I am a straight, white, elderly, married man. In all my years, I have never had a friend who is anti-Semitic. I have never had a friend who is racist or homophobic. Nor have I ever had a friend who is misogynistic or xenophobic.
In all my life, I have never had a friend who is regressive or punitive. I have never had a friend who is a bully or cruel. Nor have I ever had a friend who is narcissistic or egomaniacal.
From time to time, I’ve encountered people who exhibit some of these attributes, of course, but I’ve always and quickly exiled myself from their presence. Except when I’ve had no recourse, I have steadfastly abjured their company.
Throughout my life, I have had friends who are religious—and from several faiths—or atheist, even agnostic. I have had friends who espouse differing political sentiments than I, but never aggressively so. I have had friends with points of view different from mine on such issues as pro-life/pro-choice, gender equity, capitalism/socialism, green energy, global warming, pandemic mitigations, famine, warfare/diplomacy, the likelihood of life eternal after death, and more besides.
I have even had friends who disagree with me about my lifelong support of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, for goodness sake!
But never have such disagreements interfered with our friendship because those I consider friends have at no time lowered themselves to crude, ignorant, or abusive rhetoric and behaviour in our discussions and encounters. Nor have they ever resorted to violence to advance their views.
Rather, they have relied on logic, facts, and persuasion to win the day—as I have always tried (sometimes unsuccessfully) to do.
That’s less easy today, though, because of a problem we face with our global society—the unprecedented proliferation of supposed facts presented across the wide range of media outlets available to us. Some of these deliberately masquerade as the truth, which promotes confusion and conflict—forcing us to question what is information, what is misinformation, what is disinformation—and as a result, to begin to query our own values and principles. Critical thinking skills have never been more crucial, it seems to me—and in many quarters, alas, more lacking.
Healthy skepticism has always been a positive thing, I think, a part of those very critical thinking skills. But noxious skepticism, knowingly force-fed to a naïve public by pernicious purveyors of media in pursuit of their own, oft-malign agendas, has the effect of reducing the level of societal discourse to the lowest common denominator. Loud, vituperative, violent acts against each other and our governing bodies are increasingly the result.
In any free society founded on the people’s faith that their government will act in the public interest, such discord cannot be good. Because when the public loses faith in our civil institutions, those institutions will crumble from within. And they will take down with them the very foundations upon which they have been built and thrived—citizens’ rights and responsibilities, the rule of law, equality of opportunity for all.
There is little doubt that, as a collective, we could do a better job of acknowledging our responsibilities (rather than just demanding our rights), and of ensuring equality of opportunity for the dispossessed and marginalized among us. But lacklustre performance aside, the bedrock values are legitimate.
In recent times, unfortunately, I have seen people elected to public office— ostensibly to serve the citizenry—speak and behave in ways that are definitely anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, regressive, punitive, cruel, and narcissistic. I have witnessed their acolytes and followers, to no one’s surprise, then ape them. And they are all doing so—increasingly, it seems—in more extreme language and deed.
Disturbingly, I no longer believe I can respectfully disagree with those folks about their points of view, as should be the norm in any democracy; instead, I fear I would be shouted down, verbally abused, perhaps physically attacked.
Such people are not my friends. Nor, in my opinion, should they be yours. We should be electing and supporting the very best from among us, not the opportunists, grifters, and self-seekers. But to do that, we must bestir ourselves and, at the very least, engage in the process and cast our votes on election days.
Plato wrote, The heaviest penalty for refusing to engage…is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.
I have never wanted that.