The Spring Edition of the Lapham's Quarterly is entitled Friendship. Since I am no longer working, oh, that's right, I haven't mentioned that I retired as of last month, receiving my last "employment check" this past Friday, and so I am reading much more than before. What normally might take at least a month, perhaps even two depending on past work activities, I am zipping through my reading material, the standard monthly Smithsonian, National Geographic, and the Quarterly mentioned above. I was given 2 books as retirement gifts by my wonderful daughter-in-law, but will soon be into them so I may have to start buying some early Christmas book gifts for Nora, and I am thinking about signing up for a newspaper subscription.
Anyway, I digress.
There are two particular entries in the Friendship edition that I wanted to discuss.
The first details what one author believes are the seven kinds of people who make bad friends.
- the man of lofty position
- the young man
- the man of robust constitution who had never known a day's illness\
- the man fond of liquor
- the fierce soldier
- the liar
- the miser
Interesting list, I thought, especially in light of the fact that the author created this list when he wrote Essays in Idleness, in the year 1330. Yes, almost 700 years ago. Of course, that explains the fact that he uses the word man to reference men, and, I assume, not because he is using man to represent all people, but because he is only focused on men. But, putting that aside, the author, Yoshida Kenko, has created a list of people, or perhaps a list of stereotypes, that reflects what he believes are the types of men in his lifetime who most likely are incapable of real friendship, the kind of friendship that, like love, equates the interests, needs and happiness of one's friend with those of oneself.
In other words, I interpret Kenko's list to remind us that many men who have attained lofty positions, consider friends through the filter of whether or how much they assisted in the attainment of that position. That men who are young have not the wisdom or experience to be true friends. That men of robust constitution may lack the empathy to be a real friend. That men fond of liquor may only seek those who share that interest. That men who are fierce soldiers (and I think he uses the word fierce to be specific) may lack the compassion needed from a friend. That men who are liars cannot be trusted in any situation, friendship being only one of many. And that men who are misers, value money and possessions above all else, including friends.
While I would not necessarily disqualify any person for my friendship based entirely on Kenko's advice, I certainly have made choices not to deepen a friendship with people who are extremely money hungry, are liars to the extent beyond most people, or who believe that force and violence is appropriate in most situations. I can't say I have encountered anyone high in political office, or whose income is in the top 5% of all people, but I will comment on one particular person who resembles that description later in this post. As for young men, I still have one friend from my childhood with whom I am friends, very good friends, so perhaps that one is a caution rather than a rule. I would have a similar take on the man of robust constitution, although I do see people in high office who show very little concern for those of poor constitution, perhaps because people with little resources have very little influence on our public servants, perhaps because they just lack empathy.
The other essay in Friendship comes from Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, by Etienne de la Boetie. This excerpt focuses on friendship with a tyrant, or more precisely, why it is not possible to have a friendship with a tyrant, as Kenko alludes to when he refers to a man of lofty position, times a hundred.
Without going into too much detail, de la Boetie details all the advantages one may gain via a friendship with a tyrant, position, influence, wealth, but then systematically demonstrates how those gains enslave the person to the tyrant, making them subject to any form of whim that may come into the mind of a tyrant which would turn that friend into an enemy.
Not surprisingly, the former president came to mind as I read this excerpt. Even during his administration, "friends" of his, campaign managers and handlers, appointees in his cabinet, spokespeople, supporters for his candidacy and agenda, personal lawyers, even, were disavowed, ridiculed, rejected, once they dared to say or do, or even not say or do something that the former president wanted. While there have always been tell all books released after a presidential administration, the number of "behind-the-scenes" books that have been released in the past year about the former president and his actions, is astonishing, especially those written by former "friends" who were either fired or quit on their own.
Are you an elected GOP public servant who has gained their position in the last 4 years? You now have 2 choices, kiss the ring at Mar-a-Lago, or leave the party. There are no other options, when one tries to become friend, or in this case, fellow Republican, of a tyrant. Do you believe in traditional GOP values? That's fine, as long as you also believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Even former GOP presidential candidates, Romney, McCain, and Bush 41 and 43 are persona non-grata due to their outrageous claims that the GOP should be a party of values and policies, not a cult of one person.
What is really startling, and sad, is that de la Boetie wrote his Discourse... over 370 years ago, when tyrants and rule by birth was the norm. When gaining favor and power, especially in the area of ruling a country or kingdom, was all about who you knew. We thought we had evolved over time, had insulated our democracy from the effects of a tyrant, even if still susceptible to autocratic tendencies. Hopefully, our recent experience is the exception that proves the rule.
Friendship is considered by most as a person to person relationship. But perhaps we also need to think about our relationship with our country as a type of friendship. An affinity in which we value the success of our country on par with our own. We see our country in terms of what we can do which will advance the nation, but which, when you break it down to its basic essence, means what can we do to help each other. Can you imagine if we, at least considered if our actions would improve, not just our own lives and situation, but those of others as well? Or more specifically, if you are someone who would not steal from his family, or neighbor, or friend to become more wealthy, or would not purposefully endanger those same people just to make yourself feel better, it might be easier to choose to wear a mask to protect your friends, or get vaccinated to protect your family, or vote for another party's idea if it is good for your constituents.
Maybe we just need to think about how we can improve our friendship with our country.