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“The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure it is right.” ~ Learned Hand

I had dinner with friends over the weekend. One of them said, “At school I have difficulty finding people to hang out with. We don’t share interests, or they’re Republicans who love guns.” Later on, to another friend who was at the gathering, I said, “That doesn’t seem like a good reason to exclude someone from your acquaintance. I knew a guy at work who owned guns. I liked talking to him about his interests, even if I don’t own them.” My friend replied, “It’s what being a Republican who loves guns stands for. It stands for someone who puts Second Amendment rights ahead of students’ safety in schools.”

I wasn’t satisfied with that line of thought, and remarked, “The main thing you want to find in people you meet is intelligence, intellectual curiosity.” He responded immediately, “That’s what I mean! No one who has those beliefs can be intelligent.” I stopped there: you cannot judge a person’s intelligence from beliefs, any more than you can judge a person’s intelligence from education. Yet you frequently hear people say, in our super-charged political atmosphere, “Anyone who believes that is an idiot.” Talk about upping the ante. Not only do I disagree with you, I don’t want to associate with you because you’re ignorant. If you want to have friends who think like you do, that’s the way to do it.

People do not want others to think they are stupid.

People do not want others to think they are stupid. We calibrate what we say to avoid that judgment. We defend an unpopular point of view with extra care, because we do not want our listeners to think, “We reject you because you are beneath us. We cannot stand to be with you, because we cannot tolerate your beliefs.” When a dominant group succeeds in that exclusionary project, when it makes an outgroup of people who hold unacceptable beliefs, you have the divisions you see around you.

When you practice the principle that intelligence is independent of beliefs in your personal relations, you realize something quickly enough. All people are intelligent, but they have different kinds of intelligence, or talents. Some people have mechanical intelligence, others have social intelligence, others analyze well, others have artistic intelligence, and so on. Most people have more than one kind, no one has all kinds to the same degree. Moreover, relative to the time we have to become acquainted with people, it takes a long time to discover what kinds of intelligence a person has.

When you practice the principle that intelligence is independent of beliefs in your personal relations, you realize something quickly enough.

The most we can do is be open to those discoveries, as we become better acquainted with a person. If we say we don’t want to become acquainted with Republicans who like guns, where does that leave you? It leaves you in the same place as people who declare they don’t like Democrats who abjure firearms. What kind of a place is that? Isolation. When you start to feel that people respect you and like you primarily because of what you believe, you are going to feel lonely. Unconditional love is the only kind worth having, or giving.


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Reflexive “outgroup” outrage and retaliation just leads into tit-for-tat wars.

I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup


Related conversation

“Dr. Noster, what can you tell us?”

“Well, you wanted me to determine why your dog behaves the way he does. So I’ll stick to that.”

“Yes, do.”

“So you told me he acts resentful: growls when he should be friendly, goes off by himself, gives the cat a hard time, altogether not social. He doesn’t act the way you want your dog to act.”

“That’s right.”

“I’m afraid your dog is a Republican.”

“What?”

“All the indicators are there, especially things you told me about home life.”

“Good God.”

“For example, what does he do when you take your grandfather’s gun out of the closet?”

“He goes crazy, because he thinks we’re going hunting.”

“Right. When you do go outside for a trip, which car does he go for, the SUV or the Prius?”

“The SUV.”

“Right again.”

“But he’s a big dog. He like’s the room.”

“That’s the point: prefers the gas guzzler because it’s big.”

“Come on.”

“At dinner time, what’s his favorite source of protein?”

“Steak, of course.”

“Not anything else?”

“Dogs like beef.”

“Now let’s compare with your cat, who is a Democrat.”

“What?”

“Wary of guns, prefers the Prius, likes fish. Fits the profile cleanly.”

“Gee’s.”

“Now, we gave your dog the conclusive test.”

“What’s that?”

“We set a bible in front of him. Instead of sniffing it or chewing it, he tapped it with his paw. He even woofed softly.”

“I don’t…”

“He understands it’s the revealed word of God.”

“So what should we do?”

“Not for me to say, but for family harmony, you might want to take him back to the breeder, and exchange him for a Democrat – a dog that’s more socially aware. Woofer here could find a family that’s more traditional.”

“We’ve had him for a year! Besides, I don’t see how that would help.”

“Don’t you see? He feels depressed, discarded, declasse. From his perspective, you tolerate him, but you don’t love him.”

“But we do love him.”

“Not the way you would if he were a Democrat.”

“That’s nonsense. Dogs don’t belong to parties.”

“I think you know what I mean. He just wants to be loved.”

“I think we need to find another dog psychologist.”

“Please do. We’ve all seen a lot of this lately.”

“What?”

“Family discord and unhappiness. Think about how you can make both you and your dog happy.”