There are any number of reasons to refuse friendship to someone.
They range from the practical to the personal and will certainly vary by individual. Here are some examples:
Lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, cursing, getting too drunk, not getting drunk enough, being obnoxious, being dull, being too smart, being too stupid, being heartless, being homeless, farting in public, flirting in public, grabbing your ass, grabbing other people’s asses, being a junkie, being a jerk, getting you in trouble, getting other people in trouble, being unpopular with your girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father/friends, running with shady characters, running with the Rainbow Family of Living Light, being too dangerous, playing too safe, breaking your shit, taking your shit, giving you shit, talking shit, involvement in domestic spying for a barbaric totalitarian communist regime…
The list goes on.
For me, personally, most of these are not reasons, categorically, to not be friends with someone. Some are. I do my best to be flexible, but I try to steer clear of any murderers or potential murderers who aren’t state-sanctioned, for example.
I’ll be friends with an army sniper, but I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with Jeffrey Dahmer.
Maybe that’s hypocrisy.
Or maybe it’s just a strict anti-cannibalism or anti-dead-person policy.
The following story struck me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that literature, as a scene, does not usually involve high international drama and espionage of this obvious a nature:
Nobel Prize winner Herta Mueller recently went public with the revelation that the real-life inspiration for Atemschaukel, her latest anti-totalitarian novel about a homosexual man who is held captive in a Soviet gulag, turned out to be, in fact, an informant for the totalitarians.
No one was so shocked as Mueller. Apparently she had no idea. He was a man with whom she had become dear friends as they worked closely during her time writing the fictionalized account of his story.
From what I can tell, this man–his name was Oskar Pastior (he died in 2006)–had been granted some kind of amnesty when he defected–or was seized–to the west.
From what little I’ve read, it’s not clear whether or not he was in fact a communist sympathizer or whether he had no choice but to do what he did, but he is listed as a Securitate informant in dossiers and other corroborating documents.
“Over the years [Mueller] has clashed with Romania’s post-communist intellectuals with her remorseless campaign against former Securitate informers, demanding that writers and theatre people who were on the police payroll be unmasked and punished.”
This means that Oskar, at some point, was watching his friend–in whom he had confided the details of, potentially, the most difficult time in his life and who was writing a book about him and his heroic ordeal–call for his public revelation, humiliation, and eventual punishment (of what type, I don’t know).
Or, not his, really, since she didn’t know he was one of them. She was calling for these things, but she thought she was doing it, in part, in his defense and for restoration of justice to people like him (including herself).
But he certainly must have known that had he told her the truth, she would have probably ended their friendship, certainly would not have finished the book (or at least not as planned), and may, potentially, have publicly outed him and destroyed whatever life he’d made for himself since leaving the world of political intrigue and espionage.
Or wouldn’t she have? After all, what kind of friend would do that? What kind of monstrous person would offer up her own friend for filleting at the hands of the post-communist public? How blind must you be to basic interpersonal loyalties and friendship to serve up some one you care about, ostensibly, in the service of state and other relative strangers?
I mention Herta first only because the next consideration is much more obvious: Were Oskar alive, we could–and should–ask him a series of nearly identical questions surrounding his time as an informant.
And I was thinking about it, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, sort out who was guilty of wrong-doing in that friendship scenario or if both were or if anyone was guilty at all.
What a clusterfuck.
Poor Herta for not being able to confront Oskar. Poor Oskar, who will never have the chance to explain himself to Herta.
And it suggests a mundane question in fairly dramatic fashion: To what extent do or should one’s political inclinations or political behaviors, past or present, affect whether or not we choose to be friends with them, interact with them, date them, or consider their experiences and their general presence valuable? At what point do beliefs and behaviors nullify relationships?
We ask these types of questions with regard to people’s overall past and habits in a very general way, but I don’t hear people talk about them much in a political way.
This question is constantly at the fore of my mind. I live, basically, in a liberal world. Because of where I work, because I like to write, because I have what are likely academic ambitions, I am mostly surrounded by leftward-leaning people.
I don’t consider myself a victim by any means. I interact with the people I interact with by choice and, I think, to my benefit. This isn’t a complaint lodged against liberalism in the arts, and I don’t consider myself persecuted.
Nevertheless, it is something that I am aware of. Just all of the time. Whether or not and when it is advisable to reveal my political leanings, what the consequences might be, etc.
