True Friendship Might Not Be Something You Can Find with an Algorithm

March 23 2020

According to a recent survey, 22 percent of millennials report having no friends, and 27 percent having no close friends. In response, Silicon Valley has introduced new technologies, modeled after Internet dating sites, that help potential friends find one another. Devorah Goldman, bemoaning the decline of one of the most critical bonds of human society, looks to the wisdom of C.S. Lewis for insight:

In his memoir Surprised by Joy, Lewis distinguished between what he termed the “First Friend,” who “reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights,” and the “Second Friend,” . . . “who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the anti-self. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not be your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. . . . [Y]ou modify one another’s thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and a deep affection emerges.”

Goldman notes that Judaism provides a rich understanding of this second type of friendship. It can be found, for instance, in the tradition of studying the Talmud in pairs, a practice “designed to be intense, boisterous, and argumentative.” Illustrative is the talmudic story of the sage Rabbi Yoḥanan, consumed by sorrow after the death of his friend, disciple, and sparring partner Reysh Lakish:

To alleviate his grief, several rabbis proposed that Rabbi Yoḥanan study with another brilliant scholar, Rabbi Elazar ben P’dat.

Rabbi Elazar might have fit the profile of Lewis’s First Friend: he not only agreed with Rabbi Yoḥanan’s every suggestion, but found creative ways to support his arguments. This, however, only exacerbated Yoḥanan’s sense of loss. “Are you comparable to [Lakish]?” he cried. “For every idea I put forward, he would raise 24 challenges, to which I would respond with 24 answers.” In this way, Rabbi Yoḥanan contended, their understanding and the law itself would expand and be clarified. He spent the remainder of his days calling out for his friend, until he lost his senses and died soon thereafter.

The story may be confusing and cryptic, but it underscores the idea that there is something significant at stake in forging a friendship, and that a friend is more than a form of entertainment. The utilitarian way in which app designers would have us pick friends off a menu reflects quite the opposite approach. Friendships are viewed as more comfortable and more disposable than . . . Lewis and the Talmud suggest they ought to be.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: C.S. Lewis, Friendship, Internet, Millennials, Talmud


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy