Friendships and Politics

The ZMan makes an interesting observation related to socialising and politics:

In my youth, it was possible to have cordial and even friendly relations with people in the Progressive cult. I spent many hours debating my lefty friends over drinks, about the defects of various central planning schemes.

Often, one side or the other would get mad, but it was rarely personal. People get hot in political debates, mostly because we are social animals. Conflict with people inside our group vexes us. It makes us uncomfortable. That was the thing. Liberals and non-liberals could operate in the same peer group.

That changed instantly with the 2000 election. All of my lefty friends and acquaintances went insane overnight.  They hated Bush with the intensity of a fanatic. The wars made it impossible to have a discussion with the Left, outside of things like the weather. Granted, many of us were naive about the lunacy of the neocons and what they were planning, but the Left’s opposition was never more than shrieking madness.

Something I have noticed is how many people these days subject their friends and even family to political tests, and this is true for both the left and right. Part of the reason why politics is so divisive now is because people use it as the basis for pretty much everything, including who to be friends with. We’ve somehow managed to stumble into a sort of totalitarian society whereby absolutely everything is political and the political comes before everything else.

When I was in Australia I met a chap through a friend who was an avowed communist. I became friends with him on Facebook and every now and then he posts something related to some glorious revolution or other. But here’s the thing: he’s a decent guy, and good father, and does a good job or raising his family. He is sociable, responsible, and likes making things out of wood and going camping. He’s the sort of guy you’d want as a neighbour. If I were to disown him because of his political opinions, it would make me a bit of an arse, frankly. Yes, I know that, taken to the extreme, his political preferences would result in mass murder and Gulags but that’s not happening right now and it’s not likely to. He doesn’t see his views as leading to that any more than a capitalist believes his views will inevitably result in slavery. We’re not in any danger of reaching either extreme, so why pretend we are? For the sake of good social relations, it’s better to just ignore his political opinions and get along with the guy.

I have another friend here in Paris who is decidedly left wing and we bicker over politics quite often. I even tease him by calling him a communist. But again, he’s a splendid father, runs a fine household, and isn’t calling for anything which could remotely be considered extreme. And politics aside, we have a lot in common. I think he’s mistaken in some areas, in others he has a point, but what it mainly comes down to is a difference of opinion. Just as two people watching the same film will reach different conclusions as to its merit, two people looking at a social or political problem will differ on how it should best be solved. There’s no point in taking it any further than gentle bickering or the occasional robust exchange, because it’s simply not worth it. I’d rather judge the guy by his character – how he treats me, his family, and his general behaviour – than his politics. If he were out on the streets campaigning for a policy which would seriously harm me or anyone else, or was in a position of power where he could enact such a policy, then it might be different. But while he’s just a regular guy shooting the shit, it really doesn’t matter.

I’ve found it helps to try to find common ground, such as agreeing on the problem and differing only on the solution. If you really don’t agree with what someone is saying, often gentle mockery works better than argument or evangelism. But somehow western society has got to the point where people can’t stand to be around those with a different political outlook, and it’s pathetic. Politics shouldn’t be that important when choosing friends, whereas character should. And tempting though it is to say one defines the other, it’s simply not true. Dingbat lefties can make good friends and free-market libertarians can be absolute dicks. It comes down to the individual, not their political tribe. It’s time people remembered that.

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29 thoughts on “Friendships and Politics

  1. I wonder how much of this is tied up in the “right” to not be offended we seem to have relatively recently found ourselves burdened with as a society.

  2. I by and large rarely talk or argue politics but given anybody with communist views hates my lifestyle and would destroy everything I’ve built for my family it would be hard to spend more than a brief instant with them. Being soft left or right is fine but a hard core communist or socialist is on another level of badness and deserves to be shunned and if needed denigrated….it’s not like commies don’t have plans for the rest of us. My wife’s family launched off in boats and many in her family died escaping communism so not much sympathy for those beliefs round here.

  3. but given anybody with communist views hates my lifestyle and would destroy everything I’ve built for my family

    That’s not true. Most of them will share your lifestyle, they’re usually just pontificating from a position of extreme hypocrisy.

    My wife’s family launched off in boats and many in her family died escaping communism so not much sympathy for those beliefs round here.

    Yeah, that’s a little different.

