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The latest pandemic: Intolerance

Cancellation of promotional event in Tel Aviv for Abigail Shrier's book "Irreversible Damage"

It used to be that if you wanted to make up your mind about something, you listened to both sides of an issue in order to actually help you decide what made sense. Those days are becoming more of a distant memory.

What’s even more amazing is that those, on the liberal side of the aisle, were the protectors of the right to free speech, making sure that the more controversial the topic, the more the opinion was championed. Well, things have taken a decidedly different turn as the roles have reversed. 

Today, the last place you are able to express a different viewpoint would be in the most liberal of places – campuses, newspapers, social media and amongst friends and family who only want to hear one perspective – theirs. To them, anything that strays from the position which they deem to be the right one is viewed as disinformation, misinformation (I’ve never quite understood the difference), triggering, phobic, micro-aggressive, dangerous, fascist, racist, misogynist and so on. The list of disparaging labels is endless. 

How did this occur? It seems that someone decided that the best way to silence positions, which are traditional leaning, conservative or those which represent family values, was not just to kill the message, but to kill the messenger. It wasn’t enough to completely censor the ideas or opinions, in order to prevent them from being considered. No, the fear of ostracization or being accused of prejudice had to be the resultant consequence. That way, people would think twice before trying to challenge the prevailing position.

In just the last couple of days, we have witnessed two events which, although having occurred in different hemispheres, share one common phenomenon – total intolerance.

The first happened in Tel Aviv, when Abigail Shrier, prominent writer for the Wall Street Journal, arrived in Israel to promote her newly translated 2020 book entitled, "Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters." In her book, Shrier takes the position that transgenderism, in teen girls, is a social contagion, meaning that it is a behavior which mimics those around you, in the attempt to fit in more like one’s peers. 

Given the fact that transgenderism is a fairly new phenomenon, which has gained more and more popularity, over the last five years, the idea that it was borne out of a growing social need to conform is not so strange. During this same time period, we’ve seen the rise of “influencers” whose impact upon young people has evolved into a multi-million-dollar enterprise for those who have amassed millions of followers through social media. They determine what’s cool, accepted and the newest trends which will garner favor and likeability. 

But Shrier’s position could not be heard, for fear that it would challenge a new system, which has created a multitude of financially-lucrative markets, all of which stand to lose if someone exposes the fraudulent claims. Consequently, Amazon nor other book-sellers would market her book. Stores, such as Target, ended up removing it from their shelves, and although a launch had been scheduled to introduce the book’s Hebrew translation, at a specific Tel Aviv location, it ended up being canceled, due to the venue owner not wanting to be part of what she categorized as a homophobic event.

While it’s doubtful that the owner has ever read the book, or spoken to Shrier, she claims to be pre-empting incitement from occurring. At the last minute, the Hebrew publisher was forced to find another place for the event, but not before debunking erroneous claims about the book, stating, “the book is full of compassion, meant to defend teens. It does not criticize lifestyles and the attempts to prevent the conversation about it comes from ignorance.”

The second incident, which took place in New York, involved an adjunct professor, from Hunter College, who demanded that a pro-life information site, presented by conservative students, be removed as it was “triggering others.”  Enraged by the sight of a folding table, which offered brochures expressing an opinion contrary to hers, she called the display an act of violence, while aggressively throwing the materials onto the floor as she used extreme profanity. Luckily, the incident had been caught on film. Later, when a reporter showed up at her door, hoping to interview her, she pulled out a machete, holding it up to his neck.  

Although the university appropriately fired her, the pity, in all of this, is that a highly-educated professor, who has, undoubtedly, been exposed to decades of diverse thought and study, was psychologically and intellectually unable to engage in what could have been a meaningful debate on a subject about which she is clearly misinformed. Even if she has set opinions, why not use the strength and the logic of those positions to counter an argument which she believes to be faulty or ill-advised?

Both of these incidents point to a total and absolute unwillingness to engage another viewpoint, which is different to the one which has been etched in stone, by those who look upon diverse opinion as dangerous and violent. Yet, it is their very refusal to debate the pros and cons of an issue, which makes them the ones who are bigoted, biased and totalitarian.  

When someone believes strongly in something, as a result of having thought it through and coming to the conclusion that its reasoning, components and claims are worthy and sound, then they are able to refute even the most gifted debaters. On the other hand, if their beliefs are not able to stand the test of the sound arguments of others, there is the possibility that they will come to the conclusion that they have been wrong about what they previously believed.     

There are only two explanations for being intolerant in today’s enlightened age, refusing to allow another side to be heard. The first one is fear. The idea of being proven wrong or being challenged that your position is faulty, and something better can replace it, is just too much for some to bear.  

The other reason is more cynical. It is the loss of hard, cold cash which comes from those who have figured out how to build their fortunes on shutting down competition, the free market and diverse choice. If they sense that their bottom line will be hurt, as a result of better ideas, they will do whatever it takes to make sure that those ideas are never heard. The most effective way to do that is to slap a dreaded label on whoever threatens the system. That way, the fear is transferred.

It is a shortcut to winning an argument without having to convince anyone why their side is better. It is also the likely reason that political debates will be a thing of the past. Shutting down unwanted conversation has proven to be effective these days. But make no mistake, the intolerant are not those who simply want a chance to express what has become unpopular views. They are those who deny everyone’s right to be heard and to express another opinion different from theirs.  

Intolerance is the stuff of fear, inflexibility, self-indulgence, insular thinking, narrow-mindedness and, perhaps, most importantly, the need to control the narrative. We must not allow it to become a sweeping pandemic, because if it does, it will make the last one look like a blip on the screen.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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