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Mar 03 2014

It’s Okay Not To Disagree With Your Friends About Politics

I’ve seen a lot of articles and discussions lately on the theme of “why you should have friends who disagree with you [about politics].” Given how uncritically this view is often presented, I want to complicate it a little. My point isn’t that you shouldn’t have friends who disagree with you about politics, or that having friends who disagree with you about politics is bador that there no benefits to be had from having friends who disagree with you about politics, or that you should never expose yourself to views with which you disagree.

My point is just this:

  • Having politically divergent friends is not necessarily superior to not having politically divergent friends;
  • Having politically divergent friends does not necessarily make you superior to those who do not have politically divergent friends;
  • There are legitimate reasons why someone might choose not to have politically divergent friends;
  • There are other ways to reap the benefits of having politically divergent friends.

The reason I’m trying to make these points so carefully is because anytime I attempt to discuss this without several metric fucktons of nuance, folks immediately take my points to their most extreme possible conclusion and start being all like “OH SO YOU THINK THERE’S NO REASON TO EVEN ENGAGE WITH VIEWS WITH WHICH YOU DISAGREE AND IT’S BETTER TO JUST STAY IN YOUR OWN LITTLE BUBBLE HUH blah blah groupthink blah circle jerk blah blah echo chamber.”

*sigh* No.

When a position gets strawmanned so vigorously every time it’s brought up, I know it’s time to give it a proper defense.

In the interest of being fair, I understand where this is coming from. It is true that people tend to avoid evidence that goes against their beliefs and seek out evidence that confirms their beliefs. It is true that people sometimes stereotype and pigeonhole those that disagree with them rather than actually listening to them to see how they justify their own views. It is true that some people think you’d have to be “crazy” or “evil” or “stupid” (meaningless words, by the way, all of them) to hold some belief they disagree with. It is true that it is “easier” not to engage with views you disagree with than to engage with them.

I just don’t think that ameliorating this requires being “friends” with people you strongly disagree with (in my case, conservatives, libertarians, and so on).

First of all, perhaps we are disagreeing on the definition of “friend.” To me, a friend is a person with whom I share parts of myself that I would not share with a coworker, a classmate, a person I just met at a party, a stranger on the subway, a professor, or even a family member. My relationships with my friends aren’t purely dispassionate exchanges of ideas; they involve emotional intimacy and disclosure.

Someone with whom I’m friends on Facebook may also be my friend, but they may only be a “Facebook friend” if they are not someone with whom I’m interested or comfortable sharing very personal things. (I get pretty personal on my Facebook, but my definition of “personal” differs from most people’s.)

There is no need to be “friends” with someone (by my definition) to discuss politics with them and learn from their differing perspective. I can get that from a class discussion or from reading a blog post or newspaper editorial or from having them in my family or from getting into a conversation at a party or any number of ways that do not involve me making myself emotionally vulnerable to people who are probably going to hurt me. I engage with diverging views all the time. I just don’t need to do it while hanging out with friends or checking my Facebook.

Second, people have different goals for their friendships. If one of the main things you get out of friendship is exposure to ideas you disagree with, then it’s easy to strawman people who don’t want to do that as “not wanting to be exposed to ideas they disagree with.” If one of the main things you get out of friendship is emotional support (like me), then it’s easy to feel like we’re being demanded to open ourselves up to rejection and ridicule from conservative “friends” who think we’re going to hell or deserved to get sexually assaulted or should not have full human rights.

Furthermore, to those of us who don’t view friendship primarily as a way to be exposed to ideas we disagree with, it can feel very odd to be told that we “ought” to make friends with people we disagree with in order to “learn from them.” My friend Wes says, “I feel like articles like this view people as plot devices or vehicles for self-reflection. I have friends because I enjoy interacting with them, not because I think that interacting with them is good for me.” While some would argue that friendship is a transaction in any case, I personally feel gross conceptualizing it that way, and even if I didn’t, you still have to agree on what exactly is being transacted. If someone thinks they’re providing me with emotional support and hoping to get the same in return, it would probably be a little hurtful to realize I’m actually treating them as an anthropological experiment so that I can learn How Conservatives Live.

Just as people can have different goals for friendship, they can have different goals for social media. Progressives in particular often get criticized for “shutting down” disagreement on our Facebooks, because we’ve decided that we don’t care to see certain things on our pages. This, again, is taken as evidence that we don’t want to “engage” with dissenting viewpoints.