  4. I’m pretty sure they are able to have the same lifestyle as me and hate mine at the same time, it’s not like they are logical in their beliefs twisted as they are.

  5. I agree in principle that character is more important than politics, but frequently one does reflect the other. I have a ‘communist’ chum in Croatia but I only find that sustainable because he is a total poseur & not actually involved with politics. I do not need to be in political lock-step with someone to have them as a friend, but if their preferred world is something Karl Marx or Giovanni Gentile would approve of, I do find it hard to get past that.

  6. While I’d agree wholeheartedly that folk of otherwise good character can disagree amiably on matters political (a long-standing Interweb friend is hard-core, old-school Attlee Labour, but discussing historical swordplay and naval warfare interests us more than comparing politics) I’d date the change in atmosphere significantly earlier than 2000.

    Having wandered onto the Interweb back in 1993ish when it was mostly a text-only medium delivered down your phone line at 14.4kb, it was startling how toxic the US political situation was (at least on Usenet). A howling mob was insisting that Bill and Hillary Clinton had deliberately sent Task Force Ranger into Mogadishu to be slaughtered, had received requests for air support, armour, and artillery and gleefully refused them, and had danced around the Oval Office singing “Allahu Akbar!” at word of every casualty. Indeed, the interminable debate about “bringing back the battleships” – only just retired at that point – was pointed to as how the KKKlintoons had deliberately sabotaged the US military (because a fifty-year-old museum ship lobbing huge shells with tiny payloads into random parts of Mogadishu would have…. done something amazing, nobody could quite get that right)

    TWA Flight 800 suffered an inflight explosion in 1996 and that, too, was the Clintons: they’d sponsored the Iranians to send a submarine to Long Island and use a surface-to-air missile to down the 747, because… reasons, something to do with land fraud in Arkansas. When that theory became too obviously silly, it became a US Navy experimental missile, launched on the orders of Billiary and covered up by the loyal military men (the same military who were so loyal, Clinton was warned that he wouldn’t be safe on some US Army bases because his soldiers might try to kill him) because… reasons.

    And then we had Monica Lewinsky and Ken Starr’s special prosecution, and the amusement of watching the difference between the promised Republican revelations of malfeasance, multiple murder, fraud, littering, and jaywalking dissolve into interminable squabbling about exactly what Bill had put into which parts of Monica Lewinsky.

    Of course, with Bush Jr. winning the 2000 election by a narrow margin, the matter flipped 180° immediately with Democrats who’d loudly protested against the ceaseless, demeaning, insulting attacks on a duly-elected President… switching immediately into full-on attack mode that the election had been stolen, that Bu$$$h was a dangerous, incompetent drunkard, that he’d lied about his military service to dodge the draft to Vietnam (although flying F-102s in the Air National Guard was actually more dangerous than an office job in Saigon)… and this is before we get to Iraq.

    I don’t know when the rot set in, but it was well before 2000 in the US, and it’s depressing to see it taking such a grip in the UK.

    It’s at least a useful litmus test when sharply different opinions come up: can you shrug, agree to disagree, and move on to something where there’s enough common ground for an interesting debate?

  7. Jason I broadly agree with you but it’s difficult having a conversation with anybody (usually of the left but not always) who sees everything large or small through the lens of their political views mainly manifested in the ‘its the rich at fault’ or you are racist etc. I only get agitated when talking to man utd supporters!

  8. “his political preferences would result in mass murder and Gulags but that’s not happening right now and it’s not likely to. He doesn’t see his views as leading to that any more than a capitalist believes his views will inevitably result in slavery.”

    Whereas the former is true and there are 100s of millions of dead and blighted lives who can testify to that, I’m not quite sure why capitalism would lead to slavery. So the comparison fails I think.

    I have a socialist friend, teacher, who is very vocal about her views which I usually ignore because the contradictions between her professional and personal life and her politics are so glaring, it is funny. That said, she is a nice person and I like her. I agree with you, character is important.

    That said, what I find interesting is that I have the feeling that leftists are more vocal about their ideology than is decent, considering the past and current failures. A recent documentary about the fall of the USSR (on Arte, fairly left leaning usually) reminded me that communism has actually never been on trial (it would have implicated many politicians at the time) and I think this failure explains why people can claim they are communists and not be shunned or banned, unlike people claiming themselves to be Nazis (As 1 example, there was a hand written letter signed by Stalin, ordering the killing of 6 or 7000 people. Just like that.)

