Avoiding people because of what you suspect they might think

by Chris Bertram on May 30, 2024

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.



Sean Matthews 05.30.24 at 10:42 am

Well, there are subjects that I would not bring up with some of my oldest friends, because there is a material risk that by doing so, I would total those friendships, and I don’t want to do that. To what gain, after all – I’m already sure that I can’t covert them to my point of view, so nothing would be achieved except the trashing of a decades-long friendship (though I separately find it fascinating that it obviously does not occur to those friends – who are intelligent and sophisticated – that I might disagree more or less all the way down with them about issues that they clearly recognise as contentious : they automatically assume that on all contentious issues I stand on their side, like all reasonable people).


Matt 05.30.24 at 12:08 pm

My next-door neighbor has been pretty friendly to me. He chats on the street in a nice way, his kids seem nice, he’s been happy to take in my trash bins when I can’t because I’m away, he trims my half of the mutual hedge between our place and picks up the clippings, and is generally nice. Nothing very special, but nice. It’s a good contrast to the aggressive unpleasant ass-hole who lives directly across the street from me, or the generally semi-unnpleasant types up and down the road who do things like drive not street legal dirt-bike motorcycles up and down the road much too fast all the time. So, a person I want to stay friendly with. He also has “Exit the WHO”, “Exit the WEF”, and “Exit the WTO” painted and his trash bin and what I think may be some sort of Q-anon sticker on his truck. I do my best to just ignore this and try to be friendly because, well, who needs the grief, or another aggressive neighbor, especially when I’m not going to make a dent in the world-view in any direct way in any case. That’s not quite the same thing as the friend issue, of course, but I think the point generalizes, at least to some degree.


Tom 05.30.24 at 12:32 pm

I wonder if you’ve hit on part of the reason that reactionary politics tend to flourish better in less densely populated areas? Due to the dynamic you’re describing, someone with intolerant views is less likely to be shunned or stigmatized for them; so they get more comfortable voicing them; so they come to be seen as – and to some extent actually become – more widely held, more “mainstream” and less “shocking”. That further emboldens those who hold those views, and before long they’ve become the “dominant” views, and it’s those who don’t share them, or at least aren’t comfortable with them, who feel vulnerable to being shunned or stigmatized. At that point, if you’re not hoisting a Trump flag or putting Brexit sticker on your trash bin, you’re the “wierdo”.


engels 05.30.24 at 12:34 pm

I don’t think I tend to feel this way or act on it (possibly a result of spending much of my life in environments where nobody was remotely close to me politically, and a love of arguing) but I suspect I’ve been on the receiving end: maybe I should have got in first.


MisterMr 05.30.24 at 1:38 pm

I fundamentally have a lot of friends and acquaintance with right leaning politics, they know I’m a leftie, we just don’t speak of politics when we hang out.


oldster 05.30.24 at 1:57 pm

How often does this feed back into moderating one’s original view?

I think that people who disagree with me about abortion/trans issues/ I-P etc. must have barbaric views.
But this person disagrees with me, and certainly does not seem like a barbarian.
So, maybe their view is not barbaric?

I suspect this happens very, very seldom. Instead of our moderating the vehemence with which we reject the opposing view, we simply chalk it up to what we take to be an inconsistency in the other’s moral outlook.

Which shows something interesting about the piece-meal nature of personal morality, and about our own assumptions about its non-systematicity. People are patchworks of good and bad, empathetic and cold-blooded, enlightened and benighted, and we expect nothing else.

Except from our allies, from whom we demand complete agreement on the full list of acceptable positions, any deviance to be punished by public shaming.


wacko 05.30.24 at 4:37 pm

As Basil Fawlty said: don’t mention the war.
That simple.


J, not that one 05.30.24 at 5:15 pm

I’ve come to the conclusion that almost all our beliefs about other people’s attitudes and opinions are severely underdetermined (underdetermined empirically I guess, and overdetermined ideologically in terms of our beliefs about human nature and society).

The big split seems to be between people who assume everybody’s alike and has to keep confronting discoveries that individual people don’t match that expectation, and people who assume only people who are like themselves in some way are fully comprehensible as humans.

But this is orthogonal to prejudice to some extent. I can expect bad, or at least strange, treatment both from men who think I’m not behaving according to correct norms for women and are upset by that, and also from men who think I am behaving according to correct norms for women and are upset by that. “Everybody is alike” could mean “men and women are alike in essentials” or it could mean “everybody sane realizes that men and women are deeply different.”

