I am a devoted reader of Dan Savage's sex advice column. He has a good mix of politics, freaks, and interesting debate on relationships and sex that I find consistently good. Consistently good, however, is not the same as always good. He got a question this week from a woman with strong pro-choice feelings in a relationship with a man who was moderately pro-life. She wanted to know how to address this problem and if it should be a deal breaker for her. Dan's advice? Lie to him, tell him that she is pregnant, and see what shakes out.
I can think of other ways to torpedo a relationship more thoroughly like pepper spraying him, giving away all of his possessions, or showing his porn collection to his mom, but lying about being pregnant ranks way up there on the 'dump her now' list. The trouble here is that sometimes people get so caught up in fighting an ideological war that they lose their perspective on the problems staring them in the face. I agree that people who want to ban abortion are mistaken and it is critical that women be allowed control over their own bodies. What I don't agree with is the idea that anyone who voices a pro-life opinion automatically ought to be treated like crap. Dan is making a classic mistake by lumping in one person with the dangerous fanatics who have some superficial similarities.
Lots of people hold opinions that I don't agree with. That doesn't mean that scorched earth tactics are appropriate in all circumstances. When someone says that society should be run according to their own particular interpretation of ancient texts that codify and glorify sexism, racism, murder, slavery, etc. then I feel comfortable with enraged confrontation but there is a middle ground. There are people out there who feel that there is some kind of benevolent supernatural force behind everything that touches on people's lives; they are mistaken but I gain little by fighting them directly and might gain much with gentle persuasion.
This is somewhat like the position of moderate Muslims in the US. They often find themselves lumped in with the lunatic extremists when acts of terrorism occur but which certainly have no direct involvement in violent activities. We need to make people aware that by supporting religion (or anti-abortion politics) they have a negative effect on the world by empowering the lunatics. However, many of those can be converted to the light side with appropriate conversation and example. Very few will be brought over by frothing rage or being an jackass though, and we need all the converts we can get.
One thing I find immensely cheering about this whole episode is the comments section of the post I linked. Dan Savage has a lot of people that regularly comment on his posts and most of them think the world of him. Despite that nearly everyone who posted made it clear that his advice was completely unacceptable. In a world where people flock to defend embattled leaders regardless of what terrible things they may have said or done this is a breath of fresh air. Dan is usually right but this time he was dead wrong. The willingness to admit that someone in our own group is terribly mistaken even when they are attacking someone who holds opposite beliefs is a cornerstone in making good decisions, especially in politics.