  9. Whereas the former is true and there are 100s of millions of dead and blighted lives who can testify to that, I’m not quite sure why capitalism would lead to slavery. So the comparison fails I think.

    It does, but the guy on the other side will argue all day and night that it doesn’t. My point is, there isn’t really much point arguing over stuff like this if he’s otherwise a good egg and you’d rather be talking about cricket.

    That said, what I find interesting is that I have the feeling that leftists are more vocal about their ideology than is decent, considering the past and current failures.

    I agree, but I am probably biased to no small degree.

  10. I’m pretty guilty of this in my personal life, but can’t afford it in my professional life. At the moment, there are a small number of wacky liberals that are the most competent at what I’m trying to achieve. Some of the conservative are completely worthless.
    I’d agree with above that the Clintons were at least the spark. The 2000 election became the explosion.

  11. You talk about back in your “youth” but I don’t really know anyone under 25 who actually has hardlline political views of their own and sticks to them robustly – I think it’s something you do more as you mature and as your outlook changes from focusing on the immediate present to actually considering the future…

    Sure, at university you get a few people testing Marxism, attending rallies and voting for no tuition fees, and you get rather more that spout mantra they’ve learned from their parents or the latest Hollywood fad to promote diversity, but it’s only after spending a decade of “adulting” that i’ve really seen people actually starting to get and be able to argue their own political beliefs.

    My peer group is in their late 20s, if there is any interest in politics at all – and in many cases there isn’t – I usually hear them repeating views from their older colleagues in their workplace who talk of nothing else, or if they’re unemployed, what their feed on Facebook is serving up. Those working in heavily unionised industries or the public sector would be those of my friends who might strike up a political conversation, which is inevitably about how the NHS is being hard done by. Besides, nodding and agreeing gets you on to talking about cricket far quicker than starting a discussion…

    As for extremists, well, they’re self-promoting and easy to avoid. Most people in my experience aren’t on the fringe, and those that are are actively avoided by the moderate majority.

  12. You talk about back in your “youth”

    Not me, Zman. He’s in his fifties and American. Politics in my youth mainly centred around whether our town’s rugby team would beat the next town’s rugby team in the traditional upcoming Saturday night fight.

  13. I’d say the internet has been the catalyst. Prior to that the only people you could socialise with were the people around you, so you’d have contact with people with opposing views in person, and have to acknowledge their humanity, now if you’re a Corbynite in the UK you can be in contact with Bernie Sanders supporters in the US in pretty much the same way as if they lived next door and went to your pub, and never need to have any contact with people who disagree with you. Which means they can safely be dehumanised and demonised without any personal experience to counter. The Left generally see themselves as better than their opponents, and this has meant that there has been a sort of morality arms race on the Left. Hence virtue signalling, and the idea that anyone who doesn’t agree with you about how much taxes should be, and whether the State should own the railways is obviously a fascist who wants to kill the poor by starving them to death on benefits. Because by going further and further out there on the crazy scale shows just how much you care…….

  14. Partly this must be the effect of the internet. In my experience if you are at the pub or office and there is a disagreement on some area of politics there’s usually only so far it can go, and after an awkward moment it ends in shrugs and grumbles, before the subject changes. Most people face to face don’t really want a proper row – it achieves nothing. But somehow in the bubble of the interweb there is so little ‘cost’ to fanatically staking out your position and any discussion becomes a game you want to win; requiring the next person to do the same, so everything becomes more and more shrill.

    Also some of this seems to have fed through from the particular issues of US personal identity – the downside of the ‘melting pot’ is that many people are deeply insecure about their identity or tribe, and seem to really hunger to define an in-group and an out-group. Plus it’s not so weird to have vocal conspiracy theorists in the US as there have actually been full-blooded conspiracies there that make other western nations look pretty sleepy: Watergate, Tammany Hall, Operation Fast and Furious, Harry Dexter White at Bretton Woods, etc etc

  15. But somehow in the bubble of the interweb there is so little ‘cost’ to fanatically staking out your position and any discussion becomes a game you want to win; requiring the next person to do the same, so everything becomes more and more shrill.

