A while back, commenter “Steve H.” asked a question. It’s one to which I unfortunately still don’t have a good answer, although I’m highlighting it because it’s a question I’ve been increasingly asking myself for some months now:
We all know people and perhaps have friends who support this administration. How do we even converse with them after this? Do they not see the rage, polarization and tearing at the social fabric of this country they are causing?
Of course,the more general question of how to deal with friends whose political persuasion is so different is one I’ve been wrestling with in one form or another for many years. In fact, it used to be one of the main topics on this blog. That’s because my “conversion” happened gradually but quietly. Call me naive, but when I finally began to talk to liberal friends and family (which for me meant nearly everyone I know) about that political change of mine, I expected interesting but cordial discussions on the merits.
Was I ever in for a surprise—the rage and in some cases shunning that met me was a profound shock. You see, as a moderate liberal, I had always assumed that liberals believed in “tolerance” of the ideas of others.
But apparently I had gone over to the dark side. And as time progressed, I wrestled with my own feelings that they were the ones on the dark side, if only the side of the sort of ignorance that can allow evil to triumph. This latter notion was helped along by the fact that some of these friends—not all, but a goodly percentage—really were relatively uninformed about everything except the headlines and maybe the first paragraphs of the version of the news offered by the MSM, especially the NY Times or the Boston Globe. Some, of course, had a greater interest—those who read the Nation or loved Michael Moore or Howard Zinn or did have a special interest in history, but they were far fewer in number.
So I thought my task might be to gently urge them to at least read other sources of information, and if they agreed to receive them, I sent them links to articles I thought especially good. It didn’t change any minds as far as I knew (well, maybe one or two), but at least I’d tried.
Now I don’t know what to do. I am not sure whether any of my friends are paying much attention to events now (when I ask them, they mostly say they are not). I don’t think they would agree with me about how deeply liberty is threatened right now even if they were paying close attention, and I’m not even sure how much they value liberty versus PC thinking. And anyway, they’re used to dismissing such notions of threatened individual freedoms as scaremongering right-wing nutjob tactics (unless the one doing the threatening of liberty is George Bush or Dick Cheney, that is) and McCarthyism (the actual history of which they are also mostly unaware). If I were to voice my concerns—for example, the fact that I pretty much agree with this piece—they would think it evidence that I’ve lost my mind and that I’m becoming dangerous. So I must tread carefully if I wish to retain my credibility.
I have no desire to become a hermit. People here have given me the advice to make new friends. But that’s difficult to do at my age, and new friends almost never can replace old. These are people I know and love—sometimes from childhood, sometimes from when our now-very-grown-up children were babies or even from when we were pregnant, some from college or high school. I cannot suddenly desert them, and I don’t think I should.
But I have come to believe that they are enemies to liberty, although not intentionally. Do intentions matter? I think they do. Will they wake up? Perhaps if things get much worse—but then will it already be too late? And in the meantime, what do I do with my own anger? And how much do I try to engage them in conversations that might be not only futile but actively counterproductive? And if I do engage them, what approach do I take—rage does not cut it or convince anyone; that much I know.
I don’t have the answers, but I certainly have the questions.
[ADDENDUM: I added this in the comments section, to clarify: Intentions matter in terms whether change in opinion can occur. It has to do with how susceptible people are to rational argument and facts—in other words, whether they are fools or knaves. It matters in terms of whether you are wasting time talking to them or not.]