As for the rest, I suppose it comes down to degree of willingness to endure future discomfort.


somebody who remembers glinner used to be an esteemed writer and comedian 05.30.24 at 5:47 pm

interesting insight, and it gets to the heart of the anxiety over “cancel culture”. the line cook at my local ihop may have shitty opinions but i’ll never know, our interactions are through the window behind the counter and limited to “nice to see you” and “thanks for the breakfast, great job”. if he is revealed to have bad opinions, i might just not sit at the counter anymore, but is that level of shunning contributing to the fraying of relationships in our community? perhaps it is, to some small degree. still, with a casual acquaintance, there is no other option, we will never have a deep discussion or talk about our own experiences to possibly change each other’s mind.

of course this does not apply to transphobes (this is usually what is actually meant by “anti woke”) because they will absolutely, unquestionably, immediately tell you their horrible opinions within three minutes of meeting them and will talk about nothing else for conversation after conversation. its why their families leave them. transphobia at the moment seems to be a uniquely virulent infection that chews away all other opinions and interests.


SusanC 05.30.24 at 5:55 pm

” Brexit, trans rights and Israel/Palestine”

These seem to be all issues with a high risk of making you look like you’re completely round the twist, a moral monster or both.

In the case of trans people, its kind of clear their deal is they wanna be treated as the opposire gender to theior agab (or non-binary).

The anti-trans obsessive .on the pther hand .. looks like they have have serious “issues” of some sort, even if its not entirely clear exactly what.

It has been a long standing convention on the UK labour left that criticiseing Israel is fine, but actual anti-semitism is out of line. And I gotta admit, these days at least some of these protesters are looking like actual anti-semites. The whole sort of Protocols of the Elders of Zion related conspiracism has a really bad rep. for very good reasons. Can make you look like a total lunatic.

And brexit was a bit odd, too.


SusanC 05.30.24 at 6:03 pm

QAnon is maybe not so popular, but, for example, going on about how the government is controlled by a cabal of pedophiles who are harvesting adrenochrome from kids is also, likely, deleterious to your reputation.

And in other news: the government is not being controlled by lizards from outer space.


John Q 05.30.24 at 7:43 pm

None of the issues mentioned in the OP are likely to raise those problems in Australia. Brexit obviously, trans rights because the issue is settled (speaking tours by UK transphobes have been fiascos), Israel-Palestine because Australia isn’t involved in the way the US is now, and the UK has been historically.

The big problem for us is that of recognition of Aboriginal/indigenous/First Nations. We just had a referendum on this, which failed mostly because referendums usually fial and this one was handled very badly, turning initially strong majority support into a thumping loss.

On issues like this, I have lots of rural relatives and generally make the kind of assumptions mentioned in the OP, particularly for those of my age and older. But I wouldn’t stay friends with someone of my own (urban, educated) social background who shared those views.


)oshua 05.30.24 at 7:57 pm

As a Jew with a universalist moral framework, this is painfully true for me and my wife. We hesitate to engage with our extended family or Jewish friends for fear of learning that their loyalty tribal instead of Jewish moral ideals.

It may be a mercenary reason to support universal ideals, but *the rabbis were well aware that as a permanent minority in a dangerous world Jews benefit from upholding universal ethical claims. (In the same way, a world without international justice is one where Israel would never exist or eventually won’t.)

But this isn’t a conversation we feel like we can have within our family and Jewish community.

*this passage is from Jonathan Glick on Mastodon


engels 05.30.24 at 9:09 pm

Is Brexit really still an issue in the UK? I think the majority (a) think it was mistake and would vote to rejoin and (b) don’t want there to be another vote. Which somehow seems quintessentially British.


Moz in Oz 05.31.24 at 4:56 am

I’m very conscious of doing this with one friend, as they’ve gone down the antivaxx rabbithole and can’t resist making occasional rude comments about my imaginary pandemic. I tried once and now change the subject.

But more generally I STFU about some things because I disagree with the majority, sometimes almost everyone. The “universal franchise” that excludes under-18’s, some convicts, some incompetant, non-citizen residents etc is harmful and dishonest. I think marriage equality has not been achieved in Australia despite the propaganda that “any two unmarried competent citizen adults can marry” is equality. Likewise saying that the climate catastrophe is real and has broad support is unpopular, despite 90% of Australian voters either disagreeing with the first or doing the second. I think opinions are more mixed on genocide, but it’s definitely a contentious topic despite John Quiggin’s comments above – perhaps because I live in a more Muslim area?


Q5 anon 05.31.24 at 9:53 am

A key element, which a couple of commenters have touched on, is whether (you think that) it would ever be possible to have a reasoned and friendly discussion with a believer in X or an opponent of Y. In other words, whether you see the beliefs as lying within some sort of bounds of reasonableness is much less important than whether you see believers as legitimate political actors – or, indeed, whether believers are likely to treat non-believers as legitimate actors. If my neighbour believes he was Robespierre in a past life and Boris Johnson was Danton, so what – he may be crazy, but we can still get along. If my neighbour believes that Keir Starmer has reformed the Labour Party and that anyone who thinks otherwise should be beaten up, we’ll have more of a problem.