    This is true. I am grateful that I spent a good decade arguing 24/7 with demented lefties on a web forum before I finally upset one of the mods and got booted off. I learned a few things:

    1. Construct arguments carefully
    2. Don’t get cross and start being abusive
    3. Walk away once it gets silly or you’re just repeating yourself
    4. You don’t have to get the last word
    5. Don’t engage with people who are obviously stupid or nasty

    It took me a while to learn all that, but this blog (and my contributions elsewhere) are a lot better for having cut my teeth on that forum and thrashed out damned near every subject there was to thrash out.

  16. I respectfully disagree. I think being amiable with say, an avowed communist, is a result of having manners and social convenience. In truth, if you are a supporter of individual liberty that communist is your enemy, and only separated by degree from an enemy combatant. In a democracy/republic you go to war with your fellow citizen, and your rights and sometimes life are at stake.

    Are there degrees to this? Sure. A mushskull Berniebot might be harmless…but 10 million are very dangerous. Imagine a good mother who is an amazing artist and has interesting thoughts on energy efficiency…and is in the KKK. Would you want her as a neighbor, especially if you’re black/jewish/etc? Would you want 100 of her ilk moving into your neighborhood? I highly doubt if you substitute “Nazi” or “NAMBLA supporter” for communist you would cast aside those, er, eccentricities in favor of their otherwise positive attributes.

    Point taken on random political nutters vs people with power but the rub is many people = power in a representative democracy, so it’s not always easy to delineate between enemies and ideologically opposed friends. I agree that gentle mockery or outright refutation is better than blocking friends from your life, but that’s because I have basic respect for humanity. What if your friend’s ideology does not?

    I don’t think it’s the internet that’s led here so much as the political trajectory of the West over the last century or so. Basically we’ve reached the limit on how much socialism we can tolerate so it’s time to shit or get off the pot. That’s why you see the mask slipping on communists, racial supremacists, and all others ideologues who, to this point, have had to implement their policies piecemeal.

  17. What I have been struck by the last few years is how leftists seem to increasingly straightforwardly identify socialism as ‘good’ and liberal (in the classic sense, not the weird US usage) capitalism as ‘evil’.

    This always happened to some degree, but the level of thought applied seems to go no further than ‘sharing other people’s money is virtuous’ even in the case of otherwise intelligent people.

    I find it particularly dispiriting because the evidence has become *so clear* that globalist capitalism has been the best thing for the raising the genuine global poor out of poverty, probably since the industrial revolution or maybe even agriculture (take your pick). It’s not even arguable. You can criticise it for other things, such as environmental impact or rust belt unemployment, but not for bettering the living standard of the average person, which is what I thought was the ultimate problem socialism was designed, and failed, to solve.

    (Note I use socialism in the statist sense favoured by those on the hard left, not to mean all attempts at redistribution in a liberal classical economy)

  18. I’m with you in spirit, Tim. But the left stopped making it just a difference of opinion a long time ago.

  19. The Austrian – identity politics has nothing to do with the idea of the melting pot. As long as you adhere to the US Constitution you are an American.
    Identity politics comes from critical theory, developed at Frankfurt University, by Herbert Mercuse and other European Marxists. Once the Nazis took power in 1933 they fled Germany and most went to the US as university professors.
    Their ideas didn’t gain much traction until the sixties however, probably because their ideas were so alien to the American tradition. There were two Enlightenments in Europe – Franco/German and Anglo/Scotch. The US Constitution reflects the Lochean ideas of the individual as foremost with liberty as the highest value. Critical theory reflects the Franco/German idea of the collective with equality as the highest value. I suspect that Americans have such a hard time rejecting the arguments of identity politics because they and the continental Europeans are using the ‘same’ words to mean different things.
    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..” by Jefferson meant that the US would never have an aristocracy. By way of contrast, the variety of Marxism called critical theory calls for equality of outcomes. An idea that caused the deaths of somewhere between 150 to 200 million around the World since 1848.

  20. I can’t sleep. Jet lag…. I always thought Critical Theory was a postmodern construct designed to challenge pretty much everything that is known in order to disrupt life. The sort of thing that gives us stupid statements like “it’s my truth/lived experience that matters most”. Given it’s originally a Marxist thing it actually makes sense in that context.

    That’s perhsps the root of much separation. Leftists argue on their own feelings and view of reality. Rightists consider facts and objective reality. There can’t be a lot of common ground if you can’t agree on basic facts.

