The Pledge

If you’ve been around political, quasi-political, or life-stance groups for long enough, especially secular or left-ish communities, you’ve seen more than one wave of acrid disagreement; “The Clusterfuck”, “Elevatorgate”, any number of demarcation disputes, internal disputes among allied Radfems, various fronts of The Culture Wars, etc., ad nauseam.

A lot of the time, at least in the initial dispute, you’ve found yourself arguing at odds with someone who’s a genuine asshole (e.g. Gamergaters). Afterward, you’ll possibly find yourself among more principled people, albeit ones you don’t necessarily know so well. Perhaps in the glow of finding new allies, you’ll embrace them too – perhaps a little too closely.

If you’re actually serious about your beliefs and your ethical inquiry, some of your friendships will at some point still be pushed beyond breaking point. And to be clear, I’m talking about friendships with more principled types – not the trolls or abusers.

You can’t be friends with everyone forever, even the kinder, more considerate types. Reality isn’t that romantic. There are too many dimensions in politics for you to agree on all of them with terribly many people, and some of those disagreements will be the shits.

This is sad, but I think people need to be more accepting of the fact.

So this would be the first clause of a pledge I’d like people to take: The acceptance that yes, even among caring, honest, principled people, friendships can be casualties, and this is okay. Everything comes to an end, and amity is no different.

If you’re a political type, look around your immediate social circle; none of these people are guaranteed to be your friends forever. Try not to be jealous or possessive – you don’t own these people. Why hold them captive? Why allow yourself to be held captive in an increasingly strained friendship? Why should any of you be so taken for granted that you’d be expected to agree to the details and significance of every single political detail to the nth degree anyway?

And why would political marriages be magically immune to divorce when normal ones aren’t? It ends: Accept it.

Because this is sad, a second clause: Allow yourself to grieve for these lost friendships, ideally as soon as it becomes clear it’s all heading that way. Grieve as much as you need, but try to do as much of it as you can up-front so it doesn’t fester.

You’re going to meet new people. Perhaps you’ll fall out with them too. It happens. It’s to some extent a cycle.

Taking your values seriously comes at a cost. If you aren’t feeling that cost, then perhaps it’s because your values aren’t being tested, or perhaps it’s because they’re too cheap to cost you anything to begin with. No? It still hurts? Congratulations – you’re not a nihilist.

The third and final clause: While accepting that friendships end, allow yourself some dignity in how that happens. Do everyone a favour; don’t end it all in spite or vex. Purposely unravel your alliance or friendship. Allow it to be bittersweet, but realize that however righteous your cause, it’s not going to be served by prioritizing vengeance, nor will construing the first possible morsel of evidence as proof absolute of malicious intent advance your objects.

And again, these are the better kinds of former friends and allies we’re talking about here, not inhuman monsters.

I suspect a lot of wonks and activists try to distract themselves from the disappointment and sadness of a political friendship ending, and if they can’t do that, then a lot of them try to externalize blame – even when there’s none to apportion. Why? Because if they blame themselves, and they can’t find forgiveness, it could very well weigh on them heavily.

But this kind of self-pity is selfish and there’s another option – accept and take responsibility for your emotions. You’re allowed to be sad, but it doesn’t entitle you to terribly much. Cry if you have to. It’s allowed. Guide yourself through that pain and try to articulate the reason for the end of your friendship, even if only to yourself.

Use this information. If your disagreement was worth enough to end a friendship, then the details are worth further reflection at some point.

Codify your disagreement. Get it inscribed into the minutes if you have to. Someone may learn from it further down the track, and if you’re not being vexatious it’ll be easier for good people to pay attention when that day comes.

You don’t have to tell them you told them so, but you can tell them.

It may be too much to expect you both to at least respect each other above and beyond the basic package, granted. If your views on humanity turn out to be too antithetical – or even just appear that way due to the narcissism of small differences – then a begrudging respect may very well be impossible.

Unless you’re at war though, or unless someone’s committed a crime. Unless there’s an actual victim at the base of your disappointment awaiting liberation by your hand, then you should be able to manage something along the lines of a cool co-existence in whatever domains you’re left sharing with your former friend.

***

So here’s the pledge again – perhaps you could mutually agree to it with a friend today: Accept that political friendships can end. Allow them to end when it’s clear they will and allow yourself to grieve their passing. Work through your grief without vex or spite, towards an purposeful articulation of your political disagreement.

I hope you find this fruitful.

~ Bruce

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