Graduated response

Members of a community can expect only as much tolerance as they grant others

Rather than all-or-nothing approaches (tolerating any religious interpretations that are within a threshold of acceptability) use graduated responses to dampen growing extremism far earlier


MINIMIZING THE WORST unintended Religion backlashes has nothing to do with undermining religious faith and everything to do with modifying interpretation. From everything I can analyze, the best way to achieve this is to counter the dynamics that reinforce polarization and politicization. Global economic performance is under grave threat from the current destabilization of religions that in various countries is progressively leading to terrorism, perversion of political decision-making, social breakdown and war. But as I have highlighted, those dangers come from the more-fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religions – especially those within Christianity and Islam. They are not inherently driven by the religions themselves.

In reality, all the major faiths (and a large number of minor ones as well) are broadly tolerant of people from other religions or those with no religion at all. That is certainly true of Islam, which tends to be far less tolerant of Moslems who convert to another religion than it generally is of the members of that rival religion as a whole. Indeed, despite the exclusionist way the term is often used today, Mohammed’s original ‘Islamic Community’ included Christians, Jews and Pagans.

Christianity has a built-in tendency actively to try to convert people, which necessarily brings risks of disruption. But primarily, the risks of Religion Crises that constitute threats to the world economy come from human interpretation of the words attributed to religious founders not so often from what those religious founders explicitly said. That is very helpful. It means that in principle the threats to the religions – and to the international community as a whole – can be managed. Although, from my analysis, I find that relatively little can be done from the outside, multiple threats can largely be averted by those within the religions themselves.

To do so, the more-moderate members of religious communities (in alignment with society as a whole) must adopt the guiding principle of Mirrored Tolerance – members of a community can expect only as much tolerance of their ideas as they themselves offer others. In other words, rather than all-or-nothing approaches (tolerating any religious interpretations that are within a threshold of acceptability), communities should use graduated responses to dampen growing extremism far earlier.

The reasons for adopting such an approach relate to a particular system-dynamic: Although there is a widespread belief that communities thrive better if they always remain tolerant, that is not what I repeatedly found in my investigations. Instead, as already explained, what actually happens is that if an overall community remains consistently tolerant – even of members of the community who are intolerant – then the intolerant faction begins to bully those around it.

It grows. It increasingly tramples over more-tolerant members of the society that it does not agree with and that it considers weak. It threatens and cajoles people not to get in its way, not to get involved, to stick with a habitual response of ‘tolerance’. And after a while, the more-tolerant members of the community find they are no longer in a position to take a stand even though by then they want to. Adopting a classic all-or-nothing approach to tolerance along the lines of ‘Whatever people say or do is OK provided it is not utterly extreme,’ tends to mean that a relatively-liberal community leaves it too late to protect itself against extremist elements. By the time the intolerance becomes intolerable to enough people, it may also be unstoppable. That is what happened in Berlin in the 1930s.

Mirrored Tolerance breaks that cycle. It offers a far-more-graduated response that pushes back against localized intolerance in a highly focused way – a bit like immediately damping down flying embers from an open-fire rather than waiting to see if they catch the hearth-rug alight. What is more, if previously-extreme behavior becomes more tolerant, those who have changed are automatically ‘rewarded’ by their community by being given greater license. If they revert, so does the broader community. Developing the community-wide habit of consistent application of Mirrored Tolerance in effect immunizes a society against extremism.