Questions and Objections

 “Promoting active tolerance is much less necessary than doing humanitarian work, supporting environmental causes or taking political action.”

One can easily recognize the necessity of humanitarian and environmental action. But does there exist causes which are inarguably good, with no ambiguity? Even humanitarian work has provoked numerous debates (see on this subject the works of Ronny Braumann); and furthermore there are dozens of important non-governmental organizations advocating approaches that are sometimes quite different, as is the case for environmental groups. It is therefore useful, before plunging into a domain, to be informed about the people involved, to know the possible criticisms that have been put to them and all the complexity of the situation. For those who wished to commit themselves to concrete actions, a preliminary exploration of their cause would allow them to be better informed and more effective.

Besides, in this age where one speaks of the “clash of civilizations”, bringing together members of different communities, so that they may confront each other with active tolerance, is surely a way to prevent conflicts. I have shown throughout this site that this active tolerance is far from being a simple hobby, and rather should be a effective way to defuse conflict,—by bringing more fluidity and flexibility to the representations that we make of ourselves and others, and by reducing the excess of caricatures that erupt all over.

In reality, the proclamation of vague principals of tolerance and democracy won’t prevent the explosion of society. It’s by a more willful and rigorous tolerance that we might give new life to the ideal of the enlightenment, which otherwise is becoming merely a hollow word…

Active Tolerance is a preliminary step toward any responsible commitment

The error that can pervade our actions may be summed up in a process that is easy to understand, yet hard to deconstruct. Most of the time, we let ourselves be guided instead truly making our own choices. It is mostly fortuitously—and often in connection with the milieu we are part of—that we find activities, lifestyles and interests that please us. We adopt them half arbitrarily. Instead of following further down this slope, we should redress ourselves and resolve to explore new directions: by searching out what troubles our prejudices and our beliefs, by listening to what makes us question ourselves. Before becoming part of a political party, which of us went to see five or six other parties? How is it possible to commit oneself to one party without having made any enquiries elsewhere? The same goes for religions, or cultural activities. We generally content ourselves, in making our choice, to confronting two or three possibilities, when there exists fifty or a hundred. And this confrontation, furthermore, is often through the mediation of the media. Even in an area as sympathetic as music, who has had the curiosity to listen to Balinese gamelong, to medieval chant, to progressive rock, etc.?

What can active tolerance and the experience of the Network of Possibilities lead to?

To everything! To becoming a skeptic because you discovered that opposing viewpoints can each be defended; to becoming a redneck or a yuppy because you’re tired of asking questions; to becoming a member of a movement that has convinced you, after having compared it to a number of other movements; to a rejection of tolerance because you believe that only one Truth and one set of Values can give sense to life; etc. These different reactions, however, are not really what the Network is aiming to bring. Ideally, the realization and effects it would inspire:

“Is not multiplicity of lifestyles, bodies of knowledge and even opposed beliefs itself constitutive of the richness of our modern world? Rejecting the spiral of hate between communities, as well as mutual ignorance, we are going to open the possibility of a constructive confrontation between the myriads of social universes. This will be accomplished first among some network men, indefatigable explorers, who will risk being shaken up a little in attempting to integrate views and beliefs contradictory to their own. They will be come the creators of their life, making fully informed choices, in every domain, as to what truly suits them best. They will be the impetus, at the collective level, for small groups or gatherings aiming to put into dialogue the different approaches and disciplines that deal with the same social or philosophical problems. They will create fluid and open structures, where different efforts could be brought together with view to finding some elements of the truth, and ways to improve human existence and the state of societies.”

Isn’t there a danger that unbridled curiosity and the participation in the Network of Possibilities will lead to cults or to unhealthy experiences?

With any process of wide-angled curiosity, the individual may find himself meeting and discussing with members of cults, bizarre movements, and perhaps attempting strange or dangerous experiences. Some could thus find themselves seduced by ill-advised things. Is there then a risk of being led astray? One could indeed fear so. But active tolerance and the Network of Possibilities place the freedom of the individual at the center of their value system. This means that the individual is free to choose what I myself might consider as “evil” or “error”. Freedom exists only with this risk; only wanting to interact with people deemed good and proper, whose doctrines are accepted as true, whose science is well established, whose religion is considered authentic, is a form of paternalism. Every totalitarian state had this ambition to only let its citizens know the “Good”. Active tolerance is based on the wager—or on the belief—that if individuals can compare different systems (“good” and “bad”, “true” and “false”, ugly and beautiful… ) they will generally prefer the better ones. This is but a wager, however. It is to be noted that the opposite wager—that individuals tend to choose the worst systems, or that they go indifferently toward the best and the worst—leads to a totalitarian vision, or an insistence on “orienting” people, on forbidding them access the bad things, etc.

Does active tolerance oppose itself to the sectarian spirit?

It seems that in its very essence, a sect—whether political or religious—demands that people adhere to one sole doctrine, and not “waste their time” checking out what there is elsewhere. This is precisely the opposite of active tolerance. Nevertheless, it’s true that making a commitment can involve concentrating oneself and avoiding dispersion. Active tolerance is not opposed to sects, but simple asks their members the following question: “You have chosen this or that religion, political party, philosophical system, or lifestyle; did you go see the other options before choosing? Did you really choose in the first place?” If the answer is yes, then active tolerance cannot criticize your commitment, even if it’s sectarian.

