I’m a liberal in a blue city in a red state. One of my friends is married to a man who has become increasingly conservative over the past year (an “Anti-Black Lives Matter, Anti-Abortion, Democrats are all idiots and socialists are taking over the country” mentality) and his posts in the social Media are becoming more and more extreme. Occasionally we meet as a couple. When we are together, I am friends with him and we avoid open political discussions, but as his social media become more extreme, I have problems continuing to accept invitations to interact with them. Is it hypocritical of me to contact them when I find their personal political views so abhorrent? Name withheld.
As I was When I was 15 and at school in the UK, I met a neighbor of my English grandmother. Then, in his 60s, he was a far-right MP whose views on the major issues of the day were completely different from mine. Still, we enjoyed spending time together – when he took me trout fishing there was always more talk than trout – and while we weren’t just discussing politics, we didn’t avoid the subject. Once, when he drove me to the college he’d attended (and I would, as he’d hoped), I spent two full hours convincing him of an upcoming resolution upholding the abolition of the death penalty support for murder. We must have made a strange couple – a reactionary MP with the stature of the heavyweight boxing champion he was as a student; a lanky brown teenager who kept up with what was then known as The Peking Review. But as we whizzed past the hedgerows and curious sheep of the Cotswolds, we had a heated debate on an issue that was dear to both of us.
I understand why people prefer to confine their sociability to people who share their view of the world and stay away from the insanely misguided people. In recent years America has certainly reshaped itself in a way that reflects this trend. With the advent of the “associative pairing”, bankers no longer marry secretaries, in order to paint roughly; they marry other bankers. Doctors no longer marry nurses; they marry other doctors. And so on, up and down by income and class. (Although social scientists have argued that this trend has deepened economic inequality, it also reflects significant and welcome advances in gender equality in the workplace.) More specifically, the United States is politically sorted: your neighborhood will increasingly be predominantly red or blue , not mixed. While racial segregation has decreased somewhat in the last generation, partisan segregation has increased.
And so have partisan identities. That is, your friend’s husband has the political views of his tribe. These views, as with all tribal shibboleths, will often matter to him because they are signs of his membership. Perhaps some of his views were won through careful thought, but he probably couldn’t argue effectively for most of his opinions in front of an open-minded audience. The problem is, that almost certainly applies to you too. They have the liberal tribal beliefs and obligations. And, as extensive social science research suggests, you probably didn’t get it through thorough and thoughtful analysis because you are like most of us. Identity precedes ideology: who you are determines what you believe.