It was a fateful day, but it passed like any other. It was September 27th, 2084, and it was the day human kind eradicated mental illness. Nobody quite noticed when it happened, since it had felt inevitable for so long. The panacea, the elixir, the spectacular herculean draught that cured this centuries-old scourge was something we were all familiar with by then: Tolerance.
Tolerance, they told us was the cure to all things. The resolution of all conflict. If only we foolish people could learn this secret of tolerance, then we would be without worry. And learn it we did. Everything must be tolerated, they said, except, of course, for intolerance. Intolerance could not be tolerated. Intolerance was intolerable. Soon, though, that wasn’t enough. Soon, even the toleration of intolerance was intolerable. By 2080, legal scholars were debating whether tolerating the toleration of the tolerance of intolerance was tolerable or not. No one quite knew. It was good to not know, they told us. Because to know, to be certain, was itself an act of intolerance.
I laughed a bit at that when I was a child. The teacher didn’t like the laugh; she believed it was intolerant of me to laugh at her while she was trying to teach me about tolerance. She took me to the principal, but the principal wasn’t sure that my laugh qualified as intolerance, and she suggested that she should probably reprimand the teacher for not tolerating me laughing at her. I laughed at that, too, and the principal didn’t like it when I laughed at her, so they decided it was best to drop the whole thing and not try to find out which of us was being intolerant.
When I was a teenager, tolerance became the law… Well… not law, per se… There was just tolerance and intolerance, which were tolerable and intolerable, respectively. A law, they told us, was absolute, written. It could be known, and obviously that was intolerant, so it was intolerable. All absolutes were intolerable. They had a hard time convincing the mathematicians and scientists of this, so instead of convincing them, they branded them as intolerant and threw them in prison.
With that new, enlightened, system in place, there was only one crime: intolerance, and there was only one defense for that crime; that really it was an intolerance you were not tolerating, so your intolerance was tolerable. It became commonplace for petty disputes to escalate into homicide. A man might play his music too loud, and his neighbor would ask him to turn it down, and he would refuse. Then the neighbor would kill the man for playing his music, and the prosecutor would charge that he had been intolerant of the man’s music, and his defense attorney would plead that it was the victim who had been intolerant of the killer’s need for silence, and the jury, not knowing who to believe, would turn to the judge, and the judge would instruct the jury to err on the side of tolerance, so the jury would let the man go.
And so all of the old labels that divided us were wiped away. Gender pronouns of any kind were branded as intolerant, so everyone just called each other by name. Terms like friend were intolerant because they implied the possibility of an enemy. Terms like right were intolerant because they implied the possibility of wrong. There was but one virtue: tolerance, and one fault: intolerance.
So it was little surprise to us in 2084 when they announced that mental illness was just another sort of intolerance. We knew full well by then that there was no such thing as gender dysphoria, and that there was no such thing as pedophilia. People were just people, and they could do whatever they pleased as long as they were being tolerant, except of intolerance. The term bestiality was called intolerant next. If someone loved an animal, and they were being tolerant, then what harm was it to anyone else.
By 2084, there was only one mental illness left for them to destroy: depression. And they did. On September 27, 2084, they told us that we were all perfectly sane. If we wanted to die, they said, then we should find a way to kill ourselves that wouldn’t leave too terrible of a mess, and they began dispensing pills to those who weren’t creative enough to come up with their own means.
Some people were creative, though, and flung themselves from rooftops. They did leave a mess, which was very intolerant of them. And here I sit, on my ledge, after dedicating a lifetime to psychology, and I can’t help but wonder, if I am really as sane as they say, or if the insanity was them all along. I think about my teacher and my principal, and how they tolerated me laughing at them, and I wonder if I have been wrong for all these years to think it absurd. Since I have nothing left to do here, I will leave you with a paradox, which came to me in a dream some nights ago.
To be truly tolerant, you must also tolerate intolerance, for as soon as you attempt to force another to believe as you do, you have become the intolerant one.
OBITUARY: Dr. James Sorensen died 28 September 2084. Cause of death: Suicide. The doctor chose to end his life in a most intolerant way, which is fitting, as he was a most intolerant man.