I no longer discuss politics with friends. Good friends are rare, and I realized (belatedly) that heated political debate is not going to change anyone’s mind, much less change the world.
The only way I would consent to debate politics with friends or family is if a) they already agree with me (which is hardly debating, or b) we employ a third-party moderator who allows us each of us three minutes to talk, or refute an opposing point. We need moderators, because we no longer engage in civil debate or dialog; everyone is shouting too loudly, or too upset, or convinced that his survival or civilization’s survival depends on what he believes is right.
I was schooled in the heady world of 1960s radicalism when we believed we could not only change the world, but change biology as well (i.e., change men so they wouldn’t be male chauvinist pigs, or experience photos of naked women as even mildly arousing, a reactionary though surprisingly enduring trait). But when I think back to my sixties radicalism I am flabbergasted by monumentality of my own ignorance. It wasn’t so much that our positions were wrong-headed, but, at least in my case, that those positions were rooted in defiance towards my parents, rejection of bourgeois values, or my mother’s taste in clothes (I took special satisfaction in losing a flowered raincoat she had bought me when I marched on the Pentagon to protest the War in Vietnam). We chanted enthusiastically about Mao Tse-tung with no clue what we were shouting about. I still hold some of the positions I did then (minus Mao) but now my views are informed by research and tempered by reason. (This is quieter than chanting about Mao though not nearly as exhilarating.)
I wish our country were not cleaved at the core, and that we lived in a sweeter, simpler era like (I imagine) the turn of the 20th century, if we could somehow magically reach forward and grab civil rights, LBGT and woman’s rights, and (most) modern medicine from the future, and haul them back in time. But of course we couldn’t do that, nor could we evade two world wars looming ahead.There is, really, no sweeter, simpler time to mourn the loss of, just as there is no perfect place, or perfect state of mind. But still, I wish we could listen to each other a little more calmly and deeply.
This post was originally published at The Huffington Post.