I’m not sure Brexit belongs on the list of impossible topics (any more). Brexit isn’t associated with violence (after Jo Cox’s assassination it probably should have been, but that’s not how it played out); it does have connotations of racism, though. Class is never far away, either – from a pro-Brexit point of view it’s very much a divide between “ordinary working people” and “people who take European city breaks and go on marches with home-made signs (and have no idea what ordinary working people are up against)”. The actual topic is discussable, although – as engels said – that’s probably on the shared assumption that it (a) was probably a mistake and (b) isn’t going to be reversed.

I/P isn’t an intractable topic so much as a very, very upsetting one. Or maybe that’s just me – if one believed that everyone who said “from the river to the sea” was advocating genocide against Jews, or that everyone who said “Israel’s right to self-defence” was advocating genocide against Palestinians, conversations with the other side would be over before they began. I’ve never come across anyone advocating either, which leaves us with a disagreement between “what’s happening is terrible, and” and “what’s happening is terrible, but”.

Trans rights, though – that’s a really divisive issue, either because (a) only one side are legitimate political actors – one side simply wants trans people to have the same rights as everyone else, while the other side are reactionary bigots or because (b) one side believes that the other side are reactionary bigots and refuses to recognise them as legitimate political actors. I tend to think it’s the latter. Which is why I’m commenting anonymously – I almost laughed when I read the comment from “someone who remembers…” @9, to the effect that “transphobes” are so obsessed with their particular ideology that they’ll always out themselves. There certainly are people – IRL and especially online – who talk about nothing else, and they’re best avoided if only on the grounds of tedium (and yes, what’s happened to G Linehan is an awful warning). But I know I haven’t said a word on the subject, in public settings IRL or (under my name) online, for quite a few years – because I know that if I did some people would infer motivations I don’t hold, and I would cause upset to people I care about and probably lose friends.

Having said all of that, it’s not entirely a matter of how intolerant true believers are, and/or how intolerant you are of true believers; there are belief systems that make you want to cross to the other side of the road, figuratively or literally. I dropped someone cold once because they’d become a 9/11 Truther; I just didn’t want that craziness anywhere near my head.


engels 05.31.24 at 2:48 pm

Something I saw a lot on Twitter before I quit was people who seemed to me to have reasonable disagreements with mainstream left-liberal opinion on certain topics (including those mentioned in the post) becoming increasingly obsessive and sometimes extreme on those topics as they were treated increasingly contemptuously by the orthodox until in some (but not most) cases they ended up on the right. I would like this process to stop and I don’t think being more contemptuous to these people at an earlier stage is the way to do it.


Ronan 05.31.24 at 6:41 pm

I’ve found I dont engage in debate with friends who hold what i see as awful opinions/values, less because I find them objectionable and more I find them dumb. Most peoples opinions on most things are stupid and half thought through and most of what counts for arguments is merely regurgitating memes. I find that aspect more off putting than what it says about their character, which is often hard to they know due to their aforementioned thoughtlessness


Chris Bertram 05.31.24 at 10:56 pm

I appreciate the comments, but note that the OP was not about choosing to avoid people with opinions you find repellent, but rather about choosing to avoid people because you think (perhaps on the basis of some other characteristic they have) that they might have opinions you find repellent.


John Q 06.01.24 at 3:12 am

Mostly OT, but I agree with Moz on voting rights, except that I think a restriction to citizens is justified. If you are genuinely a permanent resident, you should become a citizen at the earliest opportunity (4 years). If you have PR status, but don’t wish to become a citizen, you shouldn’t vote either. Otherwise, everyone (including children, prisoners, people with mental disabilities) should be entitled to vote, though it ought not to be compulsory for the currently excluded categories.

Going back to the OP, I tend to assume people my age or older are more likely to have ill-informed and reactionary opinions and limited capacity to respond to new evidence. That informs my view that children should be able to vote, and also affects the way I interact.


Alan White 06.01.24 at 5:38 am

I instantly judge people by bumper stickers. Just yesterday I saw a fk Biden on a truck, pulled up next to it at a stop light, and turned and mouthed fk you. I then heard loud horn blasts, which I refused to acknowledge, knowing that I could next hear gunshots if I was lucky enough to avoid death. This is the world we now live in.


EWI 06.01.24 at 7:47 am


It has been a long standing convention on the UK labour left that criticiseing Israel is fine, but actual anti-semitism is out of line.

I thought at first read that this was surely particularly dry humour, but I then realised that this is the very sort of claim that illustrates some of the very points being made by other commenters.


