Whenever I touch on what I find worrisome about the politicized life—here, here, and here, for example—the most common retort is "So? It’s like, free speech man. I’m allowed to say I disagree with people. Boycotts are just capitalism." That sort of thing. And it always leaves me shaking my head at how thoroughly they have managed to miss the point.
Look: No one is telling you that you can’t boycott people who vote a way you don’t care for. No one’s telling you it should be illegal for you to say you won’t support someone because they dared disagree with some stance you have decided is really super serial. What I am saying is that engaging in such behavior—politicizing every aspect of your life, allowing politics to determine your every move, and judging everyone you meet online and in person by how stridently they agree with the positions you support—is immensely, horribly destructive to the very fabric of our society. It inspires mistrust, hate, and fear. It tears apart the polity. And a polity torn asunder is a weak one indeed. A house divided, and all that.
I bring the politicized life up yet again because I was flabbergasted to read this little essay by Elizabeth Scalia over at First Things. Here are the first two grafs:
I recently received the following message from a stranger: "So basically, the ‘orthodox Catholic’ game you all play is just that . . . a game?" It was in reference to a Catholic man with whom I am friendly, and like very much. She had apparently read on social media that this man was planning to marry another man.
My friend had never "come out" to me, and—call me old-fashioned, or call me incurious—it had never occurred to me to ask, so the wedding plans were mildly surprising. But reading the email I thought, "Yes, so? What does this woman want me to do? Should I now hate him? Am I supposed to ‘un-friend’ him (that ridiculous term) or even publicly denounce him in order to demonstrate sufficiently ‘orthodox’ Catholic bona fides for her satisfaction? Is that what she wants?"
In other words, a woman had taken it upon herself to write up a stranger and demand that she denounce a friend in order to prove her purity. Sans an affirmation of righteousness, how could this poor wretch allow Scalia into her life? How could she enjoy Scalia’s writings on PRISM or pet dogs or Bobby Kennedy if she didn’t first publicly shame this awful gay for getting married?
Are you kidding me? As Rod Dreher, on whose blog I first saw Scalia’s essay, put it:
What a strange culture we live in, in which people are expected to approve of everything those they love believe in and do, or be guilty of betraying that love. I have friends and family whose core beliefs on politics, sexuality, religion, etc., are not the same as my own, and it would not occur to me in the slightest to love them any less because of it. I hope it would not occur to them to love me any less because they don’t agree with me. People are somehow more than the sum of their beliefs and actions.
This is all obviously true. What I find most stunning—I really can’t emphasize this enough—is that our culture has devolved to the point where one person feels comfortable writing another person she does not know in order to inquire if that second person has any intention of denouncing a third person (who the first person, I assume, also does not know).
What madness is this? How can we expect to have a fully functioning society if we spend all of our time adjudicating whether or not the people we read and the culture we consume is of the correct political persuasion?
This is a horribly corrosive state of affairs. And, I fear, it’s not going away any time soon.