If You Want To Be Friends, Then Why Aren’t You Friendly?
A look at one of the most alarming and pressing problems of our age: the much-lamented fact that "the left" won't be friends with "the right," over "political views."
Travis Ikeguchi, 27-year old superfan of supremacist right-wing media propaganda, murdered Laura Ann Carleton, 66-year old fan of human beings in all their wonderful variety. Perhaps you heard about this on the news.
Ikeguchi argued with her before he shot her, because she had a pride flag on display outside her establishment. A pride flag is a way of telling the world that gay and trans and nonbinary people matter just as much as other people, which is something that a lot of people believe. I have one up in the front of my house, for example.
If you look at Ikeguchi’s Twitter page, which I do not recommend, you’ll see that his pinned tweet approvingly suggests that the correct thing to do with such a flag, which represents queer people, is to burn it. And as I said, Ikeguchi was a fan of right-wing media, like for instance Matt Walsh, the sweaty-minded christian fascist propagandist who recently proclaimed, while explaining how the existence of trans people brings him into “a boiling rage” that he would rather be dead than have his children be trans, so you can imagine how he feels about other people and their trans children.
This means that Laura Ann Carleton’s store is a potentially safer place for Matt Walsh’s children than Matt Walsh’s house, especially if we ponder what men who have decided they would rather be dead tend to do on their way out to family members upon whom they have placed the blame for their boiling rage. It also indicates that if the time comes that Matt Walsh might be in danger of wishing his children and/or himself dead, Matt Walsh’s children will know they have safer places to which to go. That’s one thing the pride flag means for queer people, and that proclamation of safe spaces for queer people is what makes people like Carleton so dangerous to Matt Walsh—who, like hundreds of other fascist propagandists, broadcasts to his audience of thousands or millions his hatred about the people that flag represents.
And yes, Travis Ikeguchi just so happened to be one of those thousands or millions in Walsh’s audience, and he didn’t like the message of safety and inclusion conveyed by Laura Ann Carleton’s pride flag either, so he shot her, because he thought that was his right, which is something that powerful people have spent their careers ensuring would be very easy for him to think and then do. This is because those powerful people insist that guns are an essential component of freedom, and make sure that there is at all times as little legal friction as possible between guns and boiling rage.
The argument goes thus: if somebody is impinging your freedom or threatening you, then you might need to kill them, and guns are the best way to do that. And these same powerful people have spent their careers telling anyone who will listen that gay people are an impingement on their freedom, and a threat to society in general, and a lot of people have listened to this over the years, and many of them have connected those rather proximal dots—including, it seems, Travis Ikeguchi, 27.
Laura Ann Carleton was a very nice lady by all accounts, for what it was worth, although even if she hadn’t been very nice, she still should not have been murdered. But now she’s dead, because somebody thought she should not be around in the world any more than they thought gay people should be around in the world. That “somebody” thought that she should not be around in the world because she was friends with gay people, and Travis Ikeguchi was one of millions of Americans who believe they should get to decide who does and does not get to exist in the world, and what crimes justify extrajudicial killing.
There are a lot of people who are less murderous, but still think that gay people and their allies should not be around, and will tell you so. What’s interesting is that most of them will probably also tell you they agree that Laura Ann Carleton should not have been murdered, because they think of themselves as good people, and good people do not think that other people should be murdered, by and large, so they do not usually approve of murder—unless, that is, the propagandists tell them that it was one of the good murders, which is something I believe the Germans call a rittenhaus.
However, these good people also will not stop thinking that queer people should not be around in the world, nor will they stop delivering messages that make the abuse and harm of queer people rather inevitable, or stop delivering power to people who will help make sure that gay people aren’t around. And there are a lot of other people who think it’s fine either way if gay people are or are not around, but also when it is time to deliver power, they choose to deliver power to those people who think that gay people should not be around. They just have some other reason to deliver power to those people.
These are their political views.
I’m thinking today about political views because there was a tweet going around the same time as Laura Ann Carleton was murdered for being a friend to queer people, that began thusly:
Leftists can’t understand being friends with people who don’t share their political views, but for most people it's just the norm.
The idea of the tweet being that a normal thing that normal people do is to not let political views harm the comity of existing relationships, or to affect starting new ones—and that a group called “leftists” apparently cannot comprehend this extremely normal posture.
A few days before the tweet, professional mourner of crumbling civility and amateur shoe filler David Brooks published a piece mourning—hold onto your hats—the crumbling of civility. Civility was apparently robust back in David Brooks’ childhood, back when Jim Crow laws were in place and enforced by a regime of vigilante/police terror known as lynching, and gayness was criminalized and prosecuted, and women couldn’t have their own bank accounts without their husband’s permissions, and so forth. These days, however, the channels that carry American abuse have apparently been dug closer to David Brooks’ house than they were in those more lovely days, so civility has nearly completely disappeared, at least according to David Brooks, now that the screams of marginalized people have finally grown loud enough for him to hear from his porch.
