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From The New York Times:

Friendship in an Age of Economics

To preserve our most cherished human bonds, we must push back against the idea of investment and return.

When I was 17 years old, I had the honor of being the youngest person in the history of New York Hospital to undergo surgery for a herniated disc. This was at a time in which operations like this kept people in the hospital for over a week. The day after my surgery, I awoke to find a friend of mine sitting in a chair across from my bed. I don’t remember much about his visit. I am sure I was too sedated to say much. But I will not forget that he visited me on that day, and sat there for I know not how long, while my humanity was in the care of a morphine drip.

The official discourses of our relations with one another do not have much to say about the afternoon my friend spent with me. Our age, what we might call the age of economics, is in thrall to two types of relationships which reflect the lives we are encouraged to lead. There are consumer relationships, those that we participate in for the pleasure they bring us. And there are entrepreneurial relationships, those that we invest in hoping they will bring us some return. In a time in which the discourse of economics seeks to hold us in its grip, this should come as no surprise.

The encouragement toward relationships of consumption is nowhere more prominently on display than in reality television. Jon and Kate, the cast of “Real World,” the Kardashians, and their kin across the spectrum conduct their lives for our entertainment. It is available to us in turn to respond in a minor key by displaying our own relationships on YouTube. Or, barring that, we can collect friends like shoes or baseball cards on Facebook.

Entrepreneurial relationships have, in some sense, always been with us. Using people for one’s ends is not a novel practice. It has gained momentum, however, as the reduction of governmental support has diminished social solidarity and the rise of finance capitalism has stressed investment over production. The economic fruits of the latter have lately been with us, but the interpersonal ones, while more persistent, remain veiled. Where nothing is produced except personal gain, relationships come loose from their social moorings.

Aristotle thought that there were three types of friendship: those of pleasure, those of usefulness, and true friendship. In friendships of pleasure, “it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.” In the latter, “those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other.” For him, the first is characteristic of the young, who are focused on momentary enjoyment, while the second is often the province of the old, who need assistance to cope with their frailty. What the rise of recent public rhetoric and practice has accomplished is to cast the first two in economic terms while forgetting about the third.

In our lives, however, few of us have entirely forgotten about the third – true friendship. We may not define it as Aristotle did – friendship among the already virtuous – but we live it in our own way nonetheless. Our close friendships stand as a challenge to the tenor of our times.

Conversely, our times challenge those friendships. This is why we must reflect on friendship; so that it doesn’t slip away from us under the pressure of a dominant economic discourse. We are all, and always, creatures of our time. In the case of friendship, we must push back against that time if we are to sustain what, for many of us, are among the most important elements of our lives. It is those elements that allow us to sit by the bedside of a friend: not because we know it is worth it, but because the question of worth does not even arise.

There is much that might be said about friendships. They allow us to see ourselves from the perspective of another. They open up new interests or deepen current ones. They offer us support during difficult periods in our lives. The aspect of friendship that I would like to focus on is its non-economic character. Although we benefit from our close friendships, these friendships are not a matter of calculable gain and loss. While we draw pleasure from them, they are not a matter solely of consuming pleasure. And while the time we spend with our friends and the favors we do for them are often reciprocated in an informal way, we do not spend that time or offer those favors in view of the reciprocation that might ensue.

Friendships follow a rhythm that is distinct from that of either consumer or entrepreneurial relationships. This is at once their deepest and most fragile characteristic. Consumer pleasures are transient. They engulf us for a short period and then they fade, like a drug. That is why they often need to be renewed periodically. Entrepreneurship, when successful, leads to the victory of personal gain. We cultivate a colleague in the field or a contact outside of it in the hope that it will advance our career or enhance our status. When it does, we feel a sense of personal success. In both cases, there is the enjoyment of what comes to us through the medium of other human beings.

Friendships worthy of the name are different. Their rhythm lies not in what they bring to us, but rather in what we immerse ourselves in. To be a friend is to step into the stream of another’s life. It is, while not neglecting my own life, to take pleasure in another’s pleasure, and to share their pain as partly my own. The borders of my life, while not entirely erased, become less clear than they might be. Rather than the rhythm of pleasure followed by emptiness, or that of investment and then profit, friendships follow a rhythm that is at once subtler and more persistent. This rhythm is subtler because it often (although not always) lacks the mark of a consumed pleasure or a successful investment. But even so, it remains there, part of the ground of our lives that lies both within us and without.

To be this ground, friendships have a relation to time that is foreign to an economic orientation. Consumer relationships are focused on the momentary present. It is what brings immediate pleasure that matters. Entrepreneurial relationships have more to do with the future. How I act toward others is determined by what they might do for me down the road. Friendships, although lived in the present and assumed to continue into the future, also have a deeper tie to the past than either of these. Past time is sedimented in a friendship. It accretes over the hours and days friends spend together, forming the foundation upon which the character of a relationship is built. This sedimentation need not be a happy one. Shared experience, not just common amusement or advancement, is the ground of friendship.