Who is “behind” this website? What is his actual goal?

The author of the articles and of the Network of Possibilities is E.J. Duits, whose biography is given on the site. This individual is unaffiliated by definition, since he finds valuable elements in all currents of ideas, numerous lifestyles, etc. His actual goal has not been concealed; it consists in bringing together free and critical individuals, perhaps simply for a little sympathy among individualists, perhaps in order to accomplish something constructive…

What you are proposing anyone can do on his or her own.

A curious person could obviously go check out numerous movements, try diverse activities, and become more open-minded through new experiences. But the Network offers many possibilities that the individual alone won’t have,—for example participating in a new experience with others and having the chance to talk about it afterwards; organizing meetings on a given topic; exchanging learning; launching collective initiatives; the list goes on. See the article “The Purpose and Activities of a Network of Active Tolerance”.

“You want to create a sort of freemasonry without the rituals.”

It seems that in freemasonry members are co-opted, which is not the case for the Network of Possibilities. Free-masons are required to have certain moral qualities, and to adhere to democratic principals; these requirements do not exist in the Network. On the other hand, there is perhaps a point in common: the Network constitutes a privileged space, apart from the “everyday life” of the member. A member might, for example, be a seasoned activist or even violent outside the Network, but would be, within the Network, required to adopt a behavior conforming to the demanding and elevated ideal of active tolerance. Furthermore, what each member says during the activities of the Network must remain confidential, in order to guarantee freedom of dialogue and mutual confidence.

“The Network does not have a clear goal.”

That’s true; its only goal is to promote active tolerance. From there, it’s up the individual members to create their own projects, and to utilize the network for the development of them. This an uncertain approach for most people, who need a Church, a boss or a father in order to fix their goals. Instead of using members for its own ends, the Network would be a tool in the service of its members. On this point see the article “From Active Tolerance to Participative Democracy”. Nevertheless, the network proposes to those who want it the possibility of realizing certain concrete objectives, such as the organization of methodical debates.

“What types of people do you wish to gather together?”

Among others, here are some examples. Individuals who have trouble identifying with one social group, one ideology or one religion, and who want to create their own “cocktail of life” by borrowing elements from all over… Free, curious minds, that are not necessarily tolerant but at least persuaded that it is in their interest to know what others think, including their possible “opponents”… People who are considering making a commitment of some sort (that is to say, committing themselves to a certain lifestyle, political party, method for raising children, philosophy, or what have you) and want to make a fully informed choice, having been able to compare many different options.

Who directs the Network of Possibilities?

For legal reasons, there can be an elected administration, but all members are in fact equal: they can all propose the meetings and the activities that they wish. Organizational functions (running informational meetings, contacting the media, etc.) could be entrusted to older members who are better prepared to explain the Network. No one could prevent an activity or an announcement from being diffused within the Network, even if it is distasteful to the other members or to the administration (so long as the activity proposed isn’t against the law or contrary to the basic ideas of the Network—see the article on “Internal Organization Questions”). Neither the administration of the Network nor the general assembly of its members can decide to suppress the foundational article of the Network, which defines what it is to be open-minded and to allow the free expression of any opinion, even those that are minority or controversial.

“The Network already exists: it’s a community on the internet.”

Yes, but what of a community whose goal is to promote and experiment with “active tolerance”? If such a community does indeed exist on the web already, please tell us about it.

“One can have discussion with everybody except the perverse and those of bad faith. Such people mustn’t be admitted into the Network because they might manipulate others”

This is a vast question, one that I attempt to answer in the article “Can there be Discussion with Fascists?”.

Here, let’s see one essential point. We follow Socrates’ method. He would go see the worst brutes of his time, the Thrasymachus and the Callicles, as well as his adversaries, respectable or not, the sophists. Precisely because the ideas advocated by these men were dangerous and ruined the idea of truth and justice, the philosopher ardently wished to confront them. The harshest ideas—it suffices to read the description of them in Plato’s Republic—were largely expounded and criticized. The philosophic minds, far from putting on a face of virtuous indignation in order to reject discussion, distinguish themselves by their haste to incite it. The thought that the truth didn’t need laws and cops to come forth, but rather only the time for discussion, an attention to words and reasoning, to force out the errors and away the mystification.

The “truth” is not an opinion that falls from the sky, unverifiable, to be validated by its beauty, its morality or its religious character. A truth is an ensemble of propositions that correctly describe reality (truth of correspondence), or, for the pragmatists, a theory that “works better” that the erroneous other ideas.

This entails many consequences: when an idea is true, it is by definition weighed against facts, trials, numerous experiments; it enables scientists to make more precise predictions than competing theories (Popper); it supports itself by manifold evidence consisting of a great number of verifications from diverse sources. A valid conception does not need to be “protected” by laws or by censorship: for it to take hold, it’s enough that the trouble be taken to study it. This is valid in the domain of historical events: denying reality is not the best choice, and collides with the stubborn facts. In the end, it is easier to support truth than error, which little by little will be covered by counter examples, objections, etc. The same is true with regard to demagogues and other professionals of mystification.

