Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Consumer Friendships

I've been thinking lately about the right balance between the desire to find like-minded people and the important of cultivating friendships with specific people even when they are not like-minded.

One of the fascinating things about the internet has been the way it has enabled people to form friendships of interest and intellectual friendships across long distances. Are you passionately interested in Victorian English Literature and also in social justice issues and also a deeply committed orthodox Catholic? Somewhere out there you can find the other people scattered across the globe that share your interests and would love to talk about the intersection for those three things. You may end up with close friends whom you've rarely if ever met, because they live thousands of miles away.

In one sense, this is a wonderful release from the often lonely existence from having interests and beliefs that are outside of the norm in your area. One of the things I remember growing up is our family having no like-minded friends at all in our local parish and school. We would at times drive over an hour simply to meet up with a group of Catholic families who mostly shared our beliefs and interests. That kind of isolation is very hard on people, and the ability to make these friendships long distance should not at all be discounted. Indeed, many of my own close friends are people I've met through this blog and through online interactions in general, and even many friends who were originally "real life friends" at some point in our lives are now long distance friends that we keep up with via the internet, because moves across the country have since separated us.

And yet there's an extent to which this ability to find like minded people out of the vast expanses of the internet can lead to increasing selectiveness, breaking off with people or groups because although you share one interest, you clash on another. To take an example that seemed particularly extreme to me: My mother, who collects and sews clothes for 18 inch dolls, told me at one point about how one of the doll discussion groups that she belonged to had split bitterly along political lines.

At first it seems strange that if the purpose of the group was to discuss dolls, that politics would matter in the makeup of the group. Sure, it might come up once in a while, as people discussed their reactions to historical dolls, or their desire for dolls representing particular ethnic groups or disabilities, but you would think that the interest in dolls would override.

And yet, if the internet can connect you to hundreds of other people sharing your hobby all over the world, and if some of those people are easier to get along with because they also share your politics, while others make you uncomfortable at times because of their contrary politics, you can see how a split might seem desirable.

In contrast, the smaller density of like minded people in a local group requires that one compromise on other issues. For instance, in my town there's a group for people who are learning or trying to maintain their speaking and reading ability in German. There are less than a dozen people involved in the group. And as a result, although it contains both several very progressive members and several Trump supporters, as well as others who are more reticent on politics, people mostly live with their differences and even joke about their divisions. There aren't other students of German in town to go hand out with, so people need to find a way to get along or else resign themselves to not having any communal study at all.

In this sense, the sheer variety of the internet makes it easy to treat friendships as a sort of consumer commodity, specifying exactly what we'd like out of our friends in every detail. Catholic SciFi fans set up a separate group to discuss fandom as Catholics, and then that group in turn splits as different types of Catholic SciFi fans decide they'd rather have their own group with only their own sort of fans. Woke doll collectors congregate separately from conservative ones. I definitely see the attraction. To the extent that I often use interest-based groups on the internet as a way to learn about a subject and to relax, I hardly want to have them invaded by strife with people I dislike or who loudly express their dislike for people like me.

And yet, I don't think that the tendency to pick people out like consumer goods for the maximum comfort is a particularly good one. We need, at least at times, to have ties that bind us to people who disagree with us in many ways, so that we learn to form friendships across those divides and so that people on both sides of the divides are reminded that the others are real people.


Bacon Wrapped said...

I follow your family's blog because you and I have very different religious views (I'm not religious), but also have a decent amount of common ground in other areas.

I believe we're both originally from southern California (I think), we're similar in age (I'm 43), seemingly in similar places in our careers, and we share some political/economics views.

Many of your family's posts speak directly to my family's experience and many are a bit foreign. I get value out of all of them, because it helps me remember that though you and I have Catholicism that differentiates us, when I read you or your wife's posts, I mostly see the things we share.

I find this helpful, because after turning on the TV, I feel like we're meant to feel like once religion has separated us, we should remain separate despite the other things we have in common.

I'm not sure if I'm making sense, I'm tired and I need more coffee.

Foxfier said...

I've observed a depressing number of group break-ups-- video game guilds, online discussion groups, even a couple of face-to-face groups. First one I saw was actually a flesh and blood group, my mom's 4-H club. (She was the second in command, then leader.)

It's not really about politics, that's just a recent symptom/expression, from what I've observed-- it's a matter of someone elevating what they think above the group, and refusing to allow it to be avoided.

The 4-H group was broken by someone who wanted to be in charge, and was constantly doing everything she could to grab power. (Wasn't very good at the responsibility angle, but she was "in charge" of a lot of stuff.)

An online discussion group was broken up because a guy thought he was right, and even AFTER it was destroyed, he chased after folks demanding that they recognize how right he was and randomly bringing it up in totally unrelated situations.

Several guilds were broken up because if you crossed whoever the antagonist was, they would then go on to hurt you even if it actually hurt themselves.

