[content warning: Nazis]
This is my position on who gets a say in whom people are friends with:
- That person.
- Not other people.
Many people seem to disagree with me on this point. I will take it first from a social-justice side and then next from the anti-social-justice side.
From the social justice side: I see people claiming that it is morally wrong to be friends with people who have sufficiently abhorrent beliefs, such as Nazis, trans-exclusive radical feminists, neoreactionaries, and so on.
I am not entirely sure what the goal of this ethical injunction is. If everyone followed it, then no one would hang out with Nazis except other Nazis, and they would form this little group of Nazis together, stewing in how persecuted they are by Jewish people, and gradually shifting their own Overton windows until “I don’t think murdering every person who likes a Jewish person is a good idea” becomes an extremist viewpoint. If they ever decide they might want to stop being Nazis, they’d have to give up everyone they’re friends with; some people might be brave enough to face complete social isolation for their beliefs, but most people aren’t. Conversely, being friends with Nazis exposes them to non-Nazi beliefs, creates a sense of cognitive dissonance, and gives them someone to turn to in case they want to stop being Nazis.
As it happens, at my college there was a kid who was the son of one of the founders of Stormfront. When it was found out who his father was, some people tried to get him expelled from school. (They did not succeed, because you can’t actually expel someone from school just for being a white nationalist if they never say anything racist to anyone.) Once he graduated, he said that he had become anti-racist. The people who tried to get him expelled from school did not cause this shift. Instead, what caused it was the slow accretion of cognitive dissonance: becoming friends with people of color or people in interracial relationships and realizing that his beliefs were hurting people he knew and cared about. If everyone had decided it was morally wrong to befriend white nationalists, he would probably still be a white nationalist today.
To be clear, I’m not saying you should go around befriending Nazis in the hopes of stopping them from being Nazis. That’s condescending as fuck. I am saying that if you happen to want to be friends with a Nazi anyway, there is not actually a plausible argument that this will cause more Nazis to be in the world.
You might argue that being friends with a Nazi makes you more likely to be a Nazi. I suggest that the correct solution to this problem is not becoming a Nazi in the first place. Do you cherish some deeply-held desire to become a Nazi?
You might argue that whom I’m friends with doesn’t just affect me; if I invite Nazis and you to my Christmas dinner party, then you will have to interact with Nazis. However, this is a problem faced in a lot of circumstances, such as anyone who is friends with multiple parties involved in an extremely nasty breakup. The solutions those people come up with– such as organizing multiple dinner parties or only inviting one side to the party– also generalize to Nazis and people who don’t want to talk to Nazis.
From the anti-social-justice side: I see a lot of people claiming that ideological diversity is very important, and people who don’t want to be friends with people who share certain disagreements with them are just making excuses for living in a bubble. I think this is absolutely absurd.
First, people’s factual beliefs about the world affect their behavior. For instance, I don’t want to be friends with someone who believes that gender pronouns should be used in accordance with the sex one was assigned at birth, because they are going to use pronouns for me that hurt me. I don’t want to be friends with someone who believes it would be morally right to coerce me into having an abortion or deceive me into eating meat, because that increases the chance that they’ll violate my bodily autonomy. I don’t want to be friends with someone who thinks that borderlines are inherently abusive and evil, because that thought process seems like it would lead to mistreating me.
Do these preferences apply to everyone? Of course not! Some trans people are willing to accept being referred to with the wrong pronouns; some people who don’t want to get abortions don’t mind people who might be pressurey about them getting one; some vegetarians are okay with people who might deceive them into eating meat; some borderlines are okay with being friends with people who think they’re evil. I think they’re quite strange, but other people might think it’s strange that I count a trans-exclusive radical feminist and a neoreactionary among my friends. What matters is what makes you feel safe and comfortable in your friendship. Personally, I object to people who mispronoun me, but I don’t mind the belief that I’m an autoandrophile transitioning out of a sexual fetish. Others might have different preferences, because they’re different people.
Second, preference drift exists. For many people, their friends have an effect on their values. The thing that made me an effective altruist was not reading books or blogs about effective altruism; it was joining a community in which it was routine and accepted that everyone was donating ten percent of their income to the charities they believed were most effective, and a lot of people had specifically chosen their career to help do good. And, frankly, it’s a lot easier to be vegetarian when I don’t have to constantly defend my vegetarianism to others.
I don’t think that’s just for altruistic endeavors, either. A musician who’s devoting her life to the pursuit of her art will probably do better with friends who are musicians than with friends who are constantly talking about their great vacation to Tahiti and their shiny new Ferrari; the latter may cause her to care more about money and less about the art. A devotedly child-free person may wish to have child-free friends, for fear that being left out of conversations about diapers and college funds will lead them to want children, in spite of their self-knowledge that they’re a shitty parent.
Again, this doesn’t apply to everyone! Some child-free people find that being around parents only increases their gratitude that they can sleep in until 1pm on Saturdays. Some people remain firm in their altruistic values even when they’re surrounded by the most selfish people imaginable. And a lot of people are more likely to drift with one value than with another: maybe your love of your music will never change, but you worry that being around people who mock vegetarians will make you start craving bacon.
A lot of people I know accept those two arguments, but they accept them in a sorrowful fashion. Of course, it would be best if everyone were able to be friends with everyone, but as a concession to human weakness and frailty we are grudgingly admitting that Ozy is allowed not to be friends with people who hate borderlines. I don’t actually think that is a useful attitude to take! The purpose of my friendships is to increase the joy, fulfillment, happiness, and virtue of myself and my friends. To the extent that diverse friends serves those goals, it is good; to the extent that non-diverse friends serves those goals, it is good. Ideological diversity is one way that my friendships can enrich my life by giving me access to new perspectives and changing my mind on issues. But it’s not inherently more important than helping me keep to my values even in stressful situations or not causing me pain. It’s just one way that enrichment can happen.