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No Son of Mine Will Marry a Consequentialist!

Summary:
A recent survey indicates that about 80% of Americans have no or “just a few” friends across the political aisle. So, should Democrats stop being friends with Republicans, and vice versa? Let’s ask an analogous question: should consequentialists stop being friends with deontologists, and vice versa? I assume most people would say “no.” So is political disagreement different? Maybe the stakes of your friend having mistaken political beliefs are higher. But this probably isn’t true. After all, their vote is extremely unlikely to make any difference to the outcome of the election. Furthermore, consequentialists and deontologists often disagree about questions that *are* impactful on an individual level, such as those concerning eating meat or donating to charity. Maybe having the wrong

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A recent survey indicates that about 80% of Americans have no or “just a few” friends across the political aisle. So, should Democrats stop being friends with Republicans, and vice versa?

Let’s ask an analogous question: should consequentialists stop being friends with deontologists, and vice versa? I assume most people would say “no.” So is political disagreement different?

Maybe the stakes of your friend having mistaken political beliefs are higher. But this probably isn’t true. After all, their vote is extremely unlikely to make any difference to the outcome of the election. Furthermore, consequentialists and deontologists often disagree about questions that *are* impactful on an individual level, such as those concerning eating meat or donating to charity.

Maybe having the wrong political beliefs is evidence of someone’s terrible moral character. But why wouldn’t having the wrong moral beliefs also be evidence of someone’s terrible moral character? Furthermore, both Democrats and Republicans tend to arrive at their conclusions via politically motivated reasoning, so it’s hard for one side to claim an advantage here. Lastly, both moral and political questions are complicated and so people can have good faith disagreements about both. (Note that this isn’t to claim that *all* political positions are tolerable but rather that mere disagreement doesn’t imply a corrupt character.)

Also, we know that most people aren’t particularly committed to their policy preferences in the first place. So we probably shouldn’t draw conclusions about their moral character from their views about an issue that may well be different the next time an election rolls around.

Lastly, refusing to interact with outparty members is part of the reason we are seeing so much affective polarization and partisan hostility right now. Evidence suggests that positive, nonpolitical contact across the aisle can lessen this hostility. So rather than freeze out the neighbor who votes differently than you do, maybe see if they want to watch the game on Sunday.

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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