It’s a very common lament: that there is no civility left these days, as compared to earlier days, and the main reason appears to be that those on the “left” refuse to be friends with those on the “right,” shunning them simply because of their political views.
This implies something rather startling: American conservatives want to be friends with the rest of us. Had you realized? You’d never know it to listen to them, but apparently it is so, and the notion that some of us don’t want to be friends with them is one of the most pressing matters to be found in the opinion sections of our nation’s great newspapers and magazines and newsfortainment television programs.
I’m not even linking to the tweet or the article. If you missed them, more will come by soon enough, as regular as waves, as regular as clouds, as regular as hate crimes, as regular as racist gerrymanders, as regular as library closings, as regular as book bans and anti-trans legislation, as regular as gun murders in the United States of America.
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So now I’d like to pick apart this strange idea, that the great problem before us is incivility and polarization, caused most specifically because those of us on the left won’t be friends with those on the right, over nothing more than their political views.
Let’s look at the key terms, which are “left and right,” and “political views,” and “friends.”
“Left and right”
I don’t really know any more about “the left” and “the right.”
I’m not trying to be coy; I know what’s meant, and I frequently employ those terms as they’re meant, but I see their descriptive limitations, which make them feel a bit threadbare. I know a bit more about something I call spirit, which I merely use to mean the way collective human belief creates effects in the world, creates what is possible and not possible—creates, in other words, the endlessly mutable form of reality that we might refer to as “the way the world is.”
I know about an emerging spirit that believes that everyone deserves access to basic human needs—which includes space to live safely as who they know themselves to be—simply because of the fact of their humanity, without a thought to how that life should be deserved or earned, a spirit that sees humans as a value rather than a cost.
And I know about a dominant empowered spirit that believes that only some deserve life, as mediated through its adherents’ own specific ideas of how people ought to be permitted to exist, and its adherents’ beliefs that they are the ones who get to issue the license of whether or not a person deserves to live, and that they are entitled to punish and abuse, harm and exclude, exploit and kill, those to whom they choose not to issue license.
It strikes me the more accurate labels than left and right for these spirits would be humanist and supremacist. If I wanted to give these spirits labels, I suppose that “the left” and “the right” and their attendant political parties make for a marginally useful shorthand. While it’s true that a supremacist spirit can be found in every state in our nation, and within both of our major ideologies and political parties, it’s not difficult to see which of these parties is pursuing the supremacist spirit energetically, ruthlessly, and relentlessly. To see the supremacist spirit in motion in the United States, one has only to look around at what happens where the Republican Party is thriving most.
In these places, we have racist gerrymander and the shuttering of whole areas of college curriculum dealing with racial and gender awareness, and newspapers raided by police, and librarians harassed and libraries closed, and children refused medical treatment and their parents menaced with loss of custody, and rising maternal death rates that disproportionately affect Black women, and fleeing medical professionals, and on and on and on, all of it designed to accommodate a supremacist spirit whose political view is that other types of humans do not matter, and shouldn’t have space to exist and thrive as themselves, and should be abused and punished for any refusal to be dominated.
It bothers supremacists when humanists won’t be friends with them over their alignment with a supremacist spirit, I guess. They feel strongly that friendship is something they still deserve, though it feels less like something they actually want, and more like something they believe they’re owed.
It doesn’t seem to bother humanists as much, I notice, when supremacists won’t be friends with them. Unfriendliness makes sense, because supremacists have already indicated they want to dominate others if they can, and punish those who refuse to be dominated. The “not being friends” part just sort of makes sense to humanists when dealing with people who have taken such an unfriendly view of their fellow humans.
In fact, friends seems as reductive and obfuscating a term as left or right or political views, when it comes to what’s going on.
It almost seems as if those of us who aspire to an emerging humanist spirt are already in relationship—friends or family or etcetera—with many people who have decided to remain captured by our dominant empowered supremacist spirit, and what we are doing is not so much letting their political views affect our existing relationships with them, as we are recognizing that their political views are already affecting the existing relationships, by tacitly or deliberately harming other people with whom we are in relationship, too.
Being in a relationship with somebody who believes other people don’t deserve life sometimes requires direct and painful conversation, and it sometimes requires establishing and enforcing boundaries to protect oneself or others, and it can even involve shunning or ending the relationship, and that’s all very painful, even though it is necessary, if we want to keep ourselves or others safe from abuse.
So I don’t know why anybody would want to start a new relationship of that kind, with somebody who has decided that an abusive and dominating murderous supremacy best represents their political view, no matter how nice they might be in a social setting.