But I do want to engage with dissenting viewpoints. I’ve simply decided that my Facebook will not be the place where I do that. My Facebook will be a safe space where I go to get support, bounce ideas around with people who can help me develop them, share updates about my day-to-day life, and keep up to date with what my friends are doing. It is not Miri’s Free-For-All Political Argument Arena. That I do not want a barrage of notifications from people yelling at me every time I open Facebook (and nor do I want the panic that inevitably ensues) should not be taken as an indicator of my supposed unwillingness to “consider alternate views.”

Third, not all disagreement is made equal. For instance, I am not interested in engaging with people who ignore empirical reality, whether they do that in the form of denying climate change, insisting that racism is over, or claiming that you can “snap out of” mental illness. There is nothing to be gained from listening to someone call the sky green and the grass blue over and over.

I am also not interested in engaging with people whose sole justifications for their views are religion. You believe abortion is a sin against god. I believe there is no god and no sin. Neither of us is going to convince the other, and I’ve heard this argument a hundred times and will not gain anything from hearing it again.

The above views are things I can just as easily read about online or in books or newspapers. There is no need to waste my own or another person’s time hashing them out in real time.

Other disagreements are productive and interesting to hash out with people. I have argued about human rights organizations, how do donate to charity, affirmative action, whether or not Dan Savage sucks, whether or not polyamory can work, the Israel-Palestine situation, Occupy Wall Street, unpaid internships, why there aren’t more women and minorities in the tech sector, and plenty of other things, either in person or online. Some of the people in some of these debates were conservatives and libertarians, others were liberals or progressive. In any case, diverging views were exchanged and considered.

Fourth, even disagreements about the same issues can read very differently to the same people. For instance, I’m sure progressive dudes can have nice, dispassionate discussions about abortion rights with conservative dudes, because hey, no skin off their backs (and then they can turn around and demand that women do the same, you know, to avoid “groupthink”). Likewise, there’s probably a reason I included affirmative action in that list of things I can debate productively. It doesn’t affect me personally. When someone says they oppose affirmative action, that does not feel like an attack on me personally.

(It’s important to note, here, that just because you don’t mean for your Unbiased Objective Opinion to feel like an attack to someone else doesn’t mean that it doesn’t. Recognizing the disparity between intentions and outcomes is integral to debating sensitively and successfully)

Most people will not be interested in entertaining debates that feel like attacks on who they are, especially on aspects of their identity that they cannot (and, generally, don’t want to) change.

However, I suspect that the challenge isn’t convincing people that it’s okay not to do things that make you feel bad, but convincing them that some things that do not make them feel bad make others feel bad. If any of the people preaching the virtues of having politically divergent friends ever experienced the way I feel when yet another dude sneers at me about false rape accusations or asks me how I can tolerate living in “that neighborhood” with all of “those people,” they would probably stop preaching it.

But some people never experience that feeling either because they don’t experience much marginalization or because their brains just work differently (I have many extremely patient female, LGBTQ, PoC, and/or disabled friends who don’t mind engaging with those who are prejudiced against them). It is sometimes difficult for them to understand that others do experience that feeling (or even what that feeling is) and that that doesn’t make others “worse” than them somehow.

For what it’s worth, I’d be absolutely willing and interested in having conservative friends who want to just hang out and play games and explore New York together and leave my politics alone. I’ve had friends like that at college. But it rarely works because most conservatives who encounter my politics want to debate them, and I’m not interested in doing that with people I consider friends. My close relationships with people whose politics were very different from mine have relied on embracing our similarities and appreciating what we admire in each other, not on endlessly hashing out the same tired political arguments.

It’s easy to make statements like “everyone ought to have friends on the other side of the aisle” when you don’t consider that others might view friendships and political disagreements differently than you do. I want my friendships to be a refuge from the loneliness and cruelty of the rest of the world. That doesn’t make me “weaker” or “less open-minded” than you; it just means that I have different priorities. My priorities are shaped not only by the personality I was born with, but by the experiences I’ve had and the goals I’ve set for myself in my life.

If you enjoy political debates with friends, cool. If you don’t, cool. I want people to be open-minded and consider views they disagree with, but not at the cost of feeling accepted and supported by their friends. I want to challenge the idea that a person’s worth, intellectual capability, open-mindedness, or commitment to skeptical thinking can and should be judged by their willingness to have Dispassionate Debates with their friends about issues near and dear to their hearts.

