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Thought for the Day: Tolerance Does Not Mean Agreement

I am a physicist by training and predilection and a programmer by necessity.  One thing that means is that when I am confronted with a conflict between truth and beauty, I embark on a mission to accomplish two things:
  1. Accept the truth.
  2. Alter my perception to beauty to correspond to what is true.
For example, there were those who feel that irrational numbers (number that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers) are ugly.  This group includes the Pythagoreans of the ancient world, who are said to have drowned  Hippasus for having used their theorem to prove their existence.  It also certain members of the Indiana state legislature who introduced bill #246 into the 1897 Indiana General Assembly to legislate that π should equal exactly 3. Those folks, and others of their ilk, are bound and determined to alter truth until it matches their perception of beauty.

I find that us truth seekers are by and large a pretty tolerant group.  That is, my attitude toward those those who seek beauty lies somewhere on the spectrum between funny and sad; depending on the issue.  Believing that irrational numbers don't exist is rather funny.  Believing that smoking cigarettes won't lead to heart disease and cancer is sad.  I do not go around evangelizing the existence of irrational numbers nor the increased mortality of cigarette smokers.  However, if asked by one of them about π or smoking, I will answer them straight.  I will tell them that they are wrong.  I will not say "Well, according to my beliefs, π is irrational and smoking is bad for your health."  Because it's not my beliefs; it's the facts.  I don't consider them less human nor less created in the Divine Image; I just consider them mistaken.  That's how truth works.

The beauty-seekers, on the other hand, are exceedingly intolerant; the drowning of Hippasus just being one in a long history of tragic events when the beauty seekers gain control.  It really has to be that way.  Once you are in the business of redefining truth to match your idea of beauty, your only option is to do away with the truth seekers.  After all, truth seekers just don't have the option to ignore the facts, so they are not going to be able to agree that your concept of beauty is not truth.  Moreover, they will not be able to "agree to disagree"; because that also would not be true.

That is how I came to be a practicing, believing Orthodox Jew.  Orthodox Judaism looks to the one, immutable Torah (teaching) that was given to us on Mount Sinai over 3,000 years ago in a one time only event of public revelation to an entire nation.  All other religions and isms are simply the collected agreement of a group of people; a consensus and shared vision of beauty.  Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes even accidentally right; but never true.

The beauty seekers have, of course, even attempted to co-opt the word "tolerance" to mean "you have to agree with us".  I, being on the side of truth, will continue to use the word in its true meaning.  As long as you persist in your belief that π equals 3, and even if you get a Supreme Court decision to support you, I shall not try to convince you of your folly.  Unless you ask, then I'll happily help you to find where you have erred.


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