If you’re a Conservative, I’m not your friend
Follow Rebecca on Twitter here
One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news this morning was check to see which of my Facebook friends ‘like’ the pages of the Conservatives or David Cameron, and unfriend them. (Thankfully, none of my friends ‘like’ the UKIP page.) Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online.
This marked a change of heart for me. Usually, I try to remain engaged with such people in the hope that I might be able to change their views through debate. (Admittedly, I don’t always engage constructively with them. Sometimes, late at night, when my brain is too tired to do anything fancy and I spot an offensive tweet by a UKIP supporter, the urge to murder them in 140 characters is too difficult to resist.) Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have kept my Conservative friends?
I’m not so sure. I am attracted by the view that we should all keep the debate open, discuss our political views, take other people’s views into account, and revise and improve our own as we all benefit from this dialogue. I’m attracted by the view that there is such a thing as progress in politics. But—depressingly—I’m far more sceptical than I was yesterday about how much of a difference we can make with political debate. There are several reasons for this.
One is that, in much of British culture, people are uncomfortable with debate about politics. It would, in some circles, be rude to raise the topic of politics over dinner, and to try to change someone’s mind about their political views—well, that’s frankly out of order. We’re much more comfortable talking about the weather, who might win the X Factor, or Kim Kardashian’s arse. The British unwillingness to discuss politics was illustrated today by the sway of the ‘shy Tories’: the people who voted Conservative, but who kept quiet about it in the run-up to the election, and certainly didn’t tell the opinion polls.
Another reason is that the voice of the Murdoch-owned, pro-Tory press is much louder than the voice of reason. Sure, social media can be a powerful and unregulated force for good, and we can all share our views through Facebook and Twitter—but, given that people tend to follow those who roughly share their views, we’re preaching to the converted. My Facebook feed today is full of posts and debates by compassionate, liberal people. The rest of the country isn’t.
Then there is the fact that ‘engaging in political debate’ and ‘revising one’s political views in the light of rational argument’ are themselves hallmarks of liberal thinking, but not of conservative thinking. Conservatives, traditionally, base much of their politics on gut feelings or intuitions—what Edmund Burke in the 18th century called ‘prejudice’, and what Leon Kass has more recently termed the ‘wisdom of repugnance’. Far from viewing it as desirable to subject their political beliefs to reasoned evaluation and criticism, many conservatives view reason as a corrupting influence. (I’m generalising: political views exist on a spectrum, and some moderate conservatives are open to debate.) So, the hope—expressed by some liberals—that political change can happen by keeping debate open is somewhat optimistic, and perhaps even deluded. We hand-wringing, bleeding-heart lefties need to change tack.
So, unfriending. Is it okay? Well, the view that I have arrived at today is that openly supporting a political party that—in the name of austerity—withdraws support from the poor, the sick, the foreign, and the unemployed while rewarding those in society who are least in need of reward, that sells off our profitable public goods to private companies while keeping the loss-making ones in the public domain, that boasts about cleaning up the economy while creating more new debt than every Labour government combined, that wants to scrap the Human Rights Act and (via the TTIP) hand sovereignty over some of our most important public institutions to big business—to express one’s support for a political party that does these things is as objectionable as expressing racist, sexist, or homophobic views. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are not simply misguided views like any other; views that we can hope to change through reasoned debate (although we can try to do that). They are offensive views. They are views that lose you friends and respect—and the fact that they are socially unacceptable views helps discourage people from holding (or at least expressing) them, even where reasoned debate fails. Sometimes the stick is more effective than the carrot.
For these reasons, I’m tired of reasoned debate about politics—at least for a day or two. I don’t want to be friends with racists, sexists, or homophobes. And I don’t want to be friends with Conservatives either.
(Image from https://twitter.com/SummerRay)