Dear Ask Andrew:
I’m writing because I just can’t deal with my father anymore. He’s a 65-year-old super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total asshole intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics. I’m more or less a liberal democrat with very progressive values and I know that people like my dad are going to destroy us all. I don’t have any good times with him anymore. All we do is argue. When I try to spend time with him without talking politics or discussing any current events, there’s still an underlying tension that makes it really uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I love him no matter what, but how do I explain to him that his politics are turning him into a monster, destroying the environment, and pushing away the people who care about him?
Thanks for your help,
Son of A Right-Winger
Ask Andrew writes for the Village Voice. Here’s the part of his reply that I liked:
Go back and read the opening sentences of your letter. Read them again. Then read the rest of your letter. Then read it again. Try to find a single instance where you referred to your dad as a human being, a person, or a man. There isn’t one. You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you. And you don’t consider your dad a person of his own standing — he’s just “your dad.”
Here’s the part I didn’t like:
You’ve also reduced yourself to a set of opposing views, and reduced your relationship with him to a fight between the two. The humanity has been reduced to nothingness and all that’s left in its place is an argument that can never really be won. And even if one side did win, it probably wouldn’t satisfy the deeper desire to be in a state of inflamed passionate conflict.
The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world.
Wrong! Ideas make a life-or-death difference to the fate of the world – especially when ideas are taken seriously.
The ideas of liberty and individual rights, along with man’s life as an end in itself, were taken seriously by the framers of the Constitution and the author of the Declaration of Independence. And witness the results. Don’t talk to me about slavery, either. Slavery was a tragic and inexcusable contradiction. But the continuation of taking those ideas seriously got us out of slavery, ultimately, even if at the cost of a bloody civil war. America is the first and (to my knowledge) the only nation ever to abolish slavery, especially at such a cost. THAT’s virtue. That’s idealism, and that’s justice.
The ideas of Communist Marxism and Hitler’s national socialism gave us the death of millions of people along with economic and social collapse. Hitler’s insane ideas sacrificed millions; Marx’s equally insane ideas sacrificed millions more, especially when taken seriously under the regime of Stalin.
Ideas matter. Just ask anybody who benefits from good ones – or is harmed by bad ones.
“The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans”: I could not disagree more. To agree with this statement, I’d have to pretend that the First and Second Amendments don’t matter; that economic freedom doesn’t matter; that whether we live in the USA or Venezuela or China has no bearing on anything. One’s as good as the other. It’s absurd! You can’t blank out or wish away these facts. THESE are the kinds of things at stake when you take ideas seriously.
Here’s what I would reply:
Dear Son of a Right-Winger:
You say you’re convinced your dad wishes to destroy us all. Then why have anything to do with him? At a minimum, stay far away from his ideas. Just don’t discuss politics or things related to politics – like philosophy, ethics – with him. You will not change each other’s minds, so there’s no use trying.
You said he’s being a total asshole. Is this because of his ideas, or because of his behavior? If the latter, which behaviors make him an asshole?
I would not blame his ideas for his behavior. You can’t say a person with right-wing ideas who acts like an asshole proves his ideas are wrong. People behave inconsistently with their ideas all the time. There are Catholics who use birth control or have abortions, and who don’t practice the sacraments. There are Muslims who don’t kill or shun infidels. There are Christians who don’t practice self-sacrifice as Jesus exhibited. There are atheists who act superstitious, at times. I’m not saying inconsistency is inevitable; but it’s common. And consistency is not inevitable. So you have to judge ideas by their merits. You do that by asking, “If this idea were practiced consistently, what would happen?”
That’s what I ask about socialism. It seems that everywhere socialism is practiced consistently, you get bad results. You might want to study history, such as the fall of the Soviet Union under consistent socialism, or the decline of the truly psychotic Chinese Maoist regime under consistent socialism. And then there’s Venezuela, which started out much better off than it now is under consistent socialism. And study the history of Cuba, also a more desirable place before adopting full-fledged socialism. Look at the rioting and growing discontent/economic stagnation in Great Britain and France before you rush to conclude “democratic socialism” can somehow prevail over fiscal insolvency and widespread moral and economic decline.
Ideas do win, for better or worse. National socialism won in Germany, for a time – and you know the results. Individual rights and freedom won in America, for the most part, for its first century or so, and you also know the results of that. As a left-winger, I doubt you like America that much. But I don’t see you choosing any other place to live, and today we ride on the residual victory of those pro-freedom ideas from an earlier time. Those ideas, thanks to your left-wing professors, school teachers, rock stars, sports heroes and media figures, are dwindling and fading, but they still exhibit a LOT of power. That tells you a lot.
It might make me an asshole, in your eyes, for saying it – but you can’t personalize ideas in this way. You have to use logic and facts to evaluate an idea. That’s what you’re NOT doing. You’re starting with the assumption that your dad is wrong. He’s wrong (you say) because his ideas are “right-wing”, which you never really define – but which you regard as any FEELINGS in opposition to your own. You see yourself as “progressive” which you seem to equate with nice, and your dad as “right-wing”, which you seem to regard as mean-spirited. But these are strictly emotional definitions. They are not actually definitions. They do not refer to anything objective, factual or logical. They’re purely emotional. And they’re also circular. “I’m nice, because I’m progressive, and my dad is an asshole, because he’s right-wing”. What the hell does that tell us about the proper social system, or the best way to live?
If you don’t like the WAY your dad expresses his views to you, then tell him so. Hold him accountable for that. And tell him what you consider to be the better alternative – and practice it yourself. Or just drop the subject completely. Drop him completely, if you have to, and if he’s really as bad as you say.
People’s political ideas don’t turn them into monsters, not with their sons or other loved ones. Faulty political ideas are the byproduct of faulty assumptions and premises.
Sometimes people weaponize political or other ideas when they’re hurt and angry for some other reason. You and your dad would do well to look inward and try to figure out what each has done to hurt the other so badly. Because most anger comes from hurt. Perhaps (in part) he’s hurt because HE believes, just as strongly as you do, that YOUR ideas will destroy both the world and yourself. You’re his son, he probably loves you and it must hurt him to see you adopt ideas that he believes are destructive. He’s a person too.
If I’m right, you and he are more in the same boat than you thought, aren’t you?
Best of luck.
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