I can very easily see a doll group being taken over and split along "political lines" because it's sadly popular in some circles to bring politics into EVERY area, and demand folks genuflect.

Anonymous said...

What if being able to befriend people with different political views was an aberration? It was easy to paper over political differences out of solidarity during the Cold War, when within living memory we almost destroyed the world because people believed in things too strongly. But I don't think the cult of moderation that orevailed during the latter half of the twentieth century is sustainable. I mean, can you really be friends with someone who approves of murdering babies and who wants to make the world inhospitable for thise who believe as you do? Someone who wants your children to abanson their religion and change their genders? People with different political views want to kill you; they may be nice about it but that's what it comes down to if you take what they believe seriously.

bearing said...

No, this is a good comment. You’re making sense just fine.

bearing said...

It sounds to me, from your language, that you have already assumed what you wish to argue: that someone with different politics is *by definition* impossible to get along with.

I do not see reason to assume this.

Darwin said...

Bacon Wrapped,

I'm glad you enjoy the blog, and that's one of the more encouraging comments I've received in a bit. Thanks.


While I think it's important to realize how important some of the differences people of opposing religious and political views have are, I don't think that you are correct that, "People with different political views want to kill you; they may be nice about it but that's what it comes down to if you take what they believe seriously."

Agnes said...

I think it would be horrible if people with differing religious/political views wanted to kill each other. It is what happened in the extremist Nazi and Communist regimes in fact, but it is an aberration and extremism of differing political views which isn't true of the present Western world .
I grew up in the late decades of Communist regime in Hungary and although it was a basic experience for me that we Catholics/conservatives belonged to a minority and our views were in drastic contrast to the established Communist one, ordinary everyday people on the Left side never tried to actively harm others. One of my elementary school teachers was a devoted Communist believer. She used to tell us in class that her ideals were her father and Lenin, and her father because he resembled Lenin; also, she always made malicious jokes about blindly believing fanatical Christians and their outdated customs of genuflecting and making the sign of the cross like a superstition. This made me as a 9-10 years old extremely embarrassed and uncomfortable, I wished every time to stand up and tell her she misunderstood which was impossible in the class situation. However, she was also an excellent teacher, very kind and encouraging to pupils in class, made all kinds of jokes, made sure everyone kept up with their studies and as a teacher, I was very fond of her. She was also very fond of me (even knowing in the background that our family was practicing Catholic). She never ever wanted to actually harm anyone who disagreed with her. Even as a child, I was perfectly aware that she was misguided and not hateful towards Christians. So no, I think it is a wrong and extremely dangerous idea to think of one's opponents as having evil intentions towards us - as a general idea and including the whole of the opposing camp in that statement.

Agnes said...

About the main topic of your post: this relates to one of the issues I'm trying very hard to point out to my adolescent children, especially my oldest son who spends increasingly more time online. It is important to keep the focus of our life off the Internet, the virtual reality and virtual communities; to maintain real relationships with real people face to face outside that of the virtual profile we present on social media and online chat - exactly so that we remember that people have real faces, they are real individuals rather than usernames and avatars. Of course it is an advantage to have the Internet and the opportunities to meet over distances and get to know like minded people (you and I are an excellent example of this). I'm glad you point out another facet of the temptation to go towards the least resistance and easier way with relationships, rather than fight against prejudice and selectiveness.

Anonymous said...

Imagine someone with different political views from your own. Now imagine that everything they wanted came about. Wouldn't such a world seem to be hell on earth, if not altogether fatal to you? This is what people with different political views want: to make you suffer.

Anonymous said...

People with different political views from your own want to murder babies. What makes you think they wouldn't kill you and everyone you love of given the chance?

Anonymous said...

What do you think would have happened to you if you had stood up in class and told your teacher she was wrong about Christians?

Jamie said...

So this is not really the point of your post, but: shout-out to my fellow Victorian lit/social justice/orthodox Catholic types! Would love to chat with any/all about The Way We Live Now or related topics. Annual Dickens read-along over at my blog in May!

Agnes said...

there are many political views differing from my own, and not all politics is tied up in the issue of abortion. I think it is very wrong to make generalizations of this kind. I certainly hope you are exaggerating for the sake of the discussion, and don't really believe what you are saying.

Your other suggestion is very interesting - what would have happened to me as a child standing up to my teacher defending Christianity. In the early times of Communist tyranny it might have led to the persecution of my family and/or the authorities making sure my future career was broken. At the time of my own childhood the Communist regime in my country has slackened enough not to want to actively pursue and persecute every single religious person. I also suppose my teacher would not be so fanatical as to inform against me and my family to the authorities. I rather think I would have appeared more ridiculous than dangerous, and maybe punished for contradicting/being disrespectful to a teacher rather than for being an enemy of the regime. I can't be perfectly sure - I was a child, and there are stories with each possible outcome from among conservative/religious people.