    Personally I have always found best to start on Objectives we can agree on and then debate means to get there. Sort of a redistribution vs self support debate which can be won. If you can’t get past “rich people are evil” then why be friends at all?

  21. As long as you adhere to the US Constitution you are an American.

    Too shallow. People need something deeper. When they don’t have it they they compensate in other ways. Many people even identify in-group/out-group by what products/brands they consume. Although in a way Democrats versus Republicans can become another form of that. Anyway, there are clear ethnic and religious (i.e. identity) differences on what the Constitution means, particularly the 2nd amendment. As Anglo-America fades this will become more evident.

    Identity politics comes from critical theory, developed at Frankfurt University,

    I was born in a European country that’s suffered from a version of identity politics for centuries. No need to wait for Adorno and company. It’s always been with us in one form or another.

  22. “I was born in a European country that’s suffered from a version of identity politics for centuries. No need to wait for Adorno and company. It’s always been with us in one form or another.”
    Indeed – it’s Plato vs. Aristotle vs. the skeptics. The point of the US Constitution was to get politics OUT of daily life. Again, the problem appears to be semantics.

  23. I agree that this started around 2000 with the election of Bush, and arose with, and got worse with, the spread of the internet. (Yes, there were loony lefties before then, there always have been, but they were fewer in number, or at least they were more disorganised, and they had less influence on the mainstream).

    And it’s the lefties who are pushing the right-wingers away, not the right-wingers pushing the left-wingers. And when I say ‘away’, I don’t just mean de-friending them, I mean pushing them out of society.

    And as they’ve got more power, they’ve become worse people, and more extreme in their views. It’s harder to treat them as misguided chums when they’ve started treating you like a thought criminal.

  24. I agree that gentle mockery or outright refutation is better than blocking friends from your life, but that’s because I have basic respect for humanity. What if your friend’s ideology does not?

    Which is precisely what many on the left assume about Tories/Brexit voters/Republicans, etc. If you want to know if someone has a basic respect for humanity, look at his character, i.e. how they treat humans around them, rather than their politics.

  25. But the left stopped making it just a difference of opinion a long time ago.

    Yeah, they did. And not just the left, personally I can’t stand the politics in pretty much every country. However I cut it, most people simply don’t think like me when it comes to politics. So what do I do? Go and live in a lighthouse? No, I have to ignore the politics and look at their characters, and avoid the temptation to assume they are of bad character simply because of their politics.

  26. “And it’s the lefties who are pushing the right-wingers away, not the right-wingers pushing the left-wingers. And when I say ‘away’, I don’t just mean de-friending them, I mean pushing them out of society.

    And as they’ve got more power, they’ve become worse people, and more extreme in their views. It’s harder to treat them as misguided chums when they’ve started treating you like a thought criminal.”

    There’s definitely a big element of this, in the UK at least. The entire State sector is Left dominated, in culture if not actual numbers (I’m sure there are right wingers in the State sector, they just have to keep quiet). So kids go through school getting Leftist propaganda fed into their ears, then go to Uni where it intensifies, and then get a job in education or the NHS or some such. As well as the echo chamber of the internet, they’ll have never had to deal with anyone who contradicts their world view. Indeed everything will intensify it. Over the last 30 years the Left have lost their grip on business via unions, but taken over pretty much every other part of organised society that is not private industry (and even some of that, in the higher echelons of large corporations). Its why they hate the working class so much nowadays – they have proved very resilient sources of small c conservatism that the modern Left want to destroy. Hence the outpouring of bile at the Brexit vote.

    And as a result of all this the Left are very rarely contradicted on a personal level – they swim in a sea of agreement that they are right and everyone else is wrong. And in such an environment the only way to stand out is to be ‘considerably more Left wing than yow!’. Just as women compete with each other on looks and dress, Leftists compete with each other to who cares more, and invent increasingly outrageous things to prove their moral worth.

  27. Definitely character.

    Not entirely sure who is the Australian PM this week.

  28. “I agree that gentle mockery or outright refutation is better than blocking friends from your life, but that’s because I have basic respect for humanity. What if your friend’s ideology does not?”

    “Which is precisely what many on the left assume about Tories/Brexit voters/Republicans, etc.”

    I wonder if they really do assume that. I think instead they are fundamentally dishonest. Hence why when they need to point at an example of an evil righty, they usually use a certain socialist as an example.

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