Choosing friends based on their politics is 'intellectually lazy'

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
R. Bruce Anderson
R. Bruce Anderson

A friend of mine, in the course of a semi-professional context, was chatting to a similarly ranked fellow professional, when she was told “… unless, of course, you like [a politician], in which case, we cannot be friends.”

They meant it, apparently. Exchanges like this are becoming far too common these days – the idea is that we should be making decisions on who to hang out with, have a beer with, even to speak to, based on their loyalty to one or another political person or belief. The whole idea is nuts. Basing our friendships on politics – an everchanging, ever-disappointing, ever-silly (when not scary) feature of the social geography - is ridiculous.

I’m not talking about toxic beliefs that may have political implications; racism, anti-Semitism, and the other ugly “-isms” that accompany a base hatred of other humans are – of course – to be avoided and despised in any situation, but those are diseases, not political preferences.

In my line of work, I’ve had the true pleasure of working with, writing with, thinking with, and socializing with an entire spectrum of folks with whom I disagree politically, and I’m far the better for it. I also have friends with whom I do not speak about politics. But that would never stop me from railing and ranting on such hot button issues as whether all tennis balls are made at one factory in Taiwan and then stamped with different brands - or complaining about the current trend to wearing ski caps in Florida, or why untrimmed beards are, in my not-so-humble opinion, untidy expressions of an unruly mind.

And I do talk politics with folks I disagree with - all the time. Daily. Endlessly. Otherwise, I’d have no idea what others know. And they know things I do not. I’m not a businessperson, nor have I ever been, and unless I ask, I have no idea what keeps people in that track awake at night. Or why a one-cent sales tax increase could collapse the retail market. I mean, I know what economics says about this, but I’ve no idea what it’s like to actually confront it. Some of my friends do. I argue, too – a good argument (not a fight), grounded in a general shared understanding about the thing you’re arguing about, can’t be beat for getting decent insight into the political views of people other than ourselves. If I were my only referent, I’d be in serious trouble. I need to know the assessments of others in order to stall the naïve pedestrianism that isolation would produce in my own thoughts.

A registered Democrat, I’m unsettled to report that I voted for three Republicans in the last election – it was a non-party show, so I could pretend I was “non-partisan,” but the fact is that I voted for them because of their remarkable old-line conservative stability, caution and fear of government doing too much. They were also patient. I learned this by quarrelling with them.

There is nothing so pretentious, so pompous, so thoroughly annoying, as someone who refuses to interact with others of dissimilar views because they are so concreted in their own that they cannot – or will not – entertain the thought that they could ever be in error. The “party man,” the hair-on-fire zealot, the true believer, the “purist” - is the creators’ earthly archetype of the concept of facile nitwittery.

A good, solid discussion of differences benefits all concerned. Though exchanges like this may leave us in just as much disagreement as before, at least we will have a much better idea of why we disagree, and hopefully build some sort of respect for the “other side(s)” ideas and interpretations.

And never, ever, choose your friends by their politics: it’s intellectually lazy. You’ll find yourself bored stupid – find friends you can argue with long into the night, hassling out the big questions, reaching across the artificial divides that only serve the status quo – something no-one arguing politics ever wants.

R. Bruce Anderson is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay, Jr. Endowed Chair in American History, Government, and Civics and Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Florida Southern College. He is also a columnist for The Ledger and political consultant and on-air commentator for WLKF Radio.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Choosing friends based on their politics is 'intellectually lazy'