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12:28 pm: Superversive Blog: When Should We Abandon Our Friends?

This subject has been quite topical recently. I thought a longer treatment than fit in a Facebook comments box was due.

Imagine that you had a friend. He was clever and funny, loyal, brave and generous. He had done some wonderful things for your family.

BUT he posted some very odious ideas online.

Let’s say he was, oh, a racist.

Maybe he hates Blacks. Maybe he's anti-semite. Maybe he is racist against whites.

Point is: it's ugly.

Now, there are worse things than racism in the grand scheme of things: supporting fathers honor killing their own daughters or those folks in England who wanted to make it legal for parents to kill their babies.

Those are worse.

But racism is pretty bad.

It is judging someone based on the assumption that they were made in some other image and likeness than the Almighty, the One Altogether Lovely.

So, there you are. You have this friend. You have good reason to like and be loyal to this person, but what he prints online is totally odious. Under ordinary circumstances, you would remain friends with him.

But the Internets gone wild and people you like and respect are calling for his head.

What do you do?

Cut Him Loose?

Pros: There are many good arguments for turning your back on someone with odious views, arguments far beyond the shallower ones, such as fear for reputation.

How else do we indicate to people what is good and bad, but by showing our support and approval. If we remain friends with someone who behaves in a manner or expresses ideas that we strongly disapprove of, do not we encourage them if we remain friends with them?

Don’t we become enablers?

If you continue to be friends with someone who is behaving vilely, aren’t you encouraging them?

Won’t it seem as if you, yourself, support these odious ideas? It is bad enough to be attacked for things you believe in.

Being attacked for things you consider vile is really hard to take!


Cons: The bad side of cutting him loose is: what kind of a friend are you, if you turn your back on those who have treated you well? Even if you are doing it for reasons of principle, won’t the person think that you are merely caving to popular opinion?

Other folks, currently your friends, might note this and not trust you as much in the future.

Because next time, it could be then.

Also, what about other ideas you also strongly disagree with but which happen to currently be popular?

Say, you are against the slaying of any human being—whether or not the wee thing has as of yet “popped out”, as my son would say. To you, this act is as vile as that of judging a man by anything beside the content of his character.

Are you actually going to turn on everyone you disagree with? Even the folks with ideas that no one around you objects to? 

And if not, when your ex-friend says: “This isn’t because you disapprove of my ideas, it is because my ideas are not popular”, what do you say?


Face The Fire?

Pros: If you turn on a friend when the Internet goes wild against him, you are a fair-weather friend indeed. Not a phrase most of us want to have associated with us.

Loyalty is a very valuable virtue.

But it is more than that. Over and above the good of loyalty to a friend, what about the friends themselves?

What if you legitimately disagree with their ideas? Will you have any ability to convince them of the error of their ways if you turn your back?

If you want any hope of persuading people to see your view of things, you had must remain friendly with them—otherwise, they will write off any advice you give them before considering it.

If you love your friend, then you can  find a way to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous reputation.


Cons: Let’s go back to that “shallow” bugaboo of reputation.

Reputation is much derided by the modern world. We laugh at the idea of protecting our reputations. We bravely announce that we would never let anything like that control our actions.

But it is quite a different thing when the world turns on you. When suddenly people you like and respect are shouting your down. In public. On Facebook. On Twitter.

In this day of New Victorians and Neo Puritans, shaming and public disapproval have again become the weapon of choice for society at large. And it is a very effective weapon.

Because it hurts.

It hurts emotionally. It can hurt professionally. It can hurt financially.

Speak to any of the folks who have been attacked online. It really hurts—especially when it is your friends doing the attacking.

It is one thing if you are standing up for something you love and belive in.

But is this really something you want to endure—for an idea you hate?

That is a difficult thing to ask of anyone.


The prosecution and the defense rest. The jury is now in session.

I know where I stand.

What would you do? 


Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

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[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2015 12:29 am (UTC)
I know what I'd do because I've been in a situation where an entire community worked itself up into a lather and went witch hunting. So many good people were tarred and feathered. I saw the groups of whisperers gathering to plot and ostracise. There was no way to reason with them once they whipped themselves into a frenzy. I tried to remain open and logical with both sides; I wanted to be a peacemaker who could help the mob see what they were doing. One on one, people would listen, but as soon as they gathered again, the hive mentality took over. I was not allowed to be neutral, as the troublemakers forced people to declare allegiances and took reasonableness or friendship of the wrong people as guilt by association.

I knew my friends (they were not close friends, but that is immaterial, because they were not guilty of all the charges laid at their feet) did not deserve the rancor directed at them. I stood with them because it was the right thing to do. The wrath of the instigators turned on me and my family. It was a bleak and dreadful time in our lives as we were treated to the same unrelenting hatred.

There was a terrible price to pay. Our children were ostracised at school--a place that had been their home for 11 years and where they had close friendships. Most people were afraid to associate with me. There were a few brave souls who would surreptitiously pat me on the shoulder at a ballgame in a quiet show of support, and others would catch my eye with a sympathetic look. Thank goodness for the true friends who stood with us throughout it all! Still, in the end, we were forced, for our children's well-being, to remove them from that toxic school environment and leave the community.

It was hard, and our children floundered for a few years before they came back stronger than ever--but puberty and adolescence are a difficult time for most. We lost friends, but we certainly discovered who our true friends were!

If I had it all to do over again, I'd still choose to stand with friends against a hateful mob. There was a price to pay socially, but my heart and my mind are at ease.

Oh, and after I left, the mob turned on themselves. They had gotten rid of everyone they hated, but they still had this enormous reservoir of hatred bubbling over. They tore one another to shreds. They completely destroyed the school. I'd felt terrible about our children losing touch with their friends of a lifetime, but those children were scattered a dozen different directions after the school closed anyway.

I'll invoke Godwin's Law at this point: Until this situation, I seriously could not understand how communities allowed themselves to be destroyed by Nazi rule. How could people turn on their neighbors? How could they turn away when people they'd known all their lives were accused wrongly? How could otherwise good people keep quiet? I saw it all play out in our little drama. That ugly joy of destroying another surged through our group as one target after another was acquired and destroyed. Those people who were afraid to be drawn into the character assassinations kept their heads down and tried to stay out of the fray. Even those sympathetic to the harried members were too afraid for themselves and their families to speak out.

Understand this, if people force you to disown someone, that is not the end of it. They will never be satisfied.

They say that free speech exists for the purpose of protecting unpopular speech. Take that and apply it to friendship. Love covers a multitude of sins. I don't love perfect people--I love them warts and all. Even when I don't agree with my friends or acquaintances, I won't let the torches and pitchfork crowds determine my associations.

By the way, that includes you. I don't know you well, and we've never met. But through your posts on LJ, I've come to see you as a very sweet person who looks for the good in everyone. I willingly align myself with you and accept that the mob would find that odious.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2015 01:26 am (UTC)
Wow! That is amazing! How sad, how painful, and how beautiful!

I read it to John. He said that you are a giant!

He also asked if you would mind if he republished it on his blog.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2015 11:52 am (UTC)
It was very sad, but I learned much. The devastation of lives was an awful price for that knowledge, though. It taught me that I never want to be that person who gets caught up in the ugly passion of a mob out for blood.

I'm no giant! I'm a nobody with a big God who was good and faithful to see us through a trying time.

John is certainly free to republish my account. I'd prefer to be anonymous, because I'm rather private except among friends, but I'm fine if he needs to use my username to show it came from an actual person.

Also, the proofreader in me would appreciate if my use of "ostracise" would be switched to the American "ostracize." I read so many British works, my spelling gets wonky!
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2015 02:03 am (UTC)
I hope you're not comparing Vox to the victims of the Nazi regime.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2015 11:52 am (UTC)
I don't think she's talking about Vox at all. Startling as it may be to you and I, some folks don't actually think about Vox in their daily life. ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2015 12:04 pm (UTC)
That would be difficult for me to do as I don't know a Vox and didn't mention a Vox in my reply to Jagi who never mentioned a Vox in her post.

I related a personal experience to a friend, and I'm sorry that I fell into the Nazi comparison, but the truth is that it wasn't until my experience that I had a greater understanding of how the mob mentality worked. I didn't realize how frightened people could become of guilt-by-association to the point that they would avoid former friends, how a few determined people could wreak havoc on an entire community, and how quickly hatred could destroy lives.

Hatred is a very caustic emotion. The reason we should always remember the Nazis is so that we never embrace that unmitigated hatred to ourselves.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2015 12:22 pm (UTC)
The Nazi example was perfect.

One of the strangest things I have come upon recently was the end of the book Talking to Angels. In it, the author, a young Christian woman in Hungary helping protect Jewish women befriended the German Nazis living next door.

When the Hungarian Nazis came for the women, the German Nazis she had befriended helped the Jewish women escape. None of those who escaped were caught again.

(The author's two dear friends were captured and killed in a camp...but it was because they did not run. They stayed behind to let the other women get away.)

This incident has really stayed with me. How the Hungarian Nazis were caught up in the madness, but the German ones, outside of their normal sphere, let the friendship with their fellow German-speaking woman trump the madness.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2015 05:09 pm (UTC)
It was literally the best use of Godwin's law I've seen, possibly the only good use of it. Well said indeed. Didn't see anything in it other than what you stated.

Edited at 2015-04-16 05:11 pm (UTC)
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