Anonymous said...

Anges, it's quite simple: you hold certain political views. Why don't you hold the opposite of those views? Because those who hold the opposite of your views, if they got everything they wanted, would kill you or at least make your life a living hell. If you think you can be friends with someone who wants to kill you or make you suffer, you are fooling yourself. Abortion is but a stark example: those who support abortion support the murder of babies. Those who support abortion would support murdering you, if you were a little but younger, and would also support murdering your loved ones under similar circumstances. So how can you be friends with one who supports abortion?

I thank you for answering genuinely my question. As you say, before the communist regime under which you lived was consolidated, your coreligionists were terrorized by the authorities. You allude to ruining the careers of Christians, and in our world ruining a career can be a form of murder. If the position of the communist government was sufficiently solid that you need not have feared death because of an impertinent remark to your teacher, then that was only because people who shared your beliefs suffered and died before you. Your teacher knew they could denounce Christianity without fear of rebuke precisely because their ideological allies had murdered so many of those who shared your own beliefs. So it seems to me that your teacher was a mortal enemy of yours who happened to be in such a secure position that violence was not necessary to enforce their dominance over you.

Foxfier said...

Why don't you hold the opposite of those views? Because those who hold the opposite of your views, if they got everything they wanted, would kill you or at least make your life a living hell

Your idea of hell seems rather mild... not being able to build a structure 1/3 the size of our current house without a permit is a political view opposite of mine, but not close to hell.

Similarly, if I was able to get a permit for a bonfire without a fire department inspection, pretty sure the lady two doors down wouldn't be in hell from it.

Sure, some disagreement reaches that level which is beyond tolerance. Blessed Sheen even had a nice article on it.

There is a LOT of space inside of that range, though.

Darwin said...


I basically agree with Foxfier's comment above, but allow me to flip it around and expand on it a bit.

If we were to assume that my political opponents hate me and want to kill me, it would only make sense to assume that I hate them and want to kill them. But in fact, I do not hold views opposed to their because I want them to experience "hell on earth." I hold the views that I do because I think that were my views to win out, the enactment of my views would be best both for me and ALSO for my political opponents.

So to take a somewhat contentious issue: I think that guns should be legal and available for self defense. I know people who think that the availability of guns is a really terrible thing. However, my reason for holding my views is not that I want my opponents to suffer. Rather, I think that the availability of guns for self defense by law abiding citizens is something which increases the common good. This means that I think it's actually good even for people who support gun control, in that I think their belief that gun restrictions would make them safer is mistaken.

Now, there are people who actively wish ill towards people who disagree with them. We see this in the behavior of online mobs, who identify someone they disagree with and send them threats, try to get them fired, etc. One of the things we saw in the worst times of history was the willingness of people to turn on their relatives and neighbors and see their lives destroyed for ideological reasons.

However, one of the reasons that I think that it's worth while to maintain human connections with people that we disagree with is to avoid this very kind of thing. I think it's when people start to see their opponents as nothing but evil creatures motivated by viciousness that they become willing to do that kind of thing.

Agnes said...

My political opinons aren't based on the basis of opposing others whom I consider bad people (wanting to kill or create a hellish situation). I hold certain political views because as Darwin says, I think those are the right ideas for the benefit of all society - either because they are in accord with the ethical principles I believe to be absolute (rather than a matter of choice or a matter of the majority's opinion as many liberals think); or because from an intellectual/practical POV I think they are correct (or both). I allow the courtesy of thinking anyone holding an opposing view to have the same grounds - until any specific person demonstrates active hatred or ill will towards those with differing political opinions. For example: many supporters of abortion 1. don't believe in the absolute moral imperative that terminating any human life is a mortal sin; or 2. don't fully believe that fetuses are human beings with all the rights of humans; or 3. for their own selfish reasons choose to overlook the moral contradiction. There are only a very few, if any, who support abortion because they actively wish to kill babies.

I'm not usually friends with people who are actively promoting abortion, but I can have a normal everyday relationship and cooperate in other matters with a person who votes for a pro-choice policy rather than pro-life.
Another point: I happen to disagree with Darwins's position on gun ownership policy. We can still be friends and agree on an extremely wide range and large number of issues - far from wishing ill to each other, or even needing to convert the other to our own opinion.

Anonymous said...

If your political views consist entirely of opinions on zoning and permits, then you're betraying contentment with a status quo that many people in this country want to upturn, in which case there are loads of people who want you to suffer immensely.

Foxfier said...

There are people who want to kill me and take my stuff.

Even among that criminal element, the number who actually want me to suffer at all is a tiny percent.

Heck, I'm less than an hour from a place where the only surprising thing about a massacre is that they targeted police as a group, on duty.

Not impressed by the college twits who have been having a revolution since the leaders were teens in the 60s.