The Politics of Friendship

I’ll go out on a limb here and say something about the GE that isn’t explicitly about the GE. When a GE takes place here (or anywhere else — even in Hong Kong, for that matter, which isn’t really a democracy, but what gives), there’s a tendency for partisans politicians and voters to turn to emotive characterisations and portrayals of the other side in a (desperate) attempt to bolster and reinforce the echo chambers of support that the ad hominems inevitably appeal to. Labour voters are portrayed as ‘immature’, ‘waiting for money from the money tree’, ‘entitled Millennials’, ‘snowflakes’; Tories are painted as ‘children and dementia patient killers’, ‘privileged Toffs’, people intent on ‘destroying the welfare system’; Lib Dems as ‘Remoaners’; SNP supporters as ‘dangerous nationalists’ and ‘uneducated Scots’, and what not.

As with all generalisations and stereotypes, there may be — to varying extents, and some to a significantly greater degree than others — some truth in these images. There may exist, trivially speaking, some Tory voters and politicians that are hell-bent on enacting total privatisation that leaves the most vulnerable to suffer due to an incomplete and inadequate economic vision; there may be certain Labour voters that have particular sympathies for rather peculiar groups that I shall not name; there may be Greens that do not understand economics. But I highly doubt that these stereotypes are accurate, let alone representative of a majority of individuals.

A few nights ago I spent a night at the pub with a few friends of mine. One of them was a moderate-left Labour supporter who is open to Corbyn’s leadership; the other is a dedicated Tory voter who has written extensively on why he’d vote Tory, and supported Brexit last year (and still does). Another was a Lib Dem who had just been campaigning for the local candidate. We sat down and had a fruitful chat about politics, life, and topics of security, domestic policy, and education.

Of course, the personal is political. Of course, relations are — to an extent — inherently political. Your friendships, your voting decisions, your politics are all constitutive of your practical identities. To posit that your politics and your personal views can be severed is nonsensical, and propagates the relativism that justifies befriending deeply racist, xenophobic, or sexist individuals. For many persons facing their privileged mockery, bigotry, and attacks, it’s emotional labour. And that’s why I don’t think it’s reasonable for people to demand that persons of colour, or queer persons, or women, or members of any other minority groups to listen to genuinely abhorrent views and perform some ritual of reconciliation. I don’t think Muslims should need to apologise and ingratiate themselves with blithering, wrong UKIP voters who think their religion is why terrorism exists in the world.

But the reality is different. It’s more nuanced that merely black and white. It’s a spectrum, where whilst black and white do exist, the frequency of issues being classifiable as black and white is a lot lower than we think. I’m not saying that we should empathise with every Trump voter. I wouldn’t, for starters. Or that we must agree or reconcile with Brexiteers. I wouldn’t, either.

But what I’m saying is that just because people come from a different political perspective to yours, doesn’t make them necessarily wrong or evil. They may stand for views that you disagree from, but respectful but agonistic dialectics are possible — and there’s always more room for civil conversations in comparison with hostile, aggressive debate.

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