The history of social progress is largely the story of the struggle for acceptance and equality of groups previously stigmatized or deemed inferior. Blacks, Indians, women, gays, atheists, and others have waged or are still waging that struggle in our own country, with others yet to follow, and one could point to similar cases involving other groups in other societies around the world which have different prejudices.
An awareness of common humanity has helped this progress along, but with some people this has begun to erode the ability to make important distinctions. To illustrate what I mean, here's a graphic I found on Kaveh Mousavi's blog
Pretty cute, right? We're all human inside, all the same biologically (symbolized by the fact that we all have similar skeletons), so why make a big deal out of these surface differences?
To illustrate what's wrong with this, I whipped up my own version of the graphic:
See? They're all human, all biologically the same, right? But some differences actually do matter.
One reason this is important is that such warm-and-fuzzy thinking has given the bigots and their apologists an opening to, bizarrely, defend bigotry on the grounds of tolerance. Christian fundamentalists now incessantly screech that laws which stop them from discriminating against homosexuals, and social attitudes that discourage anti-gay bigotry, are somehow persecution of them
. Apologists for Islam snivel that calling too much attention to Islam's propensity for abuse of women and gays, and for violence against unbelievers, constitutes "Islamophobia", as if criticizing an ideology were somehow analogous to racism. If this mentality had existed in the 1960s, perhaps the Civil Rights movement would have been accused of "JimCrowphobia", bigotry and intolerance toward white-supremacist beliefs.
The skeleton graphic isn't even right on its own terms since in fact the struggle against prejudice isn't dependent on an absence of biological difference. There are significant biological differences between men and women, and yes, there are even differences between male and female skeletons. An anthropologist who knows what to look for can distinguish skeletons of different human racial groups. If, as some suspect, there's a genetic component to homosexuality, then there must be subtle biological differences between people who experience same-gender attraction and those who don't. The point isn't that such differences are non-existent or trivial. The point is that they aren't relevant to an individual's claim to equal legal, civil, and political rights.
I don't object to a Christian, a Muslim, or even a Nazi having the same rights as I do. The problem arises when those people's prejudices and taboo systems impel them to act in ways that interfere with the rights and freedom of others.
The best example of trite supremacy, of course, is that annoying bumper sticker one now sees everywhere, which spells out the word "coexist" using various religious symbols. Somebody already did this take-down of it:
.....but it was hardly needed. Do a Google image search on "coexist sticker" and you'll find plenty of graphics like these:
The intolerant may complain about "intolerance" of their intolerance when it suits them, but that's a tactic designed to take advantage of the naïve -- it's not what they're really about. Some ideologies have intolerance and bigotry built right into their core doctrines. We can't kumbaya our way around that. Sometimes you have to fight.