by Stephanie Herman
Originally published in Conservative Generation X

Despite liberalism's instruction on the politically correct virtues of tolerance, a myriad of their activist and protest groups are, by definition, intolerant of some practice: the NAACP, of racial discrimination; PETA, of the inhumane treatment of animals; Greenpeace, of environmental pollution; various Right to Life groups, of abortion. Oops -- ignore that last one. Because they don't voice liberal protests, Right to Life groups have no acceptable (i.e., politically correct) foundation on which to express intolerance. The pro-life movement, it would seem, is experiencing a tolerance double standard.

Anti-abortion postulates, because of their inherent intolerance of the act of abortion, are perceived to violate personal freedoms by forcing moral values on others who may disagree. Technically, pro-choice views violate no freedoms. All values are tolerated, including pro- and anti-abortion; as such, if a woman chooses against abortion she has every right to do so in a pro-choice environment. It is for this spirit of tolerance that pro-choice rhetoric is deemed politically correct (PC).

If is also for this spirit of tolerance that many members of Generation X continue to buy into the flawed pro-choice logic. Our generation is eager, and rightly so, to exhibit a new tolerance for social and cultural anomalies our parents' generation might have condemned or dismissed. And yet, while only a minority of those in our generation are likely to support a pro-life stance, an overwhelming majority support the protection of the environment, an equally intolerant endeavor.

Tolerance, itself, is a tricky concept -- perceived as the fruit of our society's benevolence and compassion. But should we, in the pursuit of liberty, tolerate everything? Do we tolerate racial or gender discrimination? Do we tolerate violent crime? And if not, who's looking out for the value-rights of our bigots, chauvinists and murderers? According to the Random House College Dictionary, tolerance "may imply the allowance or sufferance of conduct that one might or should rightly oppose." By definition, to tolerate a thing is often to label it intolerable. Why, indeed, would a person need to "tolerate" that which they support or recommend?

Perhaps because of this shaky foundation as a virtue, the tolerance exhibited by us 20th-century egalitarians is fickle, at best. We certainly don't tolerate everything. Take environmentalism, a liberal masterpiece of PC. It is comprised of some of the most intolerant members of our society -- quite a paradox for such a politically correct agenda. But is their intolerance wrong? Why, indeed, should the rape of our natural environment be tolerated? Clearly, tolerance on the part of these activists would negate the purpose of the cause and cancel out the passion and motivation that fuel the movement. Yet, while it's fashionable to exhibit illiberality in the name of environmentalism, the same behavior by pro-lifers marks them societal troglodytes.

The late Allan Bloom aptly described America's capricious modes of tolerance and intolerance in The Closing of the American Mind: "The same people who struggle to save the snail-darter bless the pill, worry about hunting deer and defend abortion." So why do Americans pick and choose their causes so erratically? Bloom contended it was the natural result of value relativism. "Conflict," Bloom explained, "is the evil we most want to avoid, among nations, among individuals and within ourselves... Value philosophy was used in America... to promote conflict-resolution, bargaining, harmony. If it is only a difference of values, then conciliation is possible. We must respect values, but they must not get in the way of peace." Americans today, it would seem, are confusing disagreement with disrespect.

Because we're afraid to hurt anyone's feelings by articulating a clear set of societal standards, our movements and causes are advanced, instead, by trends. Lately, victimization is the trendiest. If anything about you differs from the statistical norm, the media is poised to denominate your sect and devote the final two minutes of its broadcast to bring attention to your plight. But the membership of true victims is being ever encroached-upon by those hungry for attention, including the negative factions of society we used to (in theory, at least) oppose.

With the advent of daytime talk shows in the 1970s, child abusers, murderers and rapists were culturally elevated as America learned of their abused childhoods, impoverished family lives and neglected souls. These were to be excused from adhering to society's values and laws because their parents were such awful people. And if, on camera, they exhibited even a shred of humanity (perhaps a lingering love for Mom or the ability to quote a passage from the New Testament), immediate applause was the outward symbol of our society's willingness to "understand" them. Interviews with the creme de la creme behind bars soared in the ratings. Prison art and literature became "esteemed." Suddenly it wasn't so bad to be bad.

In fact, good and bad as units of measurement have been out of style since the 19th century. Nietzsche directed us to the plateau just beyond good and evil where all is tolerable. Thus, today, our values fluctuate along with the market trends. What a pro-lifer considers murder, a pro-choicer defines as a personal freedom, and each viewpoint is perfectly acceptable as long as attempts to challenge the other's line of thinking are avoided. It seems those "persuasive" speeches we were forced to give in freshman Rhetoric class turned out to be as useless in real life as we thought algebra was going to be.

Imagine what would happen, however, if value tolerance were applied to the environmentalists' argument. This politically successful platform would essentially metamorphose into stagnancy. While the environment would remain at risk from corporate polluting, poaching, the use of CFCs and HCFCs by the environmentally uninformed and insouciant, the impassioned activists would possess no right to express or enforce their opinions, much less their regulations. According to the liberal propensity for value-freedom, environmentalists would be relegated to respecting the moral values of the loggers in spotted-owl country or the oil executives behind the devastating tanker spills.

Abortion, like the rape of the land, has come to be serenely tolerated because of a dwindling respect for those things men and women are able to conquer. In his book, Concepts of Ecology, environmentalist Edward Kormondy fails to exhibit a tolerant tone when describing the degradation of our natural environment: "The roots of the crisis in which man finds himself are deep in the outlook western man, in particular, has had about the land -- land as his adversary to be conquered, as his servant to be exploited for his own ends, as a possession of rightful and eminent domain..." Similarly, infertility and pregnancy have been conquered by science, the unborn have been reduced to the property of women or the fodder of embryonic research; in essence, all respect for unborn life has been lost. And without respect for life, in all its forms, death is reduced to just another clinical event.


So while environmentalists are free from the constraints of value relativism, pro-lifers are mired in its muck. But just what is the major difference between these two dogmatic agendas? The answer involves their respective victim-sets: the environmental debate delegates only one side as victim, the abortion issue is cleaved with two that inauspiciously overlap. And in the abortion debate, the victim set winning out is the one with higher historical significance and cultural validity: Women.

Abortion only exists as an article of legal and political debate because of its perceived status as a women's issue. Most lawmakers would recognize the rights of the unborn if they weren't constantly and illogically overshadowed by the rights of women. After all, we've denied Woman her rights for so long, we no longer feel comfortable arguing against her in any forum.

I use the phrase "perceived status as a women's issue" because a woman, simply by virtue of possessing the less externally obvious of the two reproductive systems, has no more right to kill her own child (born or unborn) than she has a right to kill mine or yours. This is not to say that every woman shouldn't have complete control and authority over her own body. But where her body ends and another's begins, there too should her rights end and the other's begin. If abortion did not affect any other human life than that of the mother, any logical thinker would define abortion as a woman's right. But the argument, as it stands, is no different than granting a woman, who purchases some land, the right to pollute it. A woman is not her land and a woman is not her baby.

These arguments, so well-taken in the environmental arena but otherwise dismissed as "radical" or "intolerant," might surface more often in popular debate if our ideologies weren't continually being judged on the basis of how "friendly" or value-inclusive they are. If, however, our generation continues to concede abortion as a woman's right, we have finally escalated tolerance for the sake of amity to its illogical and inane pinnacle.