Of course, that is the difference between tolerance and acceptance. If one is tolerant, one gets to disagree.

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