SusanC 06.01.24 at 10:37 am

@EWI: I was actually serious. And “the UK labour left” was intentional … while recognizing that Starmer-era Labour leadership might be very unhappy with you criticizing Israel, it was my understanding that previously you were allowed to do that.


engels 06.01.24 at 11:20 am

It’s been a long-standing convention on the Labour right that criticising Israel essentially is anti-semitism (it’s fortunate for them, legally at least, that they cancelled Diane Abbott and Faiza Shaheen for things they said rather than “characteristics”).


Phil H 06.02.24 at 6:08 am

I’m not sure that the problem is so much (assumed) difference of opinion, but difference of opinion on issues where it’s become acceptable to let your freak flag fly.
I have this theory that there’s much much more variation in opinion on lots of really fundamental things than most people ever acknowledge. (I think I’m saying the same thing here as J not that one “underdetermined”?) Like, the people next door to you who are also married, kids go to your kids’ school, and vote the same way, but if you were to dig down, you’d find that their conception of marriage, education and society is actually completely barmy… at least, barmy from your perspective. Different.
The reason for the difference is simply that people differ a lot; the reason that we don’t notice it is a highly developed set of institutions and social practices that smooth over the differences and enable us all to get along. These are institutions (like school, prison, marriage) that can be accepted and used by people with very different beliefs; and practices like hierarchy, tact and giving face that direct us to avoid confrontation. An example of how this works is the stereotype about vegans talking about veganism (in my experience, completely the reverse of the truth, but that’s not the point here): meat eaters love to joke/complain about what vegans say – not what they do, because that would be confronting a difference head on. They complain about vegans’ breach of the norm not to highlight differences.
The salient thing about controversial issues, then, isn’t that people have different beliefs; it’s that a norm has temporarily emerged that it’s acceptable to surface these differences, in stark contrast to the way we handle other differences. Like Somebody said above, “transphobes…immediately tell you their horrible opinions within three minutes” because for some reason this practice has become normalised.
So, pre-emptively avoiding people who you think are likely to hold wrongthink views isn’t, I don’t think, about insulating yourself from those opinions as such. It’s about avoiding situations in which certain groups of people are likely to follow the current practice of starting an objectionable argument.
Which is not to say that it’s a good thing; it would be better to quickly develop new practices for smoothing over these differences. But I think it’s a mistake to say, as in the OP, that we avoid them because we suspect they might believe X. The belief is not the problem.


someone who remembers the enormous investment in destroying blogs conducted from 2006 to 2016 06.02.24 at 6:31 am

Q5 @ #16 – Well with that attitude, you ain’t ever gonna get that six figgie check from substack! dont worry. some eager 47 year old will burn their family relations instead of you. the supply is endless


Alvaro 06.02.24 at 8:46 am

Avoiding people for what they may think is loosing opportunities to have most interesting conversations, not only for knowing another perspective but for making yourself re-evaluate your thoughts. Seen commenters are mostly from UK, US, AU; i’m from UY but observing these problems are not that local as i thought: personalization of politics and ‘fast labeling’ of people, event fast enough to not even start a dialog. Is it me or seems to be a global tendence to avoid dialogs and keep people ‘in their square meter’?


engels 06.02.24 at 11:43 am

Is it me or seems to be a global tendence to avoid dialogs and keep people ‘in their square meter’?

I think Twitter had a similar effect on dialectics that Tinder did on dating.


Sashas 06.02.24 at 3:23 pm

@OP An interesting twist perhaps is people who insist they don’t hold [opinion you find repellent] and only hold [other tightly associated opinion]. We have an example in @Q5 anon (16), albeit not a perfect one. If I’m reading correctly, they are taking a stance against trans rights while at the same time insisting they are not a reactionary bigot. It’s not a perfect example because I find both opinions repellent, but I think it’s instructive that my first (and ongoing) reaction to the second half of their claim is: I don’t believe you.

The more I think about it, the more I think this gets to the heart of the phenomenon you’ve identified. If I suspect someone of holding a stance I cannot tolerate, and I cannot imagine a way for them to convince me otherwise… what is left but to walk away?

The trick of course is that this is a failure of imagination on my part. There is plenty they could do to convince me otherwise, I’m just not seeing it in the moment. (And in our local example, plenty @Q5 anon could do to convince me they aren’t a bigot. Although I truly honestly cannot imagine how one can oppose trans rights without being a bigot.)


patrick linnen 06.02.24 at 4:27 pm

In deciding to avoid people given indicator they give off;
On one hand, one might be missing an interesting conversation and learning new things.
On the other hand, the conversation might be duller than bowling ball and raise your blood pressure hearing already debunked information.
On the gripping hand as conversations imply two-way exchanges, you may find yourself trapped in the receiving role, not in a conversation.


J, not that one 06.02.24 at 6:32 pm

Phil H: I’m not certain whether we’re saying the same thing or not.