36 comments

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  1. 1
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Yes. All of this. I am not only not interested in having friends (or a spouse) opposed to my poltics—-a reasonable welfare state, full equality for PoC, queers, women—-I do not understand the concept of having such friends.

  2. 2
    Onamission5

    Another point against the “echo chamber” claim:

    I get exposed to divergent views all the goddamned time. Those views come from my family, my acquaintances, news sources, the parents of my kids’ friends, people I cross paths with on the occasional or the regular, my local political pundits, et al, ad nauseum. In fact, at times it can feel like much of the world is quite hostile against me for the very core of who I am. Why then must I go out of my way to invite such hostility into the circle of my friendship? I lack not in the least for exposure to people whose ideas are in direct and incessant conflict with mine. It’s just that I prefer, nay, need, to have occasions and spaces where the potential for such conflict is limited and I can safely drop my guard. Staying guarded all the time is exhausting.

    There is this mentality I often encounter that if there is not strife, there is not growth. To that I say, not actively pursuing strife in one’s intimate circle does not mean that one’s life is conflict free. In fact, the need for contentment and peace in friendship usually, IME, speaks to an individual who’s had more than enough conflict in their daily life already.

    1. 2.1
      rapiddominance

      Why then must I go out of my way to invite such hostility into the circle of my friendship?

      Probably my favorite line in all the comments I’ve read so far.

    2. 2.2
      Donna Gratehouse

      Right wingers are especially good at (loudly) proclaiming their opinions wherever they are. Since they tend to be the more privileged members of society, they are immediately accorded respect and courtesy that others aren’t. This is why there’s a big double standard where “civility” is concerned. No one seems to care about “civility” when right wingers are screeching bigoted nonsense on the radio or at the company picnic or in the line at Albertson’s. It is only when the targets of their screeds respond that the pundits begin clutching the pearls over “hostility” or the “coarsening of the dialog” or whatever.

      1. 2.2.1
        Onamission5

        Indeed, this is the case when in the company of, for example, my parents, whether in my own home or theirs. They can say and do whatever they wish, and if I protest or contradict them for being flat out wrong or unfair, then I am failing to be properly respectful– to the people who threw me and my exgf out of my grandmother’s house for accepting her invite to holiday dinner. But I am the one who’s not open minded and who isolates herself from “different views,” I am the one who needs to hear people out without flinching when they bludgeon me over the head with the status quo.

        Yeah. I actually don’t need to have friends who think what my parents did was fine, or sympathize with their prejudices, thanks!

  3. 3
    miller

    I get all my politics from blogs, and hardly talk politics with friends at all. Since I select which blogs I read, this puts me at greater risk of being in an “echo chamber” than friends ever do. And I can’t really defend myself by saying that I read blogs for emotional support, because I clearly don’t.

    All the same, I’m not sure what should be done about it. I already partly disagree with blogs I read–how do I know if it’s enough disagreement? Surely if I started reading homophobic stuff, I would just get angry and not really change my mind about anything.

  4. 4
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I think for me, the issue is that my personal time is for my personal needs and anyone who respects and cares about me enough to call a friend knows that. One need that I don’t really have is the need to argue/debate my personal views during my personal time. I’m not “afraid to be exposed to contrary views” or any such nonsense. I just don’t put any value on someone else’s belief about what/when/how I should be exposed to ideas, as if they know better than I do about what’s going on in my own head.

    So I guess my thing is that I don’t want to have friends who disagree with me about how I should spend my time. You have views I disagree with, maybe we can be friends or not. Insist on turning any/every random social interaction into Debate Club, and we won’t be friends for long.

  5. 5
    lochaber

    Nice post.

    I suspect part of this is because of that bit of false equivalency grown out of the phrase “everybody is entitled to their opinion.”

    I also don’t mind having friends/discussions with friends on, say, how to improve education, reduce crime, etc.

    But I strongly feel that people are people, and deserve to be treated as such. If someone doesn’t want to recognize a person as a person, I really don’t want to discuss anything with that individual, let alone consider them a friend.

  6. 6
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I have one friend who “disagrees with me”. I put that in scare quotes because, for the most part, he actually doesn’t “disagree with me”; he just likes to play on the most absurd of the ideas opposite mine because he finds them hilarious.

