‘Who am I going to fight with, now?‘
Yesterday’s news of a sudden election set off the usual explosions on social media; threats and promises of unfriending and unfollowing all over the place. I didn’t pay that much attention, as I was reeling from a more personal shock: news of an old friend’s sudden, wholly unexpected death. Her departure follows distressingly close on the equally sudden loss of another old friend. By some or other odd coincidence, what these two friends had in common was, first of all, me (it turned out that many of the other people who ‘knew’ both of them online had only got to do so via my social media feeds) – and a shared worldview that was right-of-centre.
Unsurprisingly, opinions on whether or not you should cut off those you disagree with over politics are as varied as, well, politics. Some feel they cannot be friends with those who disagree with them; others are more inclined to put family loyalty or friendship ahead of voting intentions. Obviously, some people do represent the worst and most dickish qualities of the political party/activist group they support. Some people make a great deal of noise about their allegiances and others abide by the code of never discussing politics or religion in civilised company. For some people ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ is the preferred way of dealing with the current climate.
There was a theory doing the rounds last year that one reason why so many people were so surprised by the resurgence of right-wing populism to the extent of the Brexit/Trump supporters actually winning was because those people lived in a social media echo-chamber, where all their friends agreed with them and dissenting views belonged only to some tiny wierd minority of ‘wrong-thinking’ people who could be ignored. While most people tend to prefer the company of those whose take on morals and ethics broadly matches their own, there is still a lot to be said for keeping company with those old pals you disagree with. It’s no bad thing to explore your arguments with an opponent you otherwise respect, particularly in these days of hysterical exaggerations, fake news and deliberate misinformation. A good row can help you clarify your own thinking more than comforting reassurances from your other friends that you’re all on the side of the righteous.
There are limits for everyone, of course: there’s no point in tolerating vicious abuse or the type of political conviction that spills over into violent assault on others because of their appearance rather than their actions. I also had the advantage of having known my two politically-different-to-me friends for a long time; of knowing as a real thing their respective generosities, good humour, intelligence and courage. With them, in our many debates, bitch-fights and online squabbles, there were always those moments when we found ourselves agreeing, or I managed to change their minds on a particular point or at least fight something to a draw.
My Facebook feed is going to be quieter without them. And I will miss them both a great deal.