Catching up with The Q yesterday I mentioned a good friend I had hoped he would meet at my wedding was not coming because, as a devout Catholic, he disapproves of our match. Given the age difference he believes I am sinfully selfish in denying the future Mrs P2 both the chance of children and of lifelong companionship. He feels she is making a choice she will profoundly regret and says I have a duty to spare her.
To him, a true marriage is between a man, a woman and God so our civil ceremony will be a parody. He can’t celebrate it or let his children do so. Even if they skipped the pantomime with the bureaucrat, the wedding breakfast would still celebrate a sin.
Asked how I felt about it, I told the Q I was disappointed. I liked my friend and was very fond of his children. I would miss them on the day. However I understand his thinking and wouldn’t want anyone there who couldn’t sincerely celebrate.
The Q asked why I still called this man my friend. I was surprised by the question. My own opinions are so far from the modern mainstream that almost all my friendships depend on tolerance. To my friends, I am a loony tune extremist opposed to institutions they regard as essentially benevolent, though flawed. To me, they are sadly mistaken to think their precious state knows better how to spend our money and live our lives than we do. We exchange opinions frankly but then care for each other as friends should.
That’s how post-Enlightenment civilisation is supposed to work, isn’t it? Any other approach leads to a fractured society at best. At worst it leads to the Gulag, the Stalag or the Spanish Inquisition.
The Q said I was indeed cracked politically but that my tolerance at least did me credit. My whole life is shaped — indeed made possible — by it. That’s flattering but I deserve no praise. It’s a key value of our civilisation. “Live and let live” and “mind your own business” were not taught to me as a small boy but demonstrated in my parents’ every action. I often heard them critique or mock friends’ erroneous opinions or comical errors but never once did they consider that most medieval and stupid of tactics — a shunning
Outside the circles of friendship and family it is just as important. I hold firmly to my economic, political and ethical principles but I’m not so naive as to be unaware that they are unpopular and unfashionable. To live a meaningful life in freedom, I need others to tolerate them. My tolerating their opinions while we peacefully reach democratic agreement on how to proceed in the political domain is a price I cheerfully pay. Not just to avoid the gulags etc., but to ensure our society continues to advance. Many modern truths were once heresies or jokes. I have acquired new opinions in my own life that I would never have found had they been suppressed.
We are never all going to agree but often we can move in loose coalition in one or other direction. For example, many LibDems, about half the Tories and a handful of Labour people can agree — not on my ultimate objective of a tiny state — but at least to make the current monster smaller. We can be fellow travelers for a while until their more modest objectives are met. Such practical compromise just requires us not to fall out over our ultimate goals; goals that none of us is likely to live to see achieved. How hard can that be?
I think most instinctively grasp this and always will. I don’t think current threats to free thought and free speech arise from a wider loss of belief in the principle of tolerance or the wisdom of compromise. There have always been sociopaths who want to suppress dissent. Whatever their ideological pretexts or justifications they are of one tribe and an ever present threat. But they can only do harm when allowed to do so.
The current problem is that the tolerant majority think their views are not respected. They’re not wrong, sadly. Whomever they vote for, they get the same result. So narrow is the political bandwidth in the West that voting in elections makes little difference. It changes the riders on our backs, but the new ones use the same chafing saddles, wear the same spurs and wield the same whips.
Those currently suffering from Trump and Brexit derangement syndromes are therefore just learning what it has felt like for generations to those of us outside the political swamp. That was largely the point. Trump was a weapon with which to beat the political class in America, whether identarian, victim-farming Democrats or Republicans in name only. Those of us who voted for Brexit have widely different aspirations for our nation’s future. We are only united in our anger at a ruling class that has feathered its nest amid additional layers of government and bureaucracy beyond any practicable accountability. Brexit was also a weapon with which to beat the alligators in our swamp.
If party A and Party B offer such narrow choices that they blend in our minds into a Party X that always wins, citizens become disenchanted and cease to vote. That creates more scope for cynical parasites to infiltrate the state for gain. Such people are always going to form a large part of government and its bureaucracy but without an engaged and diligent electorate to restrain them they can drive out all honest politicians and civil servants. That’s exactly what has been happening in Britain and America in the last 25 years or so. If you’re not a busybody or on the make why would you want to govern now? If you are, then what other career will do?
Citizens who lose faith in the democratic system become vulnerable to demagoguery. If you feel your interests are unserved, your views despised and your earnings predated by the “Party X” alligators, then any chance to drain their swamp — or at least to hurt them — will seem like a godsend.
Party X is still not listening though as the derangement syndromes prove. Alligators angrily gnashing their teeth are no more attractive than when they were quietly and contentedly preying on us. The very real risk is that in trying to introduce new political beasts that can hurt them, voters may populate the swamp with worse. That’s why, when striving for real change we should remember to check our allies’ credentials on the key issue of tolerance.