    It’s like when I introduced him to the Men’s Right Movement… it’s become an endless source of comedy for him and he parrots the worst of it when we talk simply to laugh at… and we both get great enjoyment out of his parodies.

    But I do not want to be friends with conservatives, or evangelical whatevers, or MRAs, and so on. They are not people I could maintain that kind of relationship with.

    There is one thing, though… couldn’t it be argued that someone who is friends with people who have entirely opposing worldviews has misunderstood what the whole idea of “friendship” is? Why would anyone want to be friends with someone when they have such fundamental disagreements with each other?

    I do absolutely “get along with” conservatives all the time. I’ve had some pretty awesome and level-headed discussions with Randian Objectivists, for example. I have no problem spending time with them when that time is allotted for them. But to be friends with them?

    I think we need a new word; something between “acquaintance” and “friends” that describes people that you don’t mind talking to and hanging out with, who you know well enough to be more than acquaintances, but could never really be friends with you because of opposing worldviews and such… but they aren’t enemies, either.

    Erm… I don’t know. Maybe that word already exists and I just don’t know it. Hm…

    1. 6.1
      Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

      “Congeniants?”

      1. 6.1.1
        Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

        …no? :(

        1. 6.1.1.1
          NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

          Ah! I missed this when you posted it.

          Hm…

          I kinda like it, actually. Congeniant…

          “Yup. This is my friend, Chelsea. David over there is an acquaintance. Just met him. And this is my congeniant, John.”

          Hm…

          Need more input…

    2. 6.2
      lochaber

      I think I get this.

      I can’t remember where, but somewhat recently I had read something talking about how Americans seem to throw everybody into the categories of friend, enemy, and stranger, so they tended to take offense if someone they knew didn’t consider them friends. Caused problems in other countries that tend to have a stricter definition of friendship, I think France was one of them.

      I had apparently caused a bit of drama in my social circles during my first couple years of college for similar reasons. Since then, I’ve softened up a bit and grown a bit more lax about how I use the term ‘friend’, but I still think I hold the term to a much stricter meaning than many people. On occasion I’m questioned when I use the terms ‘coworker’, ‘house-mate’, ‘class-mate’, acquaintance, etc.

      Maybe it’s part of that binary/false dichotomy bit of thinking (you’re either with us or against us) that seems all to popular here…

  7. 7
    Jadehawk

    The claim that if you don’t have friends who disagree with you in some pre-determined fashion on political issues (because let’s face it: when this comes up, it’s never about disagreement between the anarcho-communist and the social democratic perspectives on an issue, is it. It’s always about “conservative”/”libertarian” and “progressive”/”liberal”) you don’t engage with ideas you don’t agree with has some really odd assumptions built into it. At the very least, it seems to assume that your friends are the only people you ever engage with. Otherwise the claim makes no sense.

    And this doesn’t even require a very narrow definition of “friend”; I have a fairly broad definition for that word because people exhaust me and consequently I don’t become involved with people at the level most expect from friendships (in terms of emotional bonding but also in terms of how much time you spend with people); so by your definition (or for example the definition used in Racism Without Racists, in the parts about figuring out whether white people really all do have black friends) I have maybe 2 friends. But there’s many people I consider friends (who consider me an acquaintance probably) because I like them and their company doesn’t aggravate my depression, and I have no need for any of them to be libertarians or conservatives, either. I get plenty of exposure to these worldviews outside of that social circle.

    1. 7.1
      lochaber

      I’m wondering if this sorta thing is somewhat related to the whole “you are intolerant of my intolerance; therefore you are the TRUE(tm) bigot” style of criticism common with some folk.

      Like, if you were truly open-minded, you would at least consider some of the benefits of genocide, instead of kneejerking that it’s morally wrong and such.

  8. 8
    Kate

    It’s one thing to be friends with someone who doesn’t necessarily share the same interests, tastes in media, cultural background, etc.

    But I don’t understand why or how the fuck I’m expected to be friends with those who think entire groups of people don’t deserve even the most basic rights.

    1. 8.1
      geekgirlsrule

      This. I periodically post on all my blogs that if someone has a problem with the fundamental humanity of all people, they can show themselves out. I’m not interested in hearing their “reasons” for denying other human beings basic and fundamental rights. There is no “other” side to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or at least not one decent human beings espouse.