Just some things I’ve noticed.
We’re not supposed to reject people socially, because of political views, is what I understand from our nation’s great newspapers and magazines and newsfortainment television programs.
It’s a gnostic idea of politics that these professional mourners of crumbling civility like David Brooks seem to be popularizing; the idea that spirit is ethereal, ghostlike, that what you believe politically is something entirely separate from the actual world of church functions and backyard barbecues and college mixers, something entirely separate from the self.
Political views shouldn’t matter, it seems, when choosing friends. They’re a bloodless thing, politics, abstract, almost administrative sometimes. Making decisions about who you associate with based on political views is apparently like getting into a screaming fight over an improper stapling methodology on one’s TPS reports, or ending a friendship over pizza toppings. And at other times, political views are sacrosanct, holy, the most special and personal part of a person’s belief structure, something that a decent person would be no more likely to critique, much less reject, than they would be likely to tell a new mother that her baby is ugly.
I have noticed that whether political views are trivial or sacred seems to depend on the point the professional mourner of crumbling civility is trying to make in the moment, in order to bolster civility. They are usually trivial when we are meant to make friends despite them. They are usually sacrosanct when we try to point out what they are.
But some of us have noticed that politics are neither of these things, have noticed that politics are where power is arranged and distributed, and have been listening not to the civility mourners or the supremacists they defend, but rather to the many people who are directly harmed by harmful policies driven by harmful political views, who have no luxury to believe in false separations. They know that politics are, in fact, a matter of spiritual alignment, and that spirit is not something to do with ghosts, but with the blood and guts of how collective belief touches their lives.
Something I’ve noticed about professional civility mourners is that when they mourn the divisions over political views, they rarely mention what those views are, or what effect they have. And they never notice that whatever offer of friendship the “right” is extending is contingent, and is not offered to everyone. And they never notice that for something so apparently trivial, the “right” is entirely unwilling to compromise on any of them. It turns out that to supremacists, political views aren’t bloodless abstracts at all; they actually matter a great deal more than we are meant to notice when it is time to make friends. They matter far more than the lives of queer people, for example—and we’re asked to respect those political views more than we are asked to respect those lives, and that is the contingency of the offer of friendship.
The laws that disenfranchise Black people are driven by political views, for example, as are the arrangements of power that put into power a governor who would install buzzsaws in rivers on the national border or separate migrant families. Disenfranchisement is divisive, and family separation more so, and a buzzsaw even more so, but not, apparently, as divisive as refusing to ignore disenfranchisement and buzzsaws for the sake of a contingent and exclusive offer of friendship.
The political views Laura Ann Carleton held were also divisive ones, I am told, even though they were inclusive, so one might find it odd that they are divisive. Yet divisive they are, because it turns out that supremacists believe that her views were inclusive of people who don’t deserve inclusion, and greatly resent having the existence of other people “shoved down their throats,” which is a phrase that supremacists use when they want to establish that the existence of undeserving people represents violence toward them. This desire to exclude often springs from deeply-held religious belief, I’m told—they are matters of conscience, which should always be respected, and should never be a reason to reject the hand of friendship. But they can always be a reason to make sure that power is distributed in such a way that certain people who don’t deserve life don’t get it.
It’s rarely noted that the political views of people like Laura Ann Carleton are also a matter of conscience, and are in many cases even deeply held religious views.
One thing that occurs to me is that the act of being mutually friendly despite political views is the main way that a conservative (that is, a supremacist) can signal to somebody on “the left” that they are one of the good ones who deserve to live, despite their ongoing disagreement about the way the world is. It occurs to me that if somebody rejects that overture, a supremacist might conclude the rejection means what it would mean if it were coming from them—that is, a declaration that in the eyes of the rejector they have not earned life—because they apparently cannot imagine a person who is willing to die for their political beliefs who is not also far more willing to kill over them.
But nobody is trying to strip supremacists of their vote, or ensure that they will go bankrupt over medical care, or force them to give birth to their rapist’s baby, or murder them at the border, or take away their children, or frame the continuance of their lives as a cost rather than a value, as something that must be earned, as something that is undeserved. In fact, these are things that the humanist spirit is trying to ensure even they will be safe from, which actually seems like the friendliest posture a person can take, toward somebody who has decided to be their enemy.
Strangely, the determination to create spaces of safety and life even for supremacists, despite political views, is not an example of civility that mollifies the professional mourners of crumbling civility. A steadfast determination to join with a supremacist political spirit that ensures human beings are harassed and menaced and harmed and erased and killed for the crime of being different is not a habitual occasion to mourn the erosion of civility, yet the refusal of a humanist to be friends with people who participate in that menacing and abusive political spirit is.