About 16 months ago, a meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin noted that people actively seek out information that agrees with them. That is to say, they don’t necessarily fail to be exposed to different points of view just because they’re surrounded by like-minded people or because the information available is necessarily skewed. People are not passive in maintaining and honing their views; they actively go looking for information and perspectives that allow them to go on “living the lives they’re living.”
And it appears to be true for liberals and conservatives alike.
The consensus seems to be that on items of political import, morality, and values, 70% of the time, most people will choose to hear views that agree with them.
Those most likely to seek out opposing views tend to be a) the most confident in their own views and/or b) in need of awareness of opposing views in order to defend against objections to public declarations of their own views (politicians, media personalities, etc.).
In turn, the people least likely to seek opposing viewpoints tend to also be the least confident in their own views.
None of this is altogether shocking.
But more to the point of Herta and Oskar, I have noticed–though few people are willing to state it explicitly–that there is at least some indication that a political lean may be, for many, among the friendship deal-breakers listed above. That is, people actively search for and/or exclude others from their social circles based on whether or not those people agree with them, just like they seek out agreeable news stories and other types of information resources. Strictly from my perspective, such sentiments appear to be on the rise. Or they appear to be more firmly and less self-critically held.
If my impressions are correct–if they are true at all–I’m sure they’re true straight across the political spectrum. Basic political behaviors, if not the politics themselves, tend to be fairly uniform across humanity, whether people care to admit it or not.
The conundrum is complex: At what point do a person’s politics and ideology reveal in them some other, fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw? On the other hand, at what point does a person’s exclusion of others from their sphere of awareness based on politics and ideology reveal in them a fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?
Where is the line, exactly, between the personal and political, and what are the implications?
For example: How has the value of a fictional account of Oskar’s story changed, given Herta’s revelation? How has the value of his real-life story changed because of it? And most importantly, is their friendship–Oskar’s death notwithstanding–invalidated?
On the topic, Herta hasn’t said much except that she felt slapped in the face and that she is now in a period of mourning. This suggests to me that she has left or lost something some way or another, but only Herta can say what.
Last but not least, had Oskar been forthcoming with the information from the outset, would there even have been a book? A friendship?
If an ideology is willful and can be synonymous with a character flaw, then does that mean an ideology IS a willful character flaw, and if so, what then? What might we do with such people?
My feeling is that otherizing–the act of identifying and alleging a dichotomy between “us” and “them” –is at the very heart of how Herta and Oskar ever even found themselves in the predicament they did. It may, by some leaps (great or small, take your pick), be at the heart of the very existence of the USSR. Between Herta’s otherizing and Oskar’s participation in Securitate otherizing, the stage was set for a karmic kill-strike of dazzling irony.
Maybe, in a way, they deserved the fate that befell their friendship. Both of them. Or maybe neither of them did. Maybe they were both victims of something well beyond their control.
At any rate, it appears that the two of them, both separately and in their joint war against ‘the other,’ were eachother’s ‘other’ and eachother all along.
This essay used to end here.
I didn’t like it ending here because I didn’t think I’d made my point, but I wasn’t sure what else to say.
Then John Cusack posted a tweet leading to this article. He called it “strong, clear thinking.”
“We have to build that independent left. It has to be so strong and so radical and so militant and so powerful that it becomes irresistible.”
Militant, radical, powerful, irresistible. “Left” is not the word that worries me here.
And just last week, at the dentist’s office, I picked up a recent issue of Time magazine with a cover story about the Tea Party’s rattling of the conservative establishment (and the political establishment, period).
There’s nothing too fascinating or groundbreaking in the article save one thing, and it is unfortunately treated as minor–a passing thought–by the article’s author: The suggestion that the solution to extreme, reactionary conservative politics may be for liberals to create their own extreme, reactionary politics with the expressed intent of doing battle with the conservatives of a similarly pissed-off, bloodthirsty, and unthinking sort.
I find this progression troubling. I find it troubling that some people believe and are increasingly fervent that the answer to extremism and reactionism is more of the same. Escalation, basically. A call to balkanization. I find it wrong-headed and obviously so under almost any circumstances. I think most people–certainly most liberals and conservatives, asked independently of a discourse on politics–would find it wrong-headed as well.
But here we are.
I suspect that there will be no call for radical moderation. I just hope we can all still be friends.