The Marketing of Conceit


“Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it.”
 — Thomas PaineRights of Man

The longevity of the spurious concept of tolerance among smart people never ceases to amaze me. The brilliant Seth Godin, author of one of my favorite marketing books, planted his flag on Tolerance Hill today, and I’m guessing that, as with most of Tolerance’s great advocates, no fierce bombardment of arguments could remove him from it.

Wisely, Godin was not specific or direct in his criticism, lest he alienate his fans. However, it’s possible to infer, given the entire context of the article, that he was subtly ridiculing a Polish politician who articulated a position that maintained that sizeable public investments should produce sustainable returns.

People who wrap themselves in the Tolerance Flag are quick to pat each other on the back to congratulate themselves on how tolerant and open-minded they are. However, they often mistake the self-congratulatory applause for being right, and they are quick to eschew all reason that contradicts them. They are so enamored with their assumed virtues that they lack interest in hearing any argument that demonstrates contradiction.

“The nations…cling to their opinions as much from pride as from conviction. They cherish them because they hold them to be just and because they chose them of their own free will; and they adhere to them, not only because they are true, but because they are their own… It was remarked by a man of genius that ‘ignorance lies at the two ends of knowledge.’ Perhaps it would have been more correct to say that strong convictions are found only at the two ends, and that doubt lies in the middle.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tolerance is not a virtue, and it is not superior to intolerance. Both of them are simply conceit, and neither of them deserve marketer’s promotions.

If confronted with someone who doesn’t value the same things you do, you may indeed attempt to sway his opinion and change his behavior (after all, as Godin essentially notes, this is what marketing is about), but keep in mind that with respect to the virtue of those beliefs, “[N]o earthly power can determine between you.” – Cam Beck