With Enemies Like These, Who Needs Friends? Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-08-25 14:00:00 No comments

The other day, I took a site I read frequently off my list of RSS feeds. It's not something anyone is likely to know about -- it's this little blog curated by a guy who's a self-styled SF&F author and whose opinions about a number of things are more or less congruous to or convergent with mine. (No, I won't link to it here.)

I didn't delist him because I vehemently disagreed with what he had to say. I took him off my list because while I'm technically on the same side as he is on a number of issues, I couldn't for the life of me stand the way he defended them. I'd rather have someone who is an honest, well-defended, and scrupulous proponent of a viewpoint I don't agree with than someone who is a shabby proponent for something I do agree with.

Keeping yourself honest is a hard thing. The vast majority of the time, you need other people to help you do it, and in many cases you need people you don't know and who don't know you either, so they can't succumb to the temptation of making excuses for you personally. As part of this process, I try to read blogs from people on the other side of whatever divide I happen to find myself on. I don't demand that they be right about everything, only that they document how they came to the conclusions they did so I can see for myself why they got those answers.

The other reason I've found it's vital to do this hearkens back to something Leszek Kołakowski pointed out: there is no group anywhere that does not have at least one thoroughly justifiable grievance. The trick is to see that grievance for what it is apart from the special pleading of the group, without the blinders of the group's inevitable prejudices, and in the broadest possible context.

Some kinds of political disagreements are deep enough, and have personal enough implications, that they ruin the chances for any personal connection. If someone has vile things to say about gays or Jews, that tells me a lot about how they see everyone that's not them, me included. How do I know that I, too, am simply some variety of Other in their eyes? We all have this; it's just a question of how completely we confront it, and I now find I have little room in my life for people who can't be bothered to do so.

But by and large those are the gross exceptions, not the rule. Most of my political disagreements with people are a little more more nuanced than that (I hope). When talking about the FIrst and Second Gulf Wars with my friend in the Army, I didn't dispute for a second that Saddam Hussein was a terrible human being and deserved to be taken out of power. I took exception with the methodology, with the use of manufactured evidence, with the lack of real coalition-building, with the way the whole episode fomented jingoism in places I would never have expected to see it. In the end, though, my friend and I are still friends, although having him stationed on the other side of the world makes it a little difficult to chat casually. Mutual respect remains.

In the end, yes, you have to plant your flag somewhere in the soil. But I'm finding the exact position taken is not quite as important as the process used to get there. An intellectually honest man can always be engaged with on a level field, even if he happens to be on the other side of it.

Tags: intellectualism philosophy politics