People with obnoxious political views was the subject of a very interesting article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine last week. The actual title was “Should I hang out with someone whose political views I hate?”

     I think the simple answer to that is, in principle, yes. You might both learn something.

     The author of the article makes the case for listening to those we disagree with, and even listening to those people whose views we hate. She was answering a letter from a reader who asked for advice on a social situation. The letter said that a friend’s husband was becoming more and more conservative in his views, to the point where she, the writer of the letter, was considering cutting all social ties with the couple. The advice she received was considered, and has implications far beyond that particular situation. In short, it made me think, a difficult process at the best of times!

     The author’s reply reminded me of the way Facebook, Linked-In, and most other social media platforms, work. They try and match what they think are your views to others with the same perspective. Whether it’s people who like the same products as you, people who visit the same places as you, or, ultimately, people who think the same way as you.

     If that’s not a recipe to promote division, ignorance and tribalism, I don’t know what is?

     I’m not sure how much social media are to blame for this, but they certainly contribute, albeit not necessarily by design.

     Political parties that constantly try to demonize the opposition as delusional, stupid, un-patriotic and/or mentally retarded, doesn’t help the situation either. Advertising algorithms do the same thing when they try to match you to specific products or services.

     It seems that many of the external inputs that affect our lives, are teaching us to be more tribal every day. I, and my little group, are right and everyone else is wrong, and they are probably morons to boot. This is a very dangerous trait for society, and planet Earth.

     One quote from the article/answer that stood out for me as a summary of the concern expressed. “I do not understand why people prefer to limit their socializing to people who share their view of the world, and steer clear of the maddeningly misguided. In recent years, certainly, America has reshaped itself in ways that accommodate this tendency.”

     The author goes on to coin a phrase that is interesting: “Assortative Mating”. It is defined as the growing tendency for people of similar views, tastes, backgrounds, interests, etcetera, to band together in tribal groups.

     I submit that this is perfectly natural, and normal, except where it’s taken to extremes. The other tribes may be wrong, but they are not sub-human morons just because they don’t believe what you believe. This growing tendency may, in fact, be the biggest threat to democracy as a governance system. Democracy, in its most basic form, is the process of compromise. No-one gets everything they want, but they agree to accept the balanced solution. When views in question are divided along intransient tribal lines, democracy falls apart. The current trend in United States’ social interactions and politics is a dangerous antecedent to that happening. We should talk to people with obnoxious political views, even though we know they are wrong. This may be more important than talking to those who share our views.

     I said at the beginning that this article has ramifications far beyond an answer to a personal social issue. I believe it addresses a fundamental problem in today’s society.

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