[Originally published as a post to the Caledonia [Michigan] Matters Facebook group. The moderator of that list had permitted the posting of a difficult conversation pertaining to a school-board candidate that moderators of other lists had banned. I have expanded the original a bit here.]
I want to add my thanks to Nick Roush for creating and moderating this list.
I also want to say something about whether lists like this should allow “political” posts. I think when “political” posts are banned, it’s because we are understanding “politics” as being a matter of nasty pitched battles between opposing camps about social and economic issues, government, and worldviews. I know that happens, a lot, and that how it happens these days in the US, right down into our own community, is sick.
But I have a more positive understanding of the words “politics” and “political.” According to Aristotle, just as “ethics” is about understanding the best ways for individuals to live, “politics” is about understanding the best ways for people to live together in community. That is, politics is the ethics of life-lived-together. If we understood “politics” in this sense, politics would never be banned from any community discussion group; every community discussion group would be largely focused on politics.
To quote a song that otherwise is not one of my favorites: “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, and I hope someday you’ll join us.” Actually, I hope that someday I’ll join us too—i.e., that I will achieve perfect consistency in following my ideals: always listening well before responding, always making sure I understand the other person’s point of view before offering my own in reply, always choosing kindness over severity, always looking for solutions that enable everyone to get what they need, if not always what they started out wanting. I’m not yet perfectly consistent in these things, and I don’t think most of you are either. But in my way of seeing things: in sponsoring and moderating a group like this (and I would say the same about our other community forums), Nick (like Jen H. and the others) has opened up, and is trying to maintain, a space where we can work together on getting better at all this.
I’m not a utopian. I know that lying, malice, narcissism, blaming, gossip, pettiness, hyperloquacity (I may have just made that one up—the inability to just stfu sometimes and not say anything at all) and the other vices that we constantly see popping up all around us (and inside ourselves!) will not completely disappear while this current cosmic framework endures. And there will always be hard truths, and a need for tough love. Rigorous truthfulness requires calling out falsehoods, and that can get ugly. But we must know what we’re aiming for and hoping for. I’m aiming and hoping for a world in which when we hear “politics” and “political,” the next thing that pops into our heads will not be bickering and blaming but “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love your neighbor as yourself” and “life together.”
But authentic life together also necessarily involves difficult conversations. Which means it also involves conflict. We become conflict-avoidant when we lack either the willingness or the ability (including the courage) to navigate conflict virtuously. But community built on conflict avoidance is community built on unwillingness or inability to make truth (the whole truth) central. Which is not real community. So we decide what we want. And sometimes the goal is not the construction and maintenance of community but something less, such as, for example, the sharing of certain kinds of information. That can be useful too. But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves that this constitutes community. And, in my humble opinion, building and maintaining community is a much better and higher aim than mere information sharing.