Something that’s bothered me for a while is the relationship between politics and friendship. Not just close friendship but also people who you are happy to hang out with socially. Some topics – I’d include Brexit, trans rights and Israel/Palestine – are especially divisive in that people who disagree on these seem to find it very hard to tolerate one another. (The woke/anti-woke split is also a marker, though it is tempting just to push back against whoever is being the most irritating and dogmatic in some given context.) Anyway, in those oppositions the other side is, you think, marked by some combination of stupidity and moral perfidy, such that it is impossible to retain the minimal degree of respect that friendship requires.

Except, except, there’s always someone whose personal charm or the fact that something other that politics is the basis for friendship means that they get forgiven or excused even when they say something that’s really off. And who is available makes a difference too: if you are in a small community or a workplace or a family then you may not have to rub along with the people you disagree with, but it is better if you do because you’re inevitably going to be seeing a lot of them.

Here’s something that’s particularly insidious: you don’t know if you disagree with some person, but you suspect, on the basis of some fact about them (religion, ethnicity, age, nationality, etc.) that you might. Though they are someone that seems nice, you don’t have such a deep friendship with them that means a rift would painful. You don’t want to ask them directly, it would be rude, and there seems to be something discriminatory about doing so: “Because you have characteristic X, I suspect you might believe something, and I need to know…” Why ask them if you aren’t going to ask everyone the same question, after all? So you don’t, but you don’t really want to risk discovering that they are, as you think of it, a bigot: that could lead to a painful argument or just mutual embarrassment. So you prefer to avoid, not to engage, and you drift apart through this shunning, which might be mutual: perhaps they also suspect that you are the kind of person who holds the belief of which they disapprove. But you never really know, you just suspect a possibility, an opportunity is lost, and the object of your shunning may be left with the thought that you are no longer having to do with them because of their age, ethnicity, etc. And in a certain sense, they wouldn’t be wrong.