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Sunday, April 30, 2023

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Having lost several friends in the last decade, I share your assessment that such persons “were false friends from the start and I am glad circumstances made them show their true colors.” My explanation for these failed friendships revolves around two issues: existential fear and intellectual deadness. In one case, that of a friendship of almost four decades with a highly gifted classist and linguist, fluent in four ancient and four modern languages, my mentioning that I had grown increasingly conservative over time and that I was going to support Trump in 2016, led to an undeclared break on his part: he suddenly stopped our weekly conversations, which had been going on for many years, mainly around late Roman history, architecture, and literature. I knew something was going on, but, naively, I did not what, so when I confronted him, I was told that my political views, which were not central to our discussions, made him “uncomfortable.” Living all his life in NYC and surrounded by a network of people on the Left, he feared that my ideas might somehow upset this intact little world, especially his internal one. Continuing to befriend me constituted, in his mind, some sort of personal and social threat. In the other cases, I broke off the friendships with people who were not, to begin with, very intellectually or emotionally engaging but with whom I could “chat” and relax from time to time. This was the group that, from the time of the 2016 election and through the Trump presidency, was ready to spew one idiotic, unexamined opinion after another, all garnered from the garbage “news” services that protect the ruling class and the Left. With this completely closed-minded group, which found a ready answer to every social and political issue, I never succeeded in having anything close to a real exchange of views, so I dropped them all. The one thing that both groups of former friends had in common is a visceral disdain, indeed hatred, for anyone who disagreed with their “progressive” world view. Since I have a strong skeptical steak in me, I have always sought out to test my views against those of the strongest intellectual opponents, so it made sense not to waste my time with dummkopfs.

>>existential fear and intellectual deadness.<<

I agree that these two are key factors in cases like these. What is curious, however, is why people on the Left should feel existentially threatened given that the Left has captured all of our institutions including, horribile dictu, the military! And then there is the fact that your erstwhile friend is no millennial or post millennial, and thus unlikely to be a feminized 'snowflake' ever in fear of being dragged out of his 'safe space.'

On the other hand, I'll guess he is an academic who has spent his life around like-minded lefties. And so we have the added curiosity that the universities, who one might naively think are citadels of truth-seeking and open inquiry, are in fact little more than leftist seminaries and sanctuaries of groupthink.

Was your erstwhile friend aware of the religious side of your nature? (Feel free to ignore any question of mine that seems too personal for a public forum.)

He was very aware of it, Bill, but, since he had at a very young age rejected the Roman Catholic Church, and, after finding his guru, joined a neo-Hindu cult, he stayed away from the subject, other than to tell me about the joys of his faith. Whenever I raised theological subjects or philosophical issues that had a bearing on religion, he would shut down or worse. This was an early tip off to me of his rigidity, since I take both Hinduism and Buddhism very seriously and, given that he is reads Sanskrit fluently and knows many of the ancient texts and has a religious inclination, I would have loved to share our thoughts. Once more, I think that he simply regarded me an unenlightened for not seeing what he regarded as the obvious flaws of orthodox Christianity. I continued our friendship by avoiding religion altogether, focusing on subjects of mutual interest that he did not find threatening. A silly strategy in retrospect.

Since entering adulthood (age 21) and the workforce (age 22), I have had no more than a dozen friends and new more than a few at a time. Now, 60 years later, I have none. I lost some simply by moving away from them and not keeping in touch (I am an extreme introvert). I lost others through non-political differences. I lost the final two through political differences -- because I had become conservative and they stayed put on the left or dead-center (a cowardly political stance). But I lost the friendships only in my own mind. Our personal relationships remained cordial, but there came a point at which I said to myself "he is no longer my friend". One of the two died a few years ago, and I believe that he sensed the change in my attitude toward him because in his final years he only communicated with my wife. The other one still lives, and we still communicate, but only superficially, because I loathe his pearl-clutching reactions to Trump and anything else that smacks of anti-establishmentarianism.

I lost two old friends, in 2016, simply by saying to them, in passing, that I loved Trump.

The strange thing, to me, is that they were utterly shocked; dumbfounded. How well could they have known me?

Interestingly, since then, I have known many more people - previously apolitical - who have become very, very red-pilled. My wife is one of them; a nurse of 25 years, her hospital introduced the vaccine mandate, with which she refused to comply, so they fired her.

Another one of my friends uprooted her family and moved to Florida to escape Trudeau's lunacy.

The stories of such transformations are, happily, legion.

Thanks, Bill. It’s a good question.

I haven’t lost close friendships over politics, though I have had friendships of utility (Aristotle) end because the utility factor expired via the normal course of life, and the differences in politics and deeper worldview matters prevented any substantive friendship from developing. However, I have extended family members who are so far to the left (politically, culturally, etc.) and, despite their age, so unreasonable and unwise that they seem to me utterly loony. These are challenging relationships to manage because one cannot easily sever a family relationship. Family obligation requires a measure of cordiality and respect, and yet at the same time, reason makes one aware of the intellectual and moral folly of the family member’s thinking. So, on one hand, one maintains a degree of respect for the family member qua family member, and on the other, one cannot respect the family member’s obtuseness, and in some cases, what looks like willful blindness.

Speaking of Aristotle, this topic is amenable to an Aristotelian analysis. The philosopher spoke of three kinds of friendship: utility, pleasure, and virtue. The first two naturally dissolve when the utility or pleasure (respectively) is no longer sufficient to secure the tentative bond. If such friendships end over politics, perhaps there is little to mourn.

It seems to me that friendships of virtue are such that the friends have developed a moral and intellectual character sufficient to make it unlikely that either will fall for the madness that Bill described. But if one were to fall for such madness, the other would have reason to mourn, since friends of virtue will the good for each other.

And yet, what if one wills the good for friends of utility and for loony family members?

I have two kids and three step-kids. They are all over the place politically. After Trump won, when they were teenagers, I gave them a civics lesson and said that just because somebody voted differently than you, that he was not evil or stupid. I am very conservative, not terribly fond of Trump, but found him preferable to Clinton or Biden (I'm not sure now). The wokester of the bunch gave me hard time and went over the top, but I then said that I would henceforth refuse to discuss politics with that particular child. We are all still getting along.

By the way, it’s hard to use words like ‘obtuse’ and ‘blind’ to refer to people for whom I have some natural affection despite the fact that the evidence available to me indicates that they are generally unreasonable.

What a world this is! The rational person – one committed to the life of reason – properly finds specific character traits and ways of thinking and living unreasonable, and yet finds himself related to persons he has a natural motive to care about although these persons care nothing for reason, in some cases are opposed to it, and possess traits which the rational person justifiably finds reprehensible.

There’s an aspect of the problem of evil here that merits discussion.

None, really. But I'm an introvert with few deep fiends. I proceed with caution. By the time someone is my friend, they've passed muster.

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