WASHINGTON, July 7, 2015 — A major difference between the sides in our debates on social and economic issues centers on the level of tolerance that we should accept. On issues from immigration to illegal drug use to same-sex marriage and economic assistance, we disagree on just what the right amount of tolerance is.
The immigration issue is especially difficult. Estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. today range from the official 12 million with 700,000 new arrivals per year, and 20 million. The official estimate has not changed since 2003, though if it was correct then, 8 million new arrivals would give us the high-end unofficial estimate.
Most illegal immigrants become productive members of society and integrate into our system. They often they work at difficult, low-paying jobs that American citizens refuse to take. The agriculture, hospitality and tourism industries rely on this work force to keep costs under control and prices competitive.
But the immigrants did break the law when they entered the country and they are still here illegally. Should we tolerate their continued presence here, or should we respect the law and take a tougher stance? Or should we change the law?
Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have taken a very tolerant position, calling themselves “sanctuary cities” and refusing to cooperate in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Those cities have become meccas for illegal immigrants; the impact on violent crime is a statistical mixed bag, with some counties reporting that 20-22 percent of felons are illegal immigrants, but there are no nation-wide data.
The issue of illegal drug use also challenges our standards of tolerance. Marijuana is an illegal drug in all of the U.S. under federal law. Since marijuana has been found to have a medicinal benefit, many states have approved its use for medical purposes.
Other states have become even more tolerant. Colorado recognizes that many people have used marijuana recreationally for many many years. After studying the benefits and costs of legalization, the voters decided to be very tolerant of marijuana use and allow its consumption for recreational purposes. Other states are following.
Should we be more tolerant of marijuana use, or should we take a stricter view against drug use?
Traditionally when we viewed marriage, it was as a religious and legal bond between a man and a woman which we hoped would lead to strong, nuclear families and a healthy society.
A significant portion of the population has long term, committed and loving relationships with members of the same sex. They wanted equal rights to marry and receive the legal rights and privileges that come with marriage. Same-sex marriage spread across the country, and last month, the Supreme Court said that all states must recognize and license same-sex marriages.
According to polls, most people believe that same-sex marriage should be legal. Many, especially young adults, view homosexual relationships very matter-of-factly and believe that this issue should have been resolved in favor of tolerating same-sex marriages a long time ago.
Critics call this is a breakdown of traditional values that will lead to more serious problems in the future. They argue that the traditional concept of marriage — one man and one woman — should be adhered to strictly and without any tolerance for deviations.
Income transfer programs are another area where tolerance is an issue. Americans are compassionate people, though we generally believe in self-reliance. There are many people who, for various reasons, are unable to support themselves. Others could support themselves but choose not to.
While taxpayers are willing to help those who really need it, some who ask for help can and should be more self-reliant. We sometimes tolerate their excuses and give them benefits in order to ensure that those who really need the benefits can get them. We sometimes err on the side of generosity, and sometimes on the side of fiscal rectitude. Different administrations have moved back and forth between the extremes, searching for the proper balance between tolerance and individual responsibility.
Tolerance is the habit of allowing — without interference — the existence of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with. How tolerant is too tolerant? When it comes to tolerance and intolerance, is it sometimes better to err one way, and sometimes the other?
Excessive tolerance and intolerance both come with costs. We have to draw the line somewhere. The health and survival of our society demand that we see that clearly, and decide with both an open heart and with iron reason where to draw that line.