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

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

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy