“A friend is not somebody one trusts to behave in a certain manner… he [she] is somebody who engages the imagination.”
That’s Michael Oakeshott, in his essay On being conservative. He is one of my favorite conservative political philosophers. And I try to engage with his ideas often to keep a good solid check on my own.
Wait… aren’t I a Liberal? What the fuck am I doing reading a conservative writer? Worse, how can I appear to be enjoying it, even agreeing with a great deal of what he says? Isn’t he the enemy?
I’ll let Oakeshott answer:1
“… to discard friends because they do not behave as we expected and refuse to be educated to our requirements is the conduct of a [hu]man who has altogether mistaken the character of friendship.”
Most friendships are erroneously founded upon shared beliefs — we are all Democrats; we are all Christians; we are all Vegans. Many of these shared beliefs are in the negative — we all hate Republicans; we all hate Obama; we all hate Paleo-CrossFitters.
Friend communities, in this style, are akin to Religious communities. If you stop believing in the same things, you risk excommunication. For example, if you no longer believe Jesus rose from the dead, or was in any way divine, you cannot still call yourself a Christian by the rules of most Christian groups.
Friendships should not be like this. What is the solution?
Avoidance? One false solution is to follow the old (idiotic) “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy: we may disagree, but we aren’t going to talk about it. Agreeing to disagree is un-American. It’s boring. It leads to a paucity of knowledge — there is a hole where the truth could have been, now filled with dogma-flavored bullshit.
No. The solution is not avoidance, but engagement. The majority of my closest friends disagree with me on a wide range of our most deeply held beliefs. What makes us different is that we openly argue about these things.
When I think of a friend I think of someone whose intelligence and ethical character I trust and believe in — their mind and heart are solid. Because of this, when they disagree with me, it forces me to take seriously the possibility that I may be wrong. Who knows, maybe they are wrong; maybe we both are; or some variant in between.
What matters is your willingness to engage in dialogue and to cultivate the character trait that finds this dialogue/disagreement/argument FUN, rather than frightening. If you are afraid to do this, or you find it too emotional, that is a bad sign: your ideas are likely weak and on shaky ground — and at some deep level, you know it.
I’ll give Oakeshott the last word. He’s speaking of Philosophy, but it applies to all ideas that become sheltered from argument:
Philosophy, the effort in thought to begin at the beginning and to press to the end, stands to lose more by professionalism and its impedimenta than any other study. And it is perhaps more important that we should keep ourselves unencumbered with merely parasitic opinion than that we should be aware of all, or even the best, that has been thought and said. For a philosophy, if it is to stand at all, must stand absolutely upon its own feet and anything which tends to obscure this fact must be regarded with suspicion.
Never mind, fuck him. I get the last word:
Without argument, without offense, without disagreement, there is no hope.
— Nick Horton (@rationalaction) November 29, 2015
Now go lift something heavy,
- I added the gender neutralizing adjustments to Michael Oakeshott’s quotes not for political reasons (I would be opposed to that), but for personal ones. It just so happens that most of my best friends are women. So altering his quotes made them speak more plainly to my own use case. Yours may vary. ↩