You say we have “a highly developed set of institutions and social practices that smooth over the differences and enable us all to get along.” But I’d say we have more than one. The idea that a single set of institutions and practices is shared throughout society, through all social classes, religious and ethnic groups, genders, generations, and so on, not to mention in the global community brought together by the Internet and globalization, might seem plausible if you’ve never met anyone whose social practices are manifestly different from yours, whom you can’t just write off as ignorant or uncivilized. The narrative is that either everyone shares the same fundamental beliefs, or that all adults do. So anyone who doesn’t share the same beliefs can be written off as essentially a child or a foreigner. But many people reach a point fairly early in life where the narrative is seen to be obviously false.

At least I’d put “fundamental” at an even deeper level than you seem to.

What I was suggesting was that many people draw nearly infinite conclusions from pretty minimal evidence. We’re all going through life with a kind of illusion that we understand people (especially people we dislike, but also often people we like a lot) a lot better than we actually do.

I’m guessing the question in the OP about avoiding certain people to avoid having to confront certain of their beliefs . . . works out differently for those who want to avoid being treated badly, and those who just want to avoid being bothered. I’d also guess, I think, that the question appears different to people who’ve always assumed their social world is polarized, for as long as they can remember, than it does to people who’ve always assumed their own beliefs are shared pretty universally.


Moz in Oz 06.03.24 at 6:52 am

OP was not about choosing to avoid people with opinions you find repellent, but rather about choosing to avoid people because you think (perhaps on the basis of some other characteristic they have) that they might

That’s in a lot of ways harder to talk about because for me at least a lot of the people I avoid I know little about. For example I’m perplexed that JQ still hangs out in the nazi bar even though I don’t have any real experience of how bad “X” is these days… because I avoid it. The reported comments of the owner are enough to justify that IMO.

I don’t think there’s just two axes of difference, and there are definitely degrees of adherence, but there are definitely clusters of belief. When I see someone express the polite edge of a cluster I’m cautious, and there are definitely things that will cause me to avoid someonejust from a hint. Someone wearing a MAGA hat is enough (yes, people do that in Australia). I’m also profoundly skeptical of visibly religious people, any kind of right wing insignia, or whatever the opposite of environmentalism is (brown vs green?).

This also ties into the abovementioned “vegans can’t stop talking about being vegan” syndrome. Often just being different triggers disquieting conversations. And as someone who is visibly different I’ve experienced enough of that to last a lifetime. Turning up on a bicycle gets me far too many comments on the spectrum from “all cyclists are bad” to “I would like to murder you with my motor vehicle”. Being queer, or tweaking the people who can detect autism, or wearing a ‘greenie’ T shirt or at times being white and male, also set some people off.

I’d rather avoid those people. I’ve dealt with them enough. Think of it as spoon theory, or avoiding microagressions (in the sense that “I want to kill you” is a microagression {urk})


Q5 anon 06.03.24 at 9:11 am

Sashas @29:

f I’m reading correctly, they are taking a stance against trans rights while at the same time insisting they are not a reactionary bigot.

That’s not the biggest argumentative leap in the world, but I avoided saying anything about my own beliefs (and would like to continue to do so, if only to avoid derailing the thread and/or getting barred). What I said was that people on the “gender-critical” side of that particular debate (or battleground) are very widely perceived as reactionary bigots, and that I don’t think this is necessarily the case. There certainly are reactionary bigots on that side – trans rights are an easy target for right-wing politicians (and George Galloway). But there are also feminist arguments, & people who find them persuasive. (Fun fact: the abbreviation TERF was coined as a neutral alternative to “GC” and “transphobe”; the author thought both sides could at least agree that there was such a thing as a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Didn’t quite work out like that.)

The danger is starting from the assumption that GC=transphobic=bigoted=reactionary and ignoring anything superficially persuasive (or apparently feminist) that a GC source may say, because you’ve assumed they’re indelibly tainted with bigotry. I think there’s an analogy with supporters of Israel being seen as (necessarily, in all cases) apologists for ethnic cleansing and war crimes – or, for that matter, with supporters of Palestine being seen as (necessarily, in all cases) apologists for antisemitic terrorism. Or, to take an example of which I’ve had more recent experience, supporters of Jeremy Corbyn being seen as (necessarily, in all cases) Trotskyist headbangers who need to be evicted from politics.

Chris @19 – point taken, and apologies if I’ve just made matters worse (although I think Sashas’ formulation is a useful clarification). An example closer to the OP might be the “Karen” – a White middle-aged woman, characterised by an officious sense of entitlement and various other unpleasant characteristics (TERFish attitudes included), and identifiable at a distance by being… well, a White middle-aged woman.


engels 06.03.24 at 11:06 am

The aim of socialism is to build a movement of the whole working class (in all its diversity) to fight capital. Middle class leftism otoh is primarily concerned with lifestyle, ethics and personal distinction and feels most comfortable retreating into self-affirming affinity groups, the smaller the better. Overlaying that today is the way that online platforms offer a consumerist approach to human relationships where anyone can choose from thousands of discursive, social or romantic partners as if buying a mail order T-shirt: this encourages impatience, superficiality and viewing people as brands rather than humans.


