Friends at odds with ideology?

At Quora, I play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at top-right on this page. Today, I was asked “Would you stop being friends with someone—if you discovered that they are against gay marriage?”. This is my answer…

Would I stop being friends? Of course not. But I must qualify this answer…

If their position on abortion or marriage is driven by blind, rabid, religious ideology, then I probably wouldn’t have considered them a friend in the first place. In my circles, one’s personal faith should be a guide for moral behavior in a pluralist world. It should never be a substitute for science, common sense, or tolerance. So, for the purpose of this question, I will assume that they are not a right-wing religious conservative.

So, would I stop being friends? Not at all; as long as I can relate to them—intellectually or emotionally. Perhaps not on this matter, but at least on other issues that matter to both of us. My friends have a diverse matrix of opinions, and these often don’t coincide with my own.

Let me offer an example:

I live in America. I am Never Trumper. That is, I believe that our new president has a mental illness and that his election to high office has the potential for disaster (or at least significant ridicule and ‘missed opportunity’ among nations).  Among my extended circle of several hundred medium-close business and personal contacts, I know of only two individuals who supported Trump in the election. And now, 2 months into his presidency, they still support his policies and even his unstable, irrational temperament.

Do I still like these individuals; talk with them; and friend them on social media? Of course! A friend is a friend until they betray you—or until your perspectives are so far apart that you cannot reasonably communicate nor even relate to each other on all the other matters that count.

As I observe one of these two friends continue to support our president in light of behavior that I cannot accept, I begin to realize that he and I interpret events quite differently. We certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on a leader who—for me—is so clearly sophomoric, aberrant and dangerous. Sometimes, I wonder if I can call him a “friend”. But then I reflect on the tangential facts. They matter:

  • I think about all the reasons that we became friends, and the things that he has done for me
  • I think about his qualities, his family, and his work ethic
  • I think about all the people who view the world as he does

After all, Trump won the election and at least 40% of the popular vote. Since less than 1% of my friends voted for him, I may be in the majority—but I have probably lived in a bubble regarding domestic politics. My understanding and appreciation for the political landscape has been challenged.

Here is a second scenario (much more brief): I attended university in a state where smoking and drinking were legal, even for students. Yet, in college, I never used cigarettes or marijuana, and I had not yet started to drink wine or beer. I associated these activities with a derelict upbringing—and so I refused to room with, study with or become friends anyone who drank or smoked. I even refused to socialize with acquaintances who had a friend who drank or smoked.

In those days, I was referred to as being “square”—a term that means rigid, authoritarian, unbending and unrealistic. As you can imagine, I did not have many friends, until I lightened up a bit!

In summary, the question begs anyone who has firmly held beliefs to ask themselves if their beliefs should dictate their associations. Friendships are built on trust and shared experience—not just ideology or even important issues of the moment. In businesses, alliances are built on a common interest. But in life, friendships have more to do with nurturing, respect, selflessness and other personal qualities. Opinions on specific issues matter, but they are far down on the list of human qualities.

I originally ended my answer here. But, in consideration of all the above, I must point out that the ideology-friendship debate has limits. For example, I could not remain friends with someone who believed that the world was created in the past 6,000 years, that LGBT should be marched into concentration camps, that global warming is a hoax, that we must live under Sharia Law, or that woman should not be accorded personal freedoms and basic human rights. (I am not referring to abortion—that’s a bit more complex. I refer to FGM, the right to an education, to drive a car, or to not be covered in a burka). These are all issues of profound ignorance or intolerance. They represent two special classes of hate.

I didn’t mention my abhorrence and intolerance for these things, because of the way in which the original question is structured. It is highly unlikely that I am already friends with anyone so ignorant or intolerant.

Australia finds an effective smoking deterrent

Legislation against activities of compulsion are rarely successful. Even if a population is predisposed to abide by the law, they may be physiologically wired to follow the compulsion. Addiction and desires are driven by powerful evolutionary forces. People tend to find a way around statutory and cultural restrictions.

Consider the governments, churches, civic groups, schools and parents that have sought to restrict sex throughout human history—for example, among individuals who are unmarried, gay, underage, dissimilar heritage, or simply in a school, church or prison. Do laws and even physical barriers stop people from having sex?

Swollen bellies amongst high school students suggests that rules can be broken. And pregnancy represents the tip of an iceberg. It results from a fraction of sexual encounters and many are terminated before they are evident, because of the law, the parents, or the shame of discovery.

It’s easier to prevent cats from reproducing. Simply neuter them if you can catch them before they produce litters. But governments generally don’t sterilize their population. That makes it difficult to get reelected, at least in a democracy.

Smoking may not be as universally enjoyable as sex, but for smokers, it is also a powerful compulsion. How can a society ban a desirable activity that the majority agrees is harmful to health and to the welfare of the society at large? Here, then, is a Wild Duck guide to curtailing the use of cigarettes…

1.  Ban It
If a government bans a vice (like smoking), it simply drives it underground. Just ask any American who was alive during Prohibition. Alcohol was everywhere, but profits accrued to the Mob instead of to the producers and government.

2.  Tax It
Does a selective tax discourage consumption or a particular activity? It certainly seems like it should work. These are called vice taxes.

But what seems valid often fails supply-and-demand realities. If a government taxes something that is cheap to produce, people will find a way to evade the tax. Either the consumer will buy it out of the jurisdiction, import it, or the manufacturer will produce unreported products. The vast and free-flowing nature of the Internet makes all of these things difficult to police and even more likely than they were before.

3.  Scare the Hell Out of Consumers
The Australian courts have just approved of a measure against which tobacco companies fought with all the gusto they could muster. Beginning late this year, cigarette packages will be completely covered by a horrid photo that graphically depicts the consequences of smoking. It’s not just a written warning. It gets you right into a rotting jaw, cancer of the eye ball, or a suffocating child. The photo and a dire warning will cover the front and display edge of the package. The rest of the box will be drab olive green regardless of the brand. Other illustrations, cartoons or images are prohibited…not even a brand logo!

Will people find a way around it? With bans and taxes, there is a strong incentive to circumvent rules. But I don’t think that consumers will go out of their way to purchase cigarettes from unknown sources to avoid a disturbing package. People still want their smokes. With the Australian scheme, people can still smoke–the brand they crave, from a trusted source, and without onerous taxation.

But the Australian parliament realizes that smokers cannot circumvent death and disease. That burden is not foisted upon you by government. It’s a just a fact, plain and simple. Their new rules help ensure that the smokers aren’t fooling themselves. Cancer and death will no longer be out-of-site, out-of-mind.

If the goal is to reduce smoking, this last idea is likely to achieve the goal. Most of us want to live. In the United States and Europe, warnings are a bit abstract and hypothetical. Australia’s packaging rules take the danger of smoking and shift them from a theory to stark, in-your-face reality.

Australian legislators are clearly Wild Ducks at heart. They understand compulsion. For some smokers, the desire to avoid a graphically depicted, painful experience may exceed the desire to get a quick nicotine high.