  9. 9
    doublereed

    Well some media is better for discussion compared to others. Facebook is only ok at it, in my opinion. It just seems more garnered to more casual discussions as opposed to a forum or serious blog. Twitter is awful.

    Though I do unfollow some Facebook friends because of their politics. But that’s really because I tend to engage on hot button topics, and because I argue like an asshole, regret doing so in the first place. So really, everybody wins.

  10. 10
    Dunc

    There’s also the fact that many of us find ourselves more-or-less completely surrounded by a society which we disagree with about almost everything, almost all of the time. All I need to do to encounter political views which are largely antithetical to mine is turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, or just go outside. One of the things I’m looking for in a friendship is a few moments respite from that.

  11. 11
    Hershele Ostropoler

    To the degree that my political views are based on (my conception of) basic human decency, people who don’t share them are not good people, and I only want to be friends with good people.

    1. 11.1
      queequack

      Of course, there’s the fact that this generally a strawman construction of people whom you disagree with.

      1. 11.1.1
        Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

        Read the other fucking comments. No it isn’t.

        1. 11.1.1.1
          queequack

          Yeah, it usually is.

          1. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

            Read the other fucking comments. No it isn’t.

            Seriously. Read them and see what people are actually talking about.

      2. 11.1.2
        Hershele Ostropoler

        Yeah, hence the qualifier that I’m only referring to those political views I have that are really just what I deem requirements to qualify as a good person.

  12. 12
    Konradius

    The people who raise the ‘issues’ of group think and echo chamber at FTB, skepchick and the like are so hypocritical…
    Most of them are actually their own echo chamber because they never seem to listen to anybody else.

  13. 13
    Vicki

    There are also different kinds of disagreement. I’m not going to be friends with someone who is against marriage equality because they think gays are icky and hate the idea of having to see a same-sex couple’s wedding announcement. But I can have a reasonable discussion with someone who is trying to figure out whether the emphasis on same-sex marriage as an issue is a distraction from other issues that affect LGBT people, including those who aren’t in monogamous relationships, or whose immediate need is for help with employment discrimination.

    From another angle, I can disagree with someone on transit funding without having the not-so-sneaking suspicion that they think I’m not entitled to full human rights because I don’t drive a car. Yes, some anti-transit rhetoric is not-so-subtly racist and quite a bit of it is openly classist: but that doesn’t mean someone who wants to spend the money on buses instead of light rail, or vice versa, is evil.

  14. 14
    Joshua Kronengold

    Very much agree. I -do- have friends on the other side of the aisle, and I do think it’s a good thing to do, since it helps you avoid demonizing “the enemy”.

    But the thing is, I don’t usually discuss politics with friends who are hugely politically different from me. I play games with them, and talk about geeky things we both like, have dinner, and sing, and hang out, and play with their kids. But why would I want to repeatedly hash out the same tired political arguments? I’d rather do the things with my friends that are fun; that’s what friends are for!

    Now, I won’t claim I’ve -never- discussed politics with conservative friends. Every few years, I might discuss something a non-obvious litmus, maybe find common ground that, say, everyone voting is good even if they’re convinced that vote fraud is an actual thing, or find something resembling common ground on copyright (where the major parties are mostly wrong-headed and geeks on all sides are more likely to see the breaks). But…

    It’s good to have friends who aren’t completely like you in every way — after all, you can’t do everything with every friend, and it helps you avoid certain blind spots if you -have- friends who like sports, or Reagan, or Jesus even if you don’t, so you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone who likes those things is an idiot.

    But the point of having friends is to do things you both -like–so the right thing to do with friends who are very unlike you in certain ways is to do the things where you -are- compatible.

    1. 14.1
      Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

      My experience has been that it’s impossible to stay off politics with Right-Wing-Authoritarian types who I’ve befriended over common interests, because they are Obviously Right and Just Stating The Truth, whereas if you argue back it’s Making Drama. YMMV.