Grumpy Old Railroader 06.03.24 at 5:15 pm

So in the old days when I was a young railroad brakeman, we had a boss that was the forerunner of the Tea Party and Q-anon types. It was before internet and so the means of communication was via postal service and cheaply printed newsletters. This Barry Goldwater Conservative was big into get America out of the U.N. and taxation was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Most of us just politely ignored his constant rants. But then another brakeman had this great idea. When the Boss called us out of lunch to give us our next switch list, one of us would strike up a conversation with the Boss and quiz him on his various theories. This would lead the Boss to a long drawn out conversation with the brakeman who asked the question while the rest of us sat around hiding our giggles. The upshot was we would run out of time to switch out the box cars and the Boss would just send us home. Each day we took turns as to who on the crew was to be our diversion and ask “The Question.” This went on for quite some time before the Boss tumbled to the fact that he had in fact been trolled. Fun times on the railroad.

I should also note that when the Boss retired, he moved to Idaho and eventually was convicted of tax evasion


J, not that one 06.03.24 at 6:06 pm


I have questions.

Is the left a movement for the working class or of the working class? If it’s of the working class, how is that defined? Traditionally, in Marx, the working class is assumed to be by far the majority, and the middle class is defined as very small and consisting only of holders of large capital and a small number of professionals born initially into the capitalist class. How does a movement of the working class win power if that’s no longer the case, and the working class as defined consists only of a diminishing minority? Is the moral imperative for non-workers to support the left something that comes from the majority status of the working class, or from its especial virtue?

Is the left a movement for what the working class wants now, or a movement for what intellectuals think the working class should want?

Is there any place for a left that consists of a movement of society and the economy in a more democratic, fairer, more equal direction in which everybody has enough to eat and so on, by people who don’t happen to be workers? Is there any place for a left that supports equal rights for women, trans people, Black people, and Muslims, whether or not the working class as a class doesn’t like those groups?

Or is the answer to go read Capital again? Where are the pages where Marx says everybody has the same interests and only the rich people emphasize personal uniqueness and authenticity?


steven t johnson 06.03.24 at 7:31 pm

As to the OP, there seem to be quite a few people who avoid others who seem to be lower class people with repellent bad taste and vulgar indifference to the better things. The markers of such lower class status seem to be well known to those of a higher status (and maybe vice versa too?) I’m not sure avoiding other people who you suspect of having immoral political and cultural thoughts is in principle different. The most likely example of a correlation between moral opinions and group affiliation seems to me to be, membership in a religion. Except in this case, which you would think would be a fortiori argument, most of us can’t identify the religious status of random encounters. To be sure, money in the collection plate is a observable commitment. But the offense seems to be having bad thoughts, not what is being done? For us less sophisticated thinkers, material commitments carry more weight.

The question @36 are addressed to @34 but they seem terribly confused and hodge podge at best. I’m pretty sure that traditionally even Marx acknowledged the existence of the landed aristocracy and prelates in established churches. It seems to me blatantly obvious that most people can not provide for their families from the income derived from their property, which point makes a question about workers being a minority somewhat tendentious, I think. There has been for a very long time a movement for “more democratic, fairer more equal direction” but it’s the long term success of this mildly reformist movement that ensures its place. If it’s persistently failed, the blame for that does not lie on Marxism of any kind so far as I can see.

“Is there any place for a left that supports equal rights for women, trans people, Black people, and Muslims, whether or not the working class as a class doesn’t like those groups?” The working class as a class is about half female and most definitely includes trans people and Black people and Muslims. To me this question sounds like a loaded question that presumes some backward attitudes held by workers because they are workers, i.e., exactly what the OP is talking about.

It also somehow assumes there is some privileged class somewhere that has a monopoly on the Good Thoughts, at a guess the credentialed. But do this undefined superior class support the equal rights of workers too? Frankly the hint here that workers are responsible for the oppression seems to me to be letting the rich and powerful off the hook? They’re the ones who can do more about the oppressions of women and trans and Blacks and Muslims, as well as workers. It’s like blaming rural people for electing Trump, when they are the minority.


Witt 06.04.24 at 12:23 am

I am finding the OP and discussion a bit confusing, because they both seem to take for granted the idea that “you,” the individual, are the only relevant consideration, and that “you” are not personally implicated by any of these positions. It’s as if this is about high-school debate topics, and not our daily lives.

