In looking at Mitias’ five eras of Western history, I am intrigued by the movement from Hellenic to Contemporary modes of living. While Hellenic and Hellenistic eras emphasize the essence of good as integral to individual salvation, Medieval and Modern eras put emphasis on the state, hierarchy, power dynamics, and a reverence either for religion or for science, respectively. Our Contemporary period has valued a subversion as authority as the defining characteristic of our time. We promote the ideals of democracy, art, and living integrated with technology. Our promotion of the individual has sustained through the Modern era, even though we have started to adopt a collective conscience of identity politics. It is here that I begin to conceptualize the return of friendship as a defining paradigm in post-modern life. Lambert discusses how modern philosophy has become tied up with these identity crises, where we seek to figure out who is the enemy and who belongs with us.[i] This has taken us further away from the principle of friendship in everyday life, and certainly in the political realm. In such an individualistic world, how can we argue for the return of friendship?
Going back to Homerian friendship, the ancient Greeks considered friendship as the first practice of politics. And while that might not be true in contemporary politics, we see this bridging effect of friendship all throughout the five major eras of human social development. It’s easy to see how the ancient Greeks utilized friendship as a bridge between rational thinking and emotional intelligence, but that distinction becomes slightly more complex as human society moved between the other major eras. The Medieval era, for example, found direct meaning of truth via religious practice. Luther and Calvin saw friendship as compromisable, even disposable, in pursuit of the highest good of truth. However, as modern contemporary theologians argue, truth actually comes as a product of friendship. So even while influential leaders of the time attempted to eschew the idea of friendship as a virtue, friendship continued to act as a bridge between religious ideology and rational thought.
Furthermore, our Contemporary era — though not openly promoting ideals of friendship as paramount to other virtues — we still feel the effects of friendship in everyday life. As people in our era attempt to deconstruct strict hierarchies, we create strong bonds with each other that contribute to our growing pursuit of democracy. Hannah Arendt, of course, positions friendship as absolutely integral to democratic governance, and even in class we discussed how tyrannical governments rely on some definition of friendship to survive. Hobbes, who I’ve read previously, has a very opposite view of the role of friendship in politics, but I think his argument is short-sighted and largely unapplicable to the realities we live in today. Especially through our integration with technology, friendship has become a part of our social economy: how many ‘friends’ do you have on Facebook? Do you have career networking connections? In what areas of the world do your friends live? This last question has provided an extra layer of analysis to the use of friendship as a growing paradigm in the contemporary world. Technology has been able to dismantle separating structures like geographic location that silo individuals from each other in the pursuit of friendship.
Bringing the discussion to an international scope, I think the two values of the United Nations preambular charter sheds light onto the changing tides of contemporary paradigmatic realities: tolerance (which, as we discussed, is problematic) and neighborly living. We can bring the discussion to what these two values really mean, but I’d rather take the long view and use this precedent as a jumping-off point to discuss the growing possibility of friendship’s importance in our near future. Based on the historical view of friendship as either an overt paradigm or an underlying reality, we can see that friendship never truly went off the radar of social interactions and overall relations. As a dominant paradigm, it certainly has suffered in status — this is the issue that we face today. I think that, as we face this new era of populist dictatorship, uncertainty about the truth, and volatile social relations, friendship will emerge in response to our human need for it rising. We already see this happening today — social movements have begun aligning with others, we are forced to talk to those who disagree with us, and religious groups are promoting social cohesion through community gathering.[ii] In this way, we see how the direness of our socio-political (and environmental) situation has brought us to returning to friendship as a fundamental tool for not only improving ourselves, but also altering our society.
[i] Gregg Lambert, Philogosphy after Friendship: Deleuzes Conceptual Personae. Minneapolise: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
[ii]Meghan Holohan, “How an unlikely friendship between 2 moms and a Syrian doctor sparked a movement,” Today, NBC, October 24, 2016.
Holohan, Meghan. “How an unlikely friendship between 2 moms and a Syrian doctor sparked a movement,” Today. NBC, October 24, 2016. https://www.today.com/parents/standwithaleppo-how-unlikely-friendship-sparked-movement-t104237
Lambert, Gregg. Philosophy after Friendship Deleuzes Conceptual Personae. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
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