  15. 15
    Ariel

    Having politically divergent friends is not necessarily superior to not having politically divergent friends

    I find this way of phrasing thoroughly misleading. If there is any issue here, it’s not about what necessarily happens. Apart from math (and maybe some laws of science) there are few – if any – necessities in the world. Is being beaten up necessarily a bad experience (all things considered)? Is having a well paid job necessarily superior to losing one? And if there are exceptions (surely I can think of some, surely you can think of some … don’t ask for examples, it’s boring!), does it follow that there is no practical difference between being beaten up and not being beaten up, or between losing a job and not losing it?
    As I take it, the whole issue is not about being “necessarily” superior. It’s rather about:

    (1) Being generally superior – i.e. the question is whether having politically divergent friends tends to be better than not having them,
    (2) Being superior or not in individual cases (yours, mine) – here the task is to assess one’s own case.

    Question (1) is about general trends; (2) is about … well, it’s about individual soul searching. For (2), one of the issues is: does my own choice of friends restrict me, make me closed, both in intellectual and emotional sense? Does this choice make me more unfeeling toward others, who do not share my views? It’s a very delicate question and my guess is that it’s extremely easy to delude oneself about this. Here it’s also not enough to declare that one has “different priorities” in friendship: the question still remains whether these “different priorities” make one less open and more unfeeling toward others. (No “necessities” also in this last case.)

    A large part of the OP looks to me like an attempt to deal with (2). That’s perfectly fine and there is no quarrel from me here (a disagreement – if any – could come only from someone who knows Miri personally and questions her self-assessment in the light of this knowledge. I’m not in such a position.) I’m a little put off only by the fragments like:

    If you enjoy political debates with friends, cool. If you don’t, cool.

    because only too easily they can be read as a card blanche of the sort “whatever happens, cool!”. (Hmm, “If you have black friends, cool. If you don’t, cool”.) Well, some things are not cool. What (imo) should be said instead is rather: if you are close only to people who share your beliefs, doing your own soul search can be a good idea. It may all turn out cool … or not. Seek for yourself for the verdict.

    As a side remark, I will add only that in my own case having friends of various political options gave me something. I’m one of these people who can “compartmentalize” even serious disagreements (just a personality trait, no hidden value judgment here). In particular, one of my friends is politically very far to the right. I must say that seeing someone like him in all sorts of situations – also lost, depressed, and unhappy – did something to prevent me from demonizing such people. But I give it here as nothing more than my own personal experience.

    1. 15.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I’m a little put off only by the fragments like:

      If you enjoy political debates with friends, cool. If you don’t, cool.

      because only too easily they can be read as a card blanche of the sort “whatever happens, cool!”. (Hmm, “If you have black friends, cool. If you don’t, cool”.) Well, some things are not cool.

      My point here is that it is okay to enjoy political debates with friends and it is okay to not enjoy political debates with friends. I’m not sure how it follows that because either of these options are okay, all friendship options are okay, such as refusing to have black friends. I was pretty specific about what exactly is “cool” in this case.

      Now, if I’d said, “If you want to be friends with someone, cool. If you don’t want to be friends with someone, cool,” that would’ve been different, because not all instances of not wanting to be friends with someone are “okay” with me. I.e., not wanting to be friends with someone because they’re Black is not okay. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that racists should be forced to be friends with Black people, but that gets into a whole other issue.)

      In particular, one of my friends is politically very far to the right. I must say that seeing someone like him in all sorts of situations – also lost, depressed, and unhappy – did something to prevent me from demonizing such people. But I give it here as nothing more than my own personal experience.

      Well, I didn’t want to get into this in this post because it’s not the topic, but many of my close family members are very conservative. I love them very much. I don’t demonize them. I don’t need conservative friends that I choose in order to prevent me from demonizing such people; the family I was born with is sufficient.

      1. 15.1.1
        Ariel

        I’m not sure how it follows that because either of these options are okay, all friendship options are okay,

        You are right, it doesn’t; I read in these words something which wasn’t there.

        such as refusing to have black friends

        Indeed. Just to clarify and to bring it closer to the topic: how about refusing to have people with different opinions on gay marriage as friends? From my point of view, this can be “cool” … or not cool, depending on the reasons. If e.g. someone’s reason is that

        I want my friendships to be a refuge from the loneliness and cruelty of the rest of the world,

        then (by my standards) it’s absolutely fine and understandable. On the other hand, if the reason is that “such people must be BAD, EVIL, not deserving a friendship of someone so enlightened and good as MEEE!”, then (by my standards) it’s not cool. I was really thinking of things like that when I wrote “It may all turn out cool … or not. Seek for yourself for the verdict.”