For myself, if I avoid inviting someone to a dinner party because I suspect (but do not know) that they are transphobic, it is in large measure because I want my other guests to feel safe and comfortable in my home. Obviously this is most directly relevant if I have a trans guest coming to dinner, but it matters for my cis guests too E.g., I just found out that a colleague has a trans sibling. Would I want to subject that colleague to bigotry in my own home on what is supposed to be a relaxing social occasion? Certainly it’s nothing they haven’t heard before, but why should they be subjected to it on friendly turf, so to speak?

Or take climate denialism. It’s less personal than transphobia in certain respects, clearly, but I have friends and colleagues who work professionally to combat the worst of climate change’s effects. Two years ago I went to a birthday party at which I unwillingly spent the better hour trying to deflect and reframe the climate denialism of another guest’s spouse. He certainly felt entitled to spew his odious views all over the room, without regard or inquiry as to whether others wanted to hear them. Had he been preemptively excluded from the party on the basis of being a straight, white, old, male Republican who worked for an oil company (all of which he was), even if we didn’t know his views on climate in advance, it would have made for a far more pleasant evening for the rest of the guests, including me.

There are many moments in daily life when I don’t have a choice about who to interact with, and I flatter myself that I navigate those as smoothly as the next person. I’m not interested in randomly picking fights with a Home Depot cashier or my fellow train rider on the basis of simply suspecting that they are politically objectionable. There is a dude at my yoga class who has some really upsetting tattoos that read as Christian nationalist to me; my sole conversation with him consists of innocuous phrases like “Hey, can you slide your mat over a little?”

But in circumstances where there are starkly unequal potential consequences — a false positive means that I miss out on an otherwise lovely dinner guest, a false negative means that I subject my other guests to a spontaneous eruptions of bigotry — I’m OK with erring on the side of more false positives.


MisterMr 06.04.24 at 8:14 am

So, my opinion: social media make it easier to interact only with people who have our own same opinions, thus creating echo chambers (of two teams who reinforce their identities through hating the other); the same dynamic is now spreading to meatspaces. Oh, no!

I should note that this clearly exists on the right too, in facts even more than in the left probably, but since people in the right for some reason believe they are apolitical even when they are right leaning, they probably don’t even understand that this is happening (apart when they meet “woke” people).


notGoodenough 06.04.24 at 10:27 am

choosing to avoid people because you think (perhaps on the basis of some other characteristic they have) that they might have opinions you find repellent.

Generally speaking, not really? I suppose it depends the degree to which one extends “avoid people” and “might have” – e.g. would it be unreasonable to avoid members of the Westboro Baptist Church on the basis they may have views I find repellent (even though some may not in fact hold those views); is it unreasonable to not join the social media site formerly known as twitter even if we know there are a non-zero number of reasonable people there too? I feel these are points where it comes down a lot to one’s personal tolerance, and the time one has to spend in such pursuits. I suppose I could be said to be avoiding, in the sense that I generally don’t spend a lot of my life actively seeking out people with whom I am likely to find little common ground – but I feel it is (at least from my perspective) more the prioritising of how I spend my free time (and with the thought in mind that perhaps there may be more productive approaches to effect change in society).

For people I am likely to meet and interact with, I try to adopt a position of “reasonable respect” (that is to say, assuming a certain degree of good faith, allowing for people having differing opinions, and offering a degree of charity for mistakes or rushed remarks – as I would hope would generally be reciprocated). Where people act in ways that I feel are worth respecting (e.g. offering sound and valid arguments for their position, approaching with good faith, avoiding the urge to insult and provoke), then I try to reciprocate. Where people act in ways that seem unworthy of respect (sneering contempt, malicious insinuations about my motivations, and outright abuse and lies rather than addressing my arguments) then I see little reason to bother engaging, and generally just ignore them. While perhaps it would be more admirable if I exercised infinite patience and continued gently explaining my actual position over and over to people continually asserting that it isn’t my position, regardless of my words and deeds over many decades, but I do feel at a certain point that it is impossible to convince someone if they are not going to act in good faith (and if someone is engaging in such behaviours, I feel it says a lot more about them than it does me). I’m not sure that I would count that as avoidance, so much as merely disinterest in wasting my life on fruitless pursuits!

Certainly there are limits to positions I would engage with (some world views are so alien that I doubt that I would ever be able to engage in fruitful dialogue – and vice versa, of course), but I do try to engage with a certain degree of reasonableness wherever possible. In my defense, I will note that I try to apply the same standards as evenly as I can (allowing for being a fallible human, of course), and am happy to ignore people from “my side” if I find them boorish, incompetent, disingenuous, or tedious too – so I think (perhaps flattering myself) that I more-or-less don’t avoid people purely on the basis of supposing that they might have repellent opinions but rather on their words and actions. But I suppose I would think that, wouldn’t I?


noone important 06.04.24 at 12:52 pm

“Bigotry” is defined as “obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices”, by merriam-webster.com.
“stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own”, by dictionary.com.


