Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

RP 4

Given the rising global waves of protectionism, neo-nationalism, and populist majoritarian politics resulting from the mounting tensions between neoliberal economics and globalization, how can friendship concepts help the state of domestic politics?

I thoroughly enjoyed our class discussions on friendship in politics last week. Due to the rise of populism across the Western world, questions of human networks and relations have rambled around my mind (as well as in my conversations with others). It’s clear that the “Democracy Fatigue” that Appadurai describes is being felt more viscerally by members of our society — this “Great Regression” caused by globalization and neoliberalism gone awry has led us away from global cohesion of friendly relations. In contrast with Silver and Pahl’s argument that neoliberal economics has bridged cultural gaps, I agree with Todd May and Geiselberger that neoliberalism has created a dichotomous “we-feeling” that sets us against them in economic and geopolitical competition. This, in hand with populist governments, has instituted an epistemological change of democracy from including minority groups to empowering majority groups. In these systems — that have turned away from friendship practices based on mutual respect and trust — three manifestations of democratic fatigue have emerged: an extension of social media across the globe has engendered the illusion of peer-seeking, nations have lost the reality of economic sovereignty, and the cost of human rights has skyrocketed (with the world facing over 65 million migrants and refugees transiting between borders and communities).
This migratory effect of disintegrating social relations has furthered the cycle of cultural majoritarianism and ethno-nationalism, another threat/counterpoint to friendship in national politics. It’s almost impossible to separate international relations from domestic politics anymore, but to put a national lens on this analysis, this ethno-nationalistic narrative feeds directly into the “America First” mentality our country currently utilizes. In the face of increasing migration in a system that encourages competition and a “possession mentality,” we see our fellow countrymen reverting to a form of interpersonal relations focused on defensiveness and closed-off-ness. This begs the question of the whole course: how can you implement a radical friendship agenda that institutionalizes the foundational values and praxis of friendship in our society?
I think one avenue of thought might be helpful to consider. There is currently a small movement building in Iowa, my home state. It’s called “Connections Matter,” and it is a program run by Prevent Child Abuse Iowa. The program itself transcends the rather specific scope of child abuse — it actually implements community education, curricula, and activities that foster the creation of solid, meaningful connections with many different people in our community. The whole idea is that interpersonal relationships help ground us to our community, as well as support us when we are facing adverse, uncomfortable, or even scary situations. This is not meant to establish echo-chambers of like-minded thought, but instead it seeks to bridge ideological as well as physical boundaries we have created between ourselves and our neighbors. Beginning at this grassroots, community-based level is one step in addressing larger issues of socio-political exclusion by filling our “psychological gaps” that allow us to feel that we are, indeed, sovereign beings capable of healthy friendship relations built on compassion, trust, and mutual respect.
I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment. x Megan Cox

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