        I don’t demonize them. I don’t need conservative friends that I choose in order to prevent me from demonizing such people; the family I was born with is sufficient.

        I see. This is not so in my case; anyway as I said, this remark was only about my personal experience. To finish this on a lighter note: some time ago my right wing friend promised to treat me well after becoming a dictator. “You speak English”, he said, “so you will be permitted to live in a Potemkin village and talk to foreigners.” Since he promised also that the village will be well supplied with booze, I started to think that living under his right wing regime might not be so bad for me! (Admittedly, we were both very drunk when having this conversation and I’m not completely sure whether he will remember …)

    2. 15.2
      Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

      I find this way of phrasing thoroughly misleading. If there is any issue here, it’s not about what necessarily blah blah blah blah blah

      Oh for fuck’s sake, you know what was meant.

  16. 16
    Yogi

    My experience is that when someone says that I should have friends who disagree with me, what they are saying is, “Listen and agree with me.” Even though it is cast in general terms (“friends who disagree”), it is my experience that saying, “I do” doesn’t end it until you have listened and agreed with the person telling you this.

    Miri, thanks for the way you think these things through.

  17. 17
    smrnda

    Great post.

    As far as issues and friendship goes, I view them like anything else in that some of them are deal-breakers and some of them are not.

    On debates, if I wanted a debate, there is the internet and it isn’t like people aren’t desperate and eager to express their opinions online. I couldn’t avoid opinions that disagree with mine unless I decided to hide under a rock. For many issues, I’ve been thinking about them for most of my life; there is not some Incredible Argument For The Other Side out there that I just haven’t encountered yet on most issues.

    Another issue is that hey, I’m with another woman. I don’t think you can be my friend and think my marriage should be made illegal. I’m disabled and have been on disability and unable to work. You cannot be my friend and think that if disabled people can’t work, they can just die or crawl to some private charity which is more an ego cult for the leaders and that disability accommodation laws are just such an imposition. You can’t express racist sentiments and be my friend since a lot of my friends aren’t white. Political stances do end up being judgments on people.

    I can’t be friends with someone who really doesn’t give a shit about other people, and in that area, one’s political views are as relevant as whether or not you are a jerk in person. It’s about what your views would do to people, and if they would do bad things, then I’m not interested.

  18. 18
    lorn

    When faced with this sort of claim the first question I would have is how would you characterize the person asking. If a person is deeply bunkered in their ideological cocoon their advocating a more diverse base of friends is simply a tactic. A very cheap and easy tactic. A way of getting you to come their way without demanding anything of themselves or offering anything but a claim you are not ‘Fair and Balanced’ ™ enough. And advice which they are not willing to apply to themselves.

    The same applies for the people I like to call ‘collectors’, They are people who have a very selectively diversified array of acquaintances. They have one black friend, and one Jewish friend, and one lesbian … They are not entirely cut off but the connections are fleeting and narrow, and cultivated just enough to maintain a modest level of credibility when they claim ‘one of my best friends is a’…

    One way round this with some honesty and integrity is to not ask for a diversified friendship base, or balanced media exposure, but rather to see the alternative points of view as a culture with its own philosophy, history and mythological base. Those aspects can be researched, studied, understood in their own light and you can learn the language. You can understand the structures and mechanics of a belief system without believing any of it.

    But, again, you run into the issues of the imbalance in willingness to self educate. As an atheist it is claimed I need to experience and understand Christianity. Which overlooks the fact that I was a practicing Christian who has dug into the Bible deeper than most of the people claiming I need to see it their way. Of course when I suggest that they would make more sense if they understood atheism as a system of thought they are, without exception, unwilling to make any effort to educate themselves.

    Which leads to idiotic questions like: ‘what do you think God thinks about you being an atheist?’

    The only logical answer … Ahh … look at the time … must go .. nice talking at you … bye.

  1. 19
    The Reading List, 3/9/2014 » Almost Diamonds

    […] It’s Okay Not To Disagree With Your Friends About Politics–”I’ve seen a lot of articles and discussions lately on the theme of “why you should have friends who disagree with you [about politics].” Given how uncritically this view is often presented, I want to complicate it a little.” […]

  2. 20
    Around FtB » Pharyngula

    […] Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner gingerly deals with the fraught situation of having friends with different political views. Are you a bad person if some of your friends are assholes? […]

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