And Laura Ann Carleton doesn’t get to be friends with anybody anymore, or attend church functions or backyard barbecues, because she was murdered.
She was murdered over political views.
Just some things I noticed.
Let me use a definition of “friend” that will be understandable even to people in elementary school. A “friend” is somebody who is safe to sit with in the cafeteria, who in fact chooses to sit with you, because they accept you just the way you are, and even like you for it. “Safe” is pertinent, because bullies exist in school just as much as outside it, as anyone who has eaten in a school cafeteria knows. In case you don’t know, a “bully” is somebody who believes that there is something about the way you are that will allow them to hurt you and frighten you every day if they want to, and who wants to hurt you because hurting you makes them feel better, so they do.
One thing I’ve noticed is, the meanest tables are often popular ones. Sometimes they are the most popular. My observation here would be that bullies know that cultivating friendly relationships is useful and necessary for effective bullying.
Any abuser knows that they need accomplices. If dad is getting drunk each night and beating the children up he’s going to need everyone to keep nice and quiet about it, and if anybody squawks then it’s got to be quickly framed as something bad being done to him rather than the other way around. If it looks as if the truth of the story is about to get around he’s going to need people to stand up for him in that moment and say things like this: “Nooooo! Not him. I know him. He would never. He has never been anything but nice to me.” And if the story actually gets out and enough people actually believe it, he's going to need people who he hasn't hurt to listen sympathetically to how bad it has made him feel, and thank him for his bravery, and forgive him on behalf of the people he hasn't stopped hurting yet.
Friends give an abuser enough space to deny what is being said about him, and to accuse his accuser of exactly the behavior he’s guilty of, to make his victims seem like liars, and get enough space to re-license himself to continue the abuse.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about1.
And maybe when you were in that school cafeteria, you knew somebody, a certain type of person, who used to sit with you at your table, along with all the other people the bullies would terrorize, who was offered the opportunity to go sit at a popular mean table, and accepted, and then they weren’t friends with you anymore. Or maybe they tried to stay friends with you but you realized you didn’t really want to be friends anymore with somebody who would be friends with the people who made your life a daily hell in order to gain a little popularity for themselves, in order to be one of those people who gives bullies a little bit of license to abuse.
Or maybe you were that person once.
If I think back on my younger years, I probably was. I certainly don’t want to be that person today. So here’s who I’m trying to sit with in my cafeteria: everyone but the bullies, and especially anyone the bullies are currently trying to hurt.
Honestly, that seems less divisive and more civil than accepting the invitation to be a bully’s accomplice.
I mention this, in case civility is our actual concern.
In this space I’ve talked at length about shunning, and about strategically avoiding debates with bad-faith actors, and I think there are strategic times to shun or to not, and to debate or to not, but really at the bottom of it there’s this: I don’t really want to be friends with bullies, and if you’re willing to be friends with bullies, I don’t really want to be friends with you, either.
I guess you can call these my political views. But I really think it might be as simple as observing that the truly decent people don’t really want to be friends with the assholes who are bullying their friends. Why would I want that? Why would anybody? Why would anybody scold us to?
I think what’s really happening is that an unignorable critical mass of people are done putting up with abusive bullshit anymore—taking it or excusing it—which seems very divisive and dangerous to people who rely on abusive bullshit for either fortune or identity.
But in case I’m wrong, I have a few questions for supremacist bullies:
If you want to be friends, why don’t you ever come sit with us? Why is the demand that we come sit with you instead?
Why do you want so badly for only some of us to sit over with you, and why aren’t the rest of our friends ever welcome at your table?
Why would you expect us to sit at your table, when you won’t stop bullying our friends?
What is this belief that friendship should be completely untethered to the ways that you are harming us and our friends, completely untethered from the ways you ignore us when we tell you that you are, completely untethered from the way you demand that you should be the one who gets to announce what our experience of you is?
If you want friends, why aren’t you willing to be friendly?
Do you want to be friends? Is friends what is desired here?
I don’t think so, actually.
I think what’s being sought is accomplices.
And I have a question for the accomplices, mourners of polarization and the death of civility both professional and amateur, who demonstrate to us that there is no level of abuse or harm with which they can’t make themselves comfortable, who choose to sit in friendship with bullies rather than those they bully, and scold us for not doing the same.
Here’s the question:
Do you think we can’t see what you’re doing?
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A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. What noisy cats are he.
Or maybe you heard elderly baby and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the television this week, accusing the Democrats of supporting a chief executive who lies about tragedy, and fails to grasp the scale of disaster, and struggles to convey empathy to victims of calamity, all while representing a party led by Donald Trump, who perfectly embodies the complaint. Newt knows what he’s doing. It’s textbook abuser behavior.