Almost 20 years ago one of my closest friends was a Nazi sympathizer. He would lay out in order which races were better than which and go on about how Hitler was just in a hard situation and did what he had to against the Jewish invasion. Some pretty gross stuff. We would argue nearly every time we hung out. He believed the world was all a competition, race vs race and we all needed to stand up for our race. I argued that no, we are all humans and all equal and we need to abolish that way of thinking so we can move on to collectively accomplish the goals of the human race. Our arguments would go on for hours but they were always civil.
He became unwelcome in my social circles. People judged me for being friends with him. They thought I was enabling his racism, and maybe that’s fair in many situations but they did not see the hours I spent arguing with him about these issues.
He once told me I was the only liberal who had ever been willing to discuss these issues without screaming at him or disowning him. That’s why he had never considered any of my arguments before. That concerned me. On a large-scale social level, that is very concerning.
Nowadays I see significantly more people who think the way this guy did. Back then all I got was some judgmental comments about being friends with him. Nowadays I think a significant number of my friends would disown me for this and wouldn’t care how much time and energy I was spending arguing against his problematic beliefs.
So many times people have called me an idiot and told me I was wasting time arguing with people. “You just can’t get through to some people,” they always say.
I don’t buy it. I have more commitment than that. The human race won’t get anywhere by turning its back on communication.
Right around the same time I had a friend who was making minimum wage. We got into a very long, though mostly civil, argument about buying a house. I insisted that someone could theoretically buy a house on a minimum wage job. Just scale back all your expenses. Pretend you are absolutely dirt poor. Set aside a third of your income and just don’t use it, pretend it doesn’t exist. Keep saving for your house no matter what, even if it means living in the street. An entirely theoretical argument of course. Obviously I had never seen this done.
She argued that I was crazy, unrealistic. I had a fantasy view of capitalism. We went on and on, literally for two hours. She kept asking how I could believe anyone could put themselves through that. I said, “If you do the math, it’s technically possible. It would suck like crazy but humans do things that suck like crazy all the time for things far less valuable than a house.”
We ended the argument amicably, but she made it clear she thought I was out of my mind.
Then I lost contact with both of these people.
Seven years later my minimum wage friend messaged me out of the blue and our conversation went vaguely like this:
“Hey, I bought a house!”
“Woah!” I said. “I’m trying to buy a house right now too! I’m still renting though. I got a fancy job as a web developer so I’m not flipping burgers anymore but I’m addicted to restaurants so my house-buying progress has been painfully slow. So what kind of house did you buy?”
“It’s a beautiful little cottage on the beach. I got a great deal.”
“So you must have got a better job then,” I said. “Where are you working?”
“Nope!” she said. “Still at the same place. Been there ten years and haven’t gotten a single raise! Still making minimum wage.”
“So how did you do it?” I asked.
“I ate tons of Top Ramen. I lived with my mom for a while. Walked to work because the bus was too expensive. Never bought anything and just saved, saved, saved. It sucked but I got used to it. It was tough but I actually wasn’t any less happy than I had been because I knew I was making progress and now I own a fucking house on the beach! And it’s not getting to live on the beach that’s so great, though that’s pretty cool too. It’s the financial stability. I got financial stability on a minimum wage job. How many people do you know who can do that?”
I should clarify that I’m not trying to imply support of extremist views of capitalism. I still support $15 minimum wage, affordable healthcare for everyone, and many other liberal views on the economy. I do believe that anyone can succeed in our society but that does not diminish our need to fight for a more fair and equal society.
That conversation was one of the happiest of my life and was unquestionably worth the two hours of arguing I put in years earlier. When something you said or did makes someone’s life measurably better it’s one of the greatest feelings.
It is actually worth our time to spend hours into the night arguing with someone who seems impossible. You can get through to people if you put in the time. They won’t come back and thank you. Your posts may get zero likes. It may take years to get even a subtle payout. They will never say the words “You were right and I was wrong,” but you can get through to them. You don’t need to get that validation if you’re genuinely arguing for the greater good.
I wish I could find my old Nazi sympathizer friend and reconnect. I don’t remember his last name. Maybe I’m overly optimistic but I have this feeling that despite the direction our country has headed, if I asked about our old conversations he would tell me that he had drifted away from that way of thinking. I could be wrong, but if so, that’s not an excuse to stop arguing.