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Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 8.3

My FaceBook feed has been hopping quite a bit discussing political issues. I guess it always is, but for some reason I'm more aware of it than I usually am. Between the Chick-Fil-A blow-up and the Colorado shootings (and really, the only thing these things have in common is that they've been talked about a lot lately!), my more liberal friends have been passing around a lot of pictures with pithy quotes or sarcastic one-liners. Some of it is clever (the thought of one I saw a few days saying that Kermit and Miss Piggy had been supporting non-traditional marriage since 1974 or whenever still cracks me up).

But much of it isn't nearly so light-hearted. It makes it seem like "the other guys" (whoever they are) are completely unreasonable, either by taking a thoroughly reasonable point and making it seem like no atheist/Christian/liberal/conservative/whatever could ever agree with it... or by simply creating a straw man of what the other side actually says. And here's the thing. Sharing these things just takes a click of the mouse, and I know a lot of people share what they think is "neat" without necessarily thinking about how it will come across to others. It can create a world-class echo chamber - often from both sides at once!

Sometimes these memes start good conversations. If it's a friend who seems genuinely interesting in discussing these issues, I'll a lot of times comment and explain how and why I reacted. But with some people I get the impression that they're sharing this stuff to create a sense that *everyone* agrees with them (certainly every reasonable person). And it goes beyond that. Just in the last week I've seen three separate "friends" (the label works pretty much the same way on FB and LJ) say that if "you don't agree with me on _______, maybe we shouldn't be friends any more. Where _______ is usually a cause of some kind or a cherished belief, like the idea that gun control was important or that homophobia shouldn't be tolerated.

I've always been bothered by the way FB and LJ use the word friends to mean someone following my blog or updates. I love interacting with people on that level but that isn't what friendship is about. I mean no disrespect to people who choose to end an acquaintance because the person disagrees with you on some issue. That's certainly your right and I don't have any particular bone to pick with people who choose to do that. But when you call people in this relationship friends, I think that just muddles things up in the worst kind of way.

Lots of philosophers discussed friendship, but I think one of my favorite depictions has to be Aristotle's. For the non-philosophers in the house, Harald Thorsrud provides a decent introduction to Aristotle on friendship using Harry Potter examples. The gist is that Aristotle recognizes three kinds of friendships, from friends of convenience up through true friendships built around virtue. The true friendship is one that lasts, but more than that it's one that's built on improvement. I love you and want to become more like you so those virtues that you have and I lack, I try to develop. And vice versa.

When you say a friendship can and should be ended over an "issue," what I hear is that you think I can be dismissed over an issue. That's a pretty pale version of friendship, to my mind. And I realize that on the internet "friend" doesn't mean what it does off the internet, but that's sad to me. I've known lots of people online longer than I have hear in New York. We've probably seen each other through more situations and spent more time chatting, too. Fandom does that, but I think the internet in general does it, too. These are true friendships in the Aristotelian sense, or at least as close as us moderns ever get. I know I can count on them not to run for cover when the going gets rough.

All of which makes me sad to see such an awesome concept and reality used in such a casual way. Because I am much, much more than my stance on gun control, and if our friendship is anywhere close to the authentic ideal Aristotle requires, I need my friends to see that about me. Is this just semantics, a convenient name? Maybe. But even that seems wrong somehow. Because I think that when many people think of and use that word "friends" they really do just mean people whose blogs they follow. I try not to say that, because the word is worth holding on to. Doubly so for the truth behind the word.

Btw, this whole thing reminded me of an old Seinfeld clip; hilarious, but also a nice take on just what's bothering me so much about this use of friendship.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2012 11:10 am (UTC)
Oh boy have you hit on an issue that is a powder keg issue for me. I absolutely detest the whole 'friends' thing on LJ and especially FB. I could go on about it for a while, but what it boils down to for me is the effect it has on the very young (still learning what social interaction is) generation. My niece (19) counts her number of FB 'friends' several times a day. She measures her worth by the number of comments she gets to status updates. She has never even met most of these people, but she gets depressed or happy over them (and not just the drama the interactions sometime cause, but just the existence/non-existence of them).

The (bigger) problem is, she think RL is like this too. She is living with a boy, with whom she has a child. If he annoys her, even in the slightest bit, she unfriends him by moving in with someone else, taking the child with her. I asked her if she thought this was a good way to teach the child to resolve conflicts (not that an infant is probably learning much, but I thought she should be thinking about this) and she told me that she thought it was. If people don't go her way, then the hell with them. When they start thinking/doing things her way again, they can be friends again, until the next disagreement.

She sees absolutely nothing wrong with this. And this is the person she intentionally planned and chose to procreate with--they treat each other this way and see it as perfectly normal. She also treats employment this way and has never held a job longer than a few months. Neither have any of the people in her RL high school group. They are all very similar and treat their group relationship as very come and go. I see no evidence of any of them being true friends with another human being. I just don't get it.

Jul. 29th, 2012 09:51 pm (UTC)
I think you're right. I know in my own students and people who are a few years younger than me, I see this idea that even our relationships are self-centred. (I am with this guy, I'm friends with this person, whatever - because they are "good" for me.) I was telling my shrink that I see so much of Aristotle's approach to human nature in my own thoughts, it was like I was born 2,500 years too late. But maybe iit's nowhere near that drastic, and I'm just old-fashioned for my time.

I'm sorry for your niece. So sad that she and so many others don't even get what they're missing.
Jul. 27th, 2012 01:35 pm (UTC)

Most people whom I count as true friends do happen to be online these days. But I have never and will never "unfriend" someone over a mere disagreement. People are more than their opinions on politics or fandom.

Jul. 29th, 2012 08:50 am (UTC)
I have made true friendships online, some of which I've cherished for years. I call those people friends which they are and casual aquaintances via LJ and Facebook, blog buddies, scabble buddies ect. I would not defriend someone over disagreeing over an issue, for how dull life would be if we were all alike!

I guess we need a different word, but I don't know what. ff.net now sends messages saying "X is now following you" which sounds downright creepy!
Aug. 3rd, 2012 10:47 pm (UTC)
I have these days where I, basically as a foreigner, am wondering what I am to say about very religious statements opposed to the liberal posts. It sometimes feels as if I am watching a tennis match and I don't feel qualified to say a thing about that. I observe, nothing more.

Earlier this evening I read an article about (female) friendships and instead of virtue, friendship based on community contributions was valued as the most precious ones. It is a community that binds, in a way. I am not sure if it is badly translated though. But, even within a friendship you can differ in opinions and respect the other for that. Before you can get that far, you also have to respect yourself and be at peace with your views before you can also respect the other fully. This does mean that also for a friendship you have to work on you. It can happen that something of a friend brings out something in you that upsets you. Such an issue, if it surfaces, can be a learning point for both. But it takes courage to look at yourself and asking yourself: why does this upset me? Why do I make a point from it, what do I think to see in my friend and what does that say about me. I think dealing and raising a child like mine has been a huge learning curve for me.

If the friendship is solid, your friend can help you with dealing and overcoming this. I do believe that even online friendships can also help you grow as a person. I have met other moms with autistic kids online and they have become good friends. It feels good to be talking to someone who just doesn't need much to understand you with such few words.

This being said... your comments and views, your own personal things and conversations you had with your therapist also has helped me: to grow as a person and get a better understanding. To also look and appreciate you as a person, the challenges you do face while you walk your own path... it has been a mirror to understand my child and at some length my own husband. Thank you for that (and my apologies for replying so late).
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )



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