Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Catherine Lytle: how to lose a friend in 10 days

What is a near-global sport these days?  Shopping. But not just any kind of shopping. It’s the therapy kind of consumerism that is the most prevalent. Some people say that they don’t shop but they are do consume because it is impossible not to these days. Some people eat and spend their money on sweet things to try and reconcile some aspect of their life. Some people spend their money on traveling and so they spend endless hours browsing through or Airbnb. Are they too not consumers? Everyone is looking for their own kind of “Human Togetherness”1 in an attempt to escape all the misery and suffering that they read about hear about daily. Trump. School shootings, China trade wars, and even their beloved Facebook that used to be so reliable has turned to steal their clients’ personal information. But can we really say that we did not cause this for ourselves ? And if so, what on earth are we to do now?

Foucault says that the difference between neoliberalism and the previous Austro-German predecessor is that governments are required to ensure that markets don’t go off the rails, that “governments must not form a counterpoint of a screen, as it were, between society and economic processes… it has to intervene on society so that competitive mechanisms can plan a regulatory role at every moment and every point on society and by intervening in this way its objective will become possible.”2 Todd May adds that Neoliberal economics contributed to “concentrating wealth among a few people at the expense of most others” and coupled with the “withdrawal or retrenchment of public services in many countries has rendered people vulnerable.”3

Neoliberalism has not only caused people to be disillusioned with their government systems but it has also caused a national egoistic epidemic that preferences homogeneity and isolationism. Slovakia’s ‘Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia’ party and the recent anti-government protests.4 Hungary’s ‘Jobbik’ radical nationalist party. Czech Republic’s Islamophobic and xenophobic ‘Úsvit’ party led by a Japanese immigrant.5 United Kingdom’s ‘UKIP’ and ‘Britain First’ party.6 North Korea’s Kim Jeong Un. United States’s Trump. There is no part of Europe that has not seen the emergence of pockets of neo-nationalism that dreams of closing the nation’s borders and limiting the amount that foreign activities can influence domestic affairs. The paradox is that many of those leaders are themselves immigrants, just like Trump’s wives, and they are at the forefront of populist majoritarian politics. Moreover, following the collapse of the USSR and the violent conflict in former-Yugoslavia in the 1990s many democratic countries advocated for the rights of the minorities7 but today it is about the majorities and maintaining a high standard of living for the majority.8 But who dictates who the majority is? How can you define the majority? Wedded to the neo-nationalist epidemic is the majority’s unrelenting drive for protectionism. Trump has promised to “Make America Great Again” by protecting the borders and the economy demonstrating that America First is really the way to go if one wants to maintain alliances around the world. We are at the point where capital is the only form of communication and protection of domestic assets the only raison d’être.9 Through privatizing state owned enterprises and giving large amounts of capital to those private enterprises, more money can be generated by relegating labor to factories on the other side of the globe for lower wages. This demonstrates that still, egocentrism is the pillar of neo-nationalism and protectionism because life has become a great survival game called “Me First.” This reminds me of a girl I once met, who when asked “Tomorrow everyone in the world will die and it’s your last day on Earth. What will you do? responded that she would kill herself immediately. When asked why, she said, that she wants to get a good seat in Heaven before the rest of the world competes for the chairs tomorrow. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all consume and demand something for our own egocentric needs. This is all just about “Individualized Egoism.”10

But do we really want to sit alone in that chair? What would I do if my friends, who would arrive in heaven tomorrow, sat far away from me? Wouldn’t I be perpetuating my own misery and loneliness?

Todd May believes that deep friendships are the antidote to the forces of neoliberalism because they “offer a challenge to it…we can worry that the context threatens the character and integrity of those friendships”11 but ultimately the individualism perpetuated by neo-liberalism can be countered through communication, conversation and shared activity.12 He also mentions the nature of gifts in deep friendships in opposition to consumerism. He uses gifts in the sense that it is “to offer without expectation of return” and that we do it because it is “clear that the friend requires it.”13 While May brings to the surface the idea that “there would be no friend that, in giving to another, would not already ave involved themselves in the economy of debt and return” and that all friendships of “pleasure, neoliberal consumer friendships, would contain an element of the economic.”14 However, further remarks that “just as neoliberalism cuts against close friendships, so close friendships cut against neoliberalism”  and that “our friendships provide a space where an alternative to consumerism and investment can be nourished.”15 I have always thought of gifts as something that you give to someone that they would not give to themselves. A gift does not at all need to be a physical object that was purchased with the simple flick of a wrist and a couple numbers on a debit card. Those of us in life long friendships have long given up on “buying” gifts for each other because we all know that if there were something that they wanted that they would buy it for themselves and would probably choose much better than us. The friends that I have deep friendships with, mostly live on a different continent to me, and we just wave off all gift-giving because we are just blessed by the fact that we can meet each other once or twice a year.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have foreign friends and multicultural, multinational families would never dream of building walls and placing the national guard at its borders to keep them out. If we continue we will become a faceless army of lonely people who live with the need for immediate satisfaction rather than with a vision for an eternity with deep love and friendship.



  1.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 36
  2.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 33
  3.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 51
  7.  – the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992);– the two Council of Europe treaties, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995) and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992) and;

    – the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Copenhagen Document (Art. 31-35) (1990).

  8.  Mahallati, Class notes, April 3, 2018
  10.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 40
  11.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 105
  12.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 90
  13.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 109
  14.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 111
  15.  Todd, May, Friendship in an age of Economics, 121

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Slovaks renew anti-govt protests in slain reporter case,” The Washington Post.  April 5, 2018. [Online]. Available from:

Butters, Jamie. David Welch and Keith Naughton. “Trump Did GM and Ford’s Foes a Major Favor by Cutting U.S. Taxes,” Bloomberg. February 6, 2018. [Online]. Available from:

Ladka Mortkowitz Bauerova. “How a Tokyo-Born Outsider Became the Face of Czech Nationalism,” Bloomberg. October 12, 2017. [Online]. Available from:

May, Todd. 2012. Friendship in an Age of Economics: Resisting the Forces of Neoliberalism. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto, Plymouth: Lexington Books.

Witte, Griff. “Anti-immigration party UKIP is shaking up the political order in Britain,” Bloomberg.  May 14, 2014. [Online]. Available from:

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