Your approach is consumerist. The participants are merely consumers of experiences.

Some participants may use the Network as a place to experiment, seriously, or even playfully. Thus a member might propose psychological meetings, in which participants could bare all emotionally; another might propose psycho-corporal exchanges; another various happenings, theatrical improvisations, street theatre and performances; and another bungee jumping, diving, martial arts, acrobatics, or extreme sports…

But the Network cannot be reduced only to this aspect. If the members can obtain a sort of initiation to these activities in the Network, obviously to develop an interest in them they would probably need to join a regular group or a course that is situated outside the Network. One exception would be if a network member created him- or herself a method or technique (physical, psychological, or intellectual) and wanted to test it within the Network. This member could then create a small internal group that could experiment over a long period of time. However, as we’ve already seen the main goal of the Network is to enter into a spirit of active tolerance in order to bring about real social change.

You must be rich to participate in a Network of Possibilities.

No. See the article “Activities”, and you will remark that there are many things we can do more or less free of charge: exploring unusual places, participating in themed meetings, discovering new arts and lifestyles, etc. In the Network of Possibilities, everyone proposes freely what he or she wishes to share. In our association, there were people on social welfare who could nonetheless participate in discussions, visit new places, be initiated to new disciplines, and so forth. These activities were free, and took place in public places or locales that we had been given permission to use.

 A Network could only be created in a big city

A Network of Possibilities has already functioned in such a city as Dijon (200,000 inhabitants and a university). Participants were able to propose an enormous range of activities: among themselves of course, but also exterior meetings with promoters of new educational methods, with proponents of different religions, with artists, researches, etc., and various outings like nocturnal walks in the forest, shamanism, and Tibetan restaurants. Therefore a medium-sized city can suffice, especially given that there are already so many things to do simply among members.

You must have a lot of time to participate in a Network.

Every new member is asked to participate in an informational meeting. Beyond that, there is no obligation to participate, so the Network takes only so much time as you are willing to put into it, which may only amount to the time it takes to read the announcements of activities! Of course, those who are really hooked can come to every activity (which could be a lot, as many as four or five a week). If you wish to invest yourself as a member you may have to put in a bit more time; for example if you were to organize an activity, preparations would have to be made, you would have perhaps need to take the calls of other members who want information or to sign up, and you would be required to show up on the day the activity took place. But no member is required to propose an activity, and you could be content simply to come from time to time to those that have been proposed by others.

There’s no time to lose, we mustn’t talk but act”, “I’ve got other things to do that are more important than going off in every direction to explore. We must hold protests, for example. Action, not discussion.”

What a nice pretext for justifying every manner of blindness! There is a intimate, if not obvious, relation between the fascism or Stalinism of any form and the lack of active curiosity. For several decades, too many progressives chose not to inform themselves about Russian camps, or the Maoist regime. They were acting; why waste time keeping oneself informed? Let’s not forget that, in general, troubling information is to be found not so much in our own camps as those of the “enemy”. Today, this attitude is finished. We must go back to an enlightened political ideal; we must insist that the world can be changed, in opposition to the believers of the economics of Moloch. We must accept complex action. Let’s go, on principal, to see suspicious people, distrustful groups,—and this not in an aggressive spirit, but simply to listen to them, to learn what they are, to be able to imagine as far as we can the interior of their vision of the world. I don’t say that we must pass our lives in this exploration, but to not consecrate some of our time, especially before deciding to commit ourselves to a cause or group, is to reject all rationality and refuse to make truly informed decisions. In reality, such an approach is obvious. But we haven’t succeeded in making it happen. It would offer us a delightful freedom, but it could also plunge us into the vertigo of relativism.

Active Tolerance favors “relativism”.

Relativism is one of the big intellectual and moral temptations, especially in a environment advocating open-mindedness. In order to be tolerant, it seems like it’s necessary to be, at least in part, a relativist, and to understand how much different opinions are conditioned by an individuals surroundings, and the media, among other things. In fact, individuals create their point of view from data that they integrate, data that has been constituted by their experiences, their education, the information dispersed by the media. If I’ve received the same data as Mr. so-and-so, I will no doubt have the same opinions as him. When we have a divergence of opinion with someone, we must above all ask ourselves: “What data is my opponent working from, and is it data that I’m aware of? And what data do I have, that he does not?” Active tolerance leads to an attitude that has nothing to do with political correctness or value judgment, and instead of falling into cries of indignation, we must listen to other and understand what leads him to sustain such an opinion—even when it seems “intolerable”. The Network is a space to exchange information that is often partial and to fight against the fragmentation of culture into sub-cultures, and in groups or individuals of backgrounds so different that they can no longer accept each other. Once we have practiced these exchanges, perhaps we will have moved passed relativism. Here I am thinking of the critical rationalism of Karl Popper, according to which a position that is “more true” or “more false” can emerge from open critical discussion. It’s not the affirmation of an absolute truth, but of the possibility for people to eliminate errors, and even to define positions more or less preferable thanks to the exchange of rational arguments.