Cyclops

I subscribe to very few newsletters (preferring my news feeds and news alerts), but I am really enjoying one recently recommended by my friend Clarissa. It is called Prufrock: Books, Arts & Ideas. Prepared by Micah Mattix, the daily newsletter has an erudite, literary-philosophical bent, with a paleoconservative disposition. It’s well-written. From this morning:

I’ve finished the final lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The final two treat friendship and action. Friendship according to Aristotle is the “most necessary” virtue. I won’t go into Aristotle’s types of friendship (those founded on utility, pleasure, and virtue), but I appreciated his view that friendship is one of the foundations of civilization. It is what binds a city together. We see this idea in classical and modern literature, too. Friendship and hospitality (which is welcoming a stranger as a friend) are quintessentially human attributes in The Odyssey, for example, which are not shared by the gods or the sub-human cyclops. These two ideas—that friendship is the basis of civilization and a touchstone of humanity—are also found in Francis Bacon’s short essay “Of Friendship,” which is obviously drawn from classical sources. Whatever “delights in solitude,” Bacon writes, “is either a wild beast or a god. For it is most true, that a natural and secret hatred, and aversation towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast.” It’s not that solitude is bad or unnecessary. It is that to live only in solitude is to live a sub-human life. Without friends, Bacon continues, the “world is but a wilderness.”

It seems to me that we’ve lost this high view of friendship as an aspect of human identity, which we now regularly confuse with personality or view as a discrete construction of the autonomous will rather than as something that is composed of universal attributes. So, it is no surprise that our lives increasingly look like those of the cyclops. We live in caves, in fenced-in back yards, and “consume” each other—on television, in movies, on Facebook and Twitter. And because our lives (I’m speaking generally here about American culture) are ordered around maximizing physical pleasure, not virtue, they must end in suicide when the body’s capacity for physical pleasure wanes. The opioid crisis starts with this low view of human nature and won’t end until a grander view is recaptured, which I don’t see happening any time soon.

I have worked hard at friendship all of my life, and have found that honest attentiveness can overcome awkwardness and the various stupidities, if not one’s friends’ arresting memories of these. My friends and I usually can see one another.

2 Comments»

  Paul M Matulic wrote @

Astonishingly good quote and your commentary is spot on, brother Bob. Explains why I feel like I can see you sitting amongst the morning flowers, when in fact the last time I saw you was about when you moved to BC in the waning years of the 20th century. See you!

  Robert Basil wrote @

Thank you for this sweet note, dear friend!


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