Scott Alexander, (Alexander 2014)


A meditation on what it means to be tolerant. In short: tolerance and forgiveness aren’t easy and if they feel easy then you’re likely not actually tolerating or forgiving but rather remarking “No harm done.”


Tolerance of intolerance

Regarding the bit about Brendan Eich1:

Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.

Perhaps I’m either (1) misinterpreting Scott Alexander here or (2) showing my tribal bias too blatantly but this reads as:

Think of the persecutor as a member of the persecuted. Suddenly resisting them doesn’t seem very noble.

Hot take: Political beliefs aren’t just an intellectual exercise – they have consequences. Resisting the expansion of power by those who hold incompatible political opinions is a reasonable course of action.

And if you mix together the open-source tech industry and the parallel universe where you can’t wear a FreeBSD t-shirt without risking someone trying to exorcise you, you can prove that Christians are scary and very powerful people who are persecuting everyone else all the time, and you have a great excuse for kicking one of the few people willing to affiliate with the Red Tribe, a guy who never hurt anyone, out of town.

When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?

[link added]

I take exception with “a guy who never hurt anyone” which is only true in the sense that I don’t know of Eich every assaulting anyone. However, support for anti-same-sex marriage legislation does hurt people.

Blue and red tribes

I’m not sure Red and Blue tribes (which seem to approximate Rural and Urban americans) are the ultimate definition but I agree that they’re a better clustering tool than Republican and Democrat. That is, two randomly-selected individuals who self-identify as Blue tribe (as opposed to Red tribe) are more likely, in my opinion, than two randomly-selected individuals who self-identify as Democrat (as opposed to Republican).


So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.

The people who are actually into this sort of thing sketch out a bunch of speculative tribes and subtribes, but to make it easier, let me stick with two and a half.

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.


On both sides, “American” can be either a normal demonym, or a code word for a member of the Red Tribe.

But I think the situation with “white” is much the same as the situation with “American” – it can either mean what it says, or be a code word for the Red Tribe.


Alexander, Scott. 2014. “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup.” Slate Star Codex.
“Brendan Eich.” 2022. Wikipedia, July.

  1. On March 24, 2014, Mozilla made the decision to appoint Eich as CEO of Mozilla Corporation. The appointment triggered widespread criticism due to Eich’s past political donations – specifically, a 2008 donation of \$1,000 to California Proposition 8, which called for the banning of same-sex marriage in California, and donations in the amount of \$2,100 to Proposition 8 supporter Tom McClintock between 2008 and 2010. The Wall Street Journal initially reported that, in protest against his coming appointment, half of Mozilla’s board (Gary Kovacs, John Lilly, and Ellen Siminoff) stepped down, leaving Mitchell Baker, Reid Hoffman, and Katharina Borchert. CNET later reported that of the three board members who had left, only Lilly left due to Eich’s appointment. Lilly told The New York Times, “I left rather than appoint him”, and declined to elaborate further.

    On March 26, 2014, Eich expressed “sorrow for causing pain” and pledged to “work with LGBT communities and allies” at Mozilla. Some of the activists created an online campaign against Eich, with online dating site OkCupid automatically displaying a message to Firefox users with information about Eich’s donation, and suggesting that users switch to a different browser (although giving them a link to continue with Firefox). CREDO Mobile collected more than 50,000 signatures demanding that Eich resign.

    After 11 days as CEO, Eich resigned on April 3, 2014, and left Mozilla over his opposition to same-sex marriage. In his personal blog, he posted, “under the present circumstances, I cannot be an effective leader”. Mozilla made a press release saying that board members tried to get Eich to stay in the company in a different role, but that he had chosen to sever ties for the time being.

    (“Brendan Eich” 2022)