Monday, July 12, 2021

Let's Make Friends

One of the more striking things about Mare of Easttown, the HBO series which I wrote about here on Saturday) is the interconnectedness of so many of the characters, so many of whom are related by blood, marriage, or friendship. As a relative outsider to the community, Detective Colin Zabel picks up on this quickly. At their first arrest, he asks Mare, if she is friends with these people, and is told that she is.  When Mare introduces him to the local pastor as her cousin, he says, "Of course." It is, of course, the closeness among the characters that makes their community seem so close and attractive in certain respects, but that also makes the secrets they hold and the things they do to one another even more tragic. The community comes across as so broken precisely because of the breaks within and among those powerfully precious circles of friendship (including but not limited to extended family networks).

Were he able to watch the show, Aristotle would undoubtedly quote himself: "No one would choose to live without friends, even if one had all other goods" (Nichomahean Ethics, VIII, 1). He would also note (in the very same chapter) how "Friendship also holds states together." Yet, he would likely also caution, "The wish to be friends can come about quickly, but friendship cannot" (VIII, 3).

That sad state of affairs is increasingly reflected in recent studies, for example, the most up-to-date data from the Survey Center on American Life, showing that 15% of men claim no close friends - up from only 3% in 1990 - and that only 15% report 10 or more friends. (Among women 10% say they have no close friends and only 11% have 10 or more.)

In "Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations," The Dispatch's David French ( cites such sad statistics and references on the decline of the extended family and of opportunities men to work and recreate together and how "the very nature of modern work ... often leaves us isolated and alone." French refers a lot to "The Politics of Loneliness is Totalitarian," by Damon Linker ( Linker in turn refers back to Hannah Arendt who famously connected the 20th-century rise of totalitarianism loneliness having become "an everyday of experience" for many. For Linker, "we're developing a in direction that will make more of us lonelier and more isolated. That is bound to lead to deep and increasingly widespread discontent with our way of life." He warns "that if loneliness and isolation become worse, so could our political pathologies." Unsurprisingly, Linker highlights "the wasting away of these intermediary institutions in civil society. Families are smaller than they used to be, and fewer people marry in the first place. Communities are fraying under economic pressures and as a result of social shifts. Fewer people go to church." The familiar list goes on.

Addressing this issue with a more explicitly spiritual focus (and within a Thomistic perspective) in "On the Necessity of Friendship and the Loss of It in Our Times," Monsignor Charles Pope ( highlights how we are increasingly mobile and often have little opportunity or need to interact with those in our neighborhood. Such factors, together with the rapid pace of or contemporary lives, get in the way of developing deep lasting friendships, without which "we remain incomplete." 

David French puts it best when he writes, "we were not created for power or prosperity. We were created for community and fellowship."

(Photo: Michelangelo's fresco, The Creation of Adam, part of the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (painted between 1508 and1512), illustrating the Genesis creation account of God giving life to the first human being.)

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