There’s been a bit of a Twitterstorm over Ellen DeGeneres’s friendship with George W. Bush, which became clear when they were seen at a football game together. Some complained on the grounds that a good person like Ellen shouldn’t be friends with an ex-president with problematic views and who did terrible things in office. The Huffington Post recounts the incident here. Here’s a CNN article on the same.
Ellen defended herself:
“I’m friends with George Bush,” DeGeneres said Monday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.”
I think this is the right response for six reasons.
(1) We have little effect on political outcomes, so basing friendships on politics will undermine friendships based on factors one cannot change. By foregoing the friendship, then, little is gained. And much is lost if the friendship is otherwise worthwhile.
(2) Politics isn’t all that matters even if we can change political outcomes by rejecting friends because of their politics. We should base friendships on many factors, not just shared beliefs.
(3) Having friends with different views helps you to understand the rationale for your own views, to change your mind and/or the mind of your friend. So there are lots of epistemic benefits to having friends with diverse perspectives. The case for Millian free speech writ small!
(4) One might reply that one shouldn’t be friends with W because of the Iraq War. That is a reason to criticize him, but it’s also a reason to try to connect with him and be a safe place for him to express remorse and to heal.
(5) I think it’s clear that W has real remorse, given his intense practice of painting the portraits of soldiers he sent to war. If someone expresses remorse, even privately, we should praise and encourage such a person, not shun him.
(6) In a heavily polarized culture, we should praise high-status people who form friendships with people with opposing political views. They set an example for depolarizing and restoring trust by showing that we can connect to others for reasons other than politics. They show that our differences can be overcome. Ellen has made a choice that helps others to reconcile.
I’ll end the post with more of Ellen’s fine words: “When I say, ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.” Yes, indeed.