Time to get uncomfortable
Our social lives have become echo chambers. Issues in 2017 seemed just too hot and the stakes too high for robust debates at dinner parties. Should we start breaking bread with our political enemies?
We all agree some liberals can be boring and you wouldn’t want them at your dinner party.
After all, they might be going through a vegan phase because they saw some documentary about factory farming on Netflix, which distressed them. Or when you want to talk about your investment portfolio and how well it’s doing, they bring up blood diamonds, or divesting from companies using Wilson Security or child smokers in Indonesia.
They might do this. But they probably won’t, because once they start talking about Trump, they could go all night. And the next thing you know, the vibe is totally dead, the rest of your guests feel depressed and the party ends early. Baaah!
But to stack the dinner party deck with conservatives? Spare me. Conservatives in this day and age are not sitting around nerdishly talking about reforming the tax system (although they are doing that in the US, and the results are going to be disastrous for the poor and middle class).
In America, at least, conservatives have become wreckers – this age’s menace, voting in crazies like Trump, trying to dismantle the enlightenment project, turn back the clock one Roy Moore and Mike Pence at a time. In Britain they’re trying to do the same – Brexiting their way to a white Britain, an Albion of their impoverished imagination.
So does that mean we can’t all sit down and break bread together? Unfortunately it seems like it. The days of two tribes sitting down to a good meal, lots of wine, robust arguments about politics and then heading home still friends appear to be over.
Alan Scherstuhl, a film writer at the Village Voice, posted on Twitter a screen shot of a handwritten letter. It was a response to an invitation to his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary from their oldest friends. “Sorry we cannot attend your party. I have nothing in common with liberals We live in a different world, ethics and morals and I would not be comfortable.”
That last word is the key. People will junk lifelong friendships to feel comfortable. They’ll not date, befriend or socialise with people who do not share their cultural values or political views.
To do so is to experience unpleasant emotions; irritation, annoyance, anger, discomfort.
It wasn’t always this way. Robust political debate was a common feature of my parent’s dinner parties and later was a feature of mine. How boring if everyone agrees. So what’s changed?
Politics have changed, and quite quickly. The issues are just too hot and numerous right now and the stakes too high.
It’s one thing to spend the night at a dinner party in 2007 arguing with your friends about the Gulf war if none of you are in the Gulf war or know anyone who is fighting, or have any stake in the matter other than ideology. But politics in 2017 is personal, and the anger is real. That’s because the consequences can be felt broadly. Race hate attacks and white supremacist movements are on the rise since Trump came into power.
And if you’re a woman, having a pussy grabber in the White House feels like a personal attack (although that does not seem to stop white, right wing women voting for Trump – or Roy Moore for that matter).
So how do we protect ourselves from the feelings of anger, irritation, depression and hopelessness that arises when we now argue about politics?
Cut them out! Stop seeing that friend!
Staying in an Airbnb where they have Art of the Deal on the shelf and copies of the Australian arriving on the doorstep each day? Cancel the booking.
Dating someone who reveals that he thinks Tony Abbott was “shafted” – give him the flick!
One of your old friends reveals on Facebook that they have become a born again Christian and are against marriage equality – unfriend them!
Find out your favourite café doesn’t pay penalty rates? Ditch it, pronto.
Just as our social media is increasingly turning into echo chambers, so are our lives.
Barack Obama speaking to Prince Harry in an interview broadcast this week raised the problem of what Obama called “a Balkanisation of our society” via social media echo chambers. “One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.”
So basically, the former US president who is well across all the worst things that can and are happening under the current administration, says one of the biggest threats to our society is a version of Scherstuhl’s dinner party dilemma.
This we can do something about.
A new year is upon us. If 2017 was the year to get angry, then perhaps 2018 is the year to get uncomfortable.
Break bread with your political enemy. Ride out the discomfort. But don’t retreat and don’t surrender.
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© Guardian News & Media Ltd 2017