Salem 06.04.24 at 3:06 pm

There’s certainly an irony if, like Witt, you disinvite people from your dinner party on the basis of their race, creed, etc, because you’re worried that those sorts of people might be bigots.

Personally, I’m with Matt in #2. I don’t really mind if you have repellent views, as long as we don’t have to talk about them. And even there, it’s not so much the view, as the (likely) monomania. Someone obsessed with debunking Q-Anon would be nearly as tedious as the Q-Anon obsessive. But as long as you can control yourself, I don’t care who you think killed Kennedy, because it’s not the basis of our friendship.


J, not that one 06.04.24 at 9:30 pm

I imagine that when some people hear the word “bigot” they envision quite reasonably wealthy white Americans but other envision poor “foreigners.”

“I’m not prejudiced, so I’ll invite anybody to my dinner parties as long as they’re well mannered enough not to care about anything enough to actually talk about it, or to present themselves in any kind of distinctive, annoying way” is definitely a take.


MisterMr 06.05.24 at 6:16 am

Also “I’ll invite everyone, however they present themselves or what are their political opinions, and at the worse let them kill each other” is a take.


MisterMr 06.05.24 at 6:29 am

An add on to my previous comment, referred to J not that one:

The same person who thinks “I’ll disinvite Bob because he might make J uncomfortable” may also think “I’ll disinvite J because they can make Bob uncomfortable”, so this kind of logic is going to create social walls, not more acceptance.


Salem 06.05.24 at 7:50 am

Most people are capable of being interested in something without talking monomaniacally about it. Rather, most people understand that it is polite to converse on a subject of mutual interest, to speak in roughly equal proportions, to show curiosity in the other person, and so on. If you are so enthralled by (say) bees that you cannot help yourself from talking about apiculture at all times, no matter the level of interest from everyone else, then you are not welcome with me – regardless of whether you believe in bee-related conspiracy theories. And this should not be surprising to anyone.


J, not that one 06.05.24 at 3:21 pm

MisterMr: I was referring to the way the conversation has shifted to something that sounds like “of course everyone knows certain topics are not things polite people talk about, and I can accept everyone at my table as long as they don’t do anything gauche.”

And on the other hand the way people have just assumed that the people who are going to be excluded are the people who don’t have the “accepted” beliefs, just because they’re “not done.”

As in “There’s certainly an irony if you disinvite people from your dinner party on the basis of their race, creed, etc, because you’re worried that those sorts of people might be bigots.” As if those people are OK because in general they do know how to behave politely and not affect other people in a negative way. And as if say gay or trans people or feminists might be OK as long as they don’t “throw it in our face.”

Because that’s of course the only reason someone would refuse to invite someone who’s going to insult everyone else at their party, or monopolize conversation so no one else has a good time. Choosing unpleasant conversation topics is only one way to do that.

The OP discussed friendship, not who gets a voice in politics or at work. I doubt many women who would be “uncomfortable” (somewhat of an understatement) at a party where conversation is dominated by violent misogynists, care very much that the misogynists would exclude them.


J, not that one 06.05.24 at 3:40 pm

As a practical example, I see a fair number of the pro-police, anti-Black Lives Matter “thin blue line” flags when I drive around near here (not quite as many as “Black Lives Matter” or “In this house we believe” or trans pride flags), and I occasionally meet someone at a PTA meeting or whatever who has a patch on their clothes that suggests they might support that. I certainly wouldn’t be in a hurry to hang out with them or even to trust them. On the other hand I have friends who are (LGBT-friendly) churchgoers and who likely have positions I dislike on various live political questions that we don’t talk about. Then again those are never going to be close friendships, for a variety of reasons.


dporpentine 06.09.24 at 1:19 pm

The characteristics listed in the OP (“religion, ethnicity, age, nationality, etc.”) are of quite different kinds so the implications of avoiding friendship with that person are quite different. And steering clear of them because they possess one characteristic rather than several is quite different still.

If I’m avoiding friendship with so0meone because their from Uganda and I presume on that basis alone that they agree with the country’s anti-LGBTQ politics or they’re Israeli and I presume on that basis alone that they support Netanyahu, I’m pretty clearly an asshat. But we rarely, if ever, know literally only one thing about a person who could be within striking distance of being a friend.

So what if that person is an old Ugandan man who has worked in the government for a long time and is part of the Christian majority or a young Israeli woman who grew up on a kibbutz? None of those qualities adds up to a clear statement of specific policy views. Plenty of people who work in government disagree with that government’s politics and loads of people who grow up in lefty circles move right–sometimes far right. Being a Christian doesn’t make you a conservative and being young doesn’t make you left-wing. We all know this intellectually.

But I also don’t have an interest in “debating” people. It’s tedious and involves questions of facts and expertise that are almost always outside of the reach of the people doing the debating. So my own real approach would be to assume the worst. Hence my amazing social life.

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