Of course, to have friendships like this, one must be prepared to take up the past as a ground for friendship. This ground does not come to us, ready-made. We must make it our own. And this, perhaps, is the contemporary lesson we can draw from Aristotle’s view that true friendship requires virtuous partners, that “perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good.” If we are to have friends, then we must be willing to approach some among our relationships as offering an invitation to build something outside the scope of our own desires. We must be willing to forgo pleasure or usefulness for something that emerges not within but between one of us and another.

We might say of friendships that they are a matter not of diversion or of return but of meaning. They render us vulnerable, and in doing so they add dimensions of significance to our lives that can only arise from being, in each case, friends with this or that particular individual, a party to this or that particular life.

It is precisely this non-economic character that is threatened in a society in which each of us is thrown upon his or her resources and offered only the bywords of ownership, shopping, competition, and growth. It is threatened when we are encouraged to look upon those around us as the stuff of our current enjoyment or our future advantage. It is threatened when we are led to believe that friendships without a recognizable gain are, in the economic sense, irrational. Friendships are not without why, perhaps, but they are certainly without that particular why.

In turn, however, it is friendship that allows us to see that there is more than what the prevalent neoliberal discourse places before us as our possibilities. In a world often ruled by the dollar and what it can buy, friendship, like love, opens other vistas. The critic John Berger once said of one of his friendships, “We were not somewhere between success and failure; we were elsewhere.” To be able to sit by the bed of another, watching him sleep, waiting for nothing else, is to understand where else we might be.

Todd May is a professor of philosophy at Clemson University. He is the author 10 books, including “The Philosophy of Foucault” and “Death,” and is at work on a book about friendship in the contemporary period.

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The simple truth as told by Doron Almog….

Israel’s strength rooted in commitment, Almog says
Written by Joanne Hill
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
TORONTO – Doron Almog of the Israeli Defence Forces told a rapt audience recently that Israel’s strength is rooted in commitment, the country’s commitment to its citizens and the reciprocal commitment of Israelis – and Zionists throughout the world – to Israel.
In a dignified yet moving speech, the retired Major General spoke from the heart, without notes, about his own family’s sacrifices and commitment at a luncheon presented by the Canada Israel Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s about iron will,” Almog said, “It’s about commitment. It’s about our society.”
Almog served in the IDF from 1969 to 2004. He fought in four wars and led a successful anti-terrorism campaign, which prevented more than 12,000 planned terrorist attacks from Gaza. At the age of 22, he survived the Yom Kippur War but his 20-year-old brother, Eran, did not. Although he could have opted out, Almog chose to continue to serve in the IDF. He said there was no question in his or his parents’ minds about what he called the first major commitment of his life.
Both of his parents were born in British Mandate Palestine and fought in the War of Independence. “The supreme dream of their life was building a Jewish state…. I grew up in a home that every Saturday, the friends from ’48 came together and spoke on the war and the losses.”
In 1976, Almog was the first Israeli soldier to fly into Entebbe, Uganda, where he played an active role in the rescue of 105 Israeli hostages. Years later, he helped bring Ethiopian Jews from Sudan to Israel.
“What (were) these operations all about? It’s a commitment of the state of Israel for people who are in misery, suffering, in distress, to bring them to the only Jewish state in the world.”
Although he was never wounded in battle, he lost many friends and loved ones. Five members of his family were murdered in the terrorist bombing of the Maxim Restaurant in Haifa in 2003 and a 21-year-old relative was killed in the Battle of Bint Jbeil during Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The second major commitment of Almog’s life was to his now-deceased son who was born autistic and severely mentally disabled. Almog described his son Eran as “the greatest professor of my life” even though he was never able to utter a single word.
“I had an ongoing debate with my son. Shouting by his silence. In this ongoing debate he said to me, ‘My dear father, you can be totally ashamed. It’s your choice to tell that you have an autistic child or to hide it…. You can stand every place in the world and tell the audience what a wonderful general you were…. It doesn’t touch me, it’s not about my life. I need someone to protect me.’
“So we decided to love him, me and my wife. We decided to raise him, we decided never to be ashamed, we decided also to fight for him.”
When Eran turned 21, he was no longer eligible for special education services. Almog left the IDF and has since devoted much of his time and energy to raising awareness and funds for the Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitative Village, which currently houses and cares for 650 children with physical and developmental disabilities, and is only partially financed by the government of Israel. Eran spent the last year of his life as a resident of the Village.
As well, Almog is the executive chairman of Athlone Global Security (AGS), which invests in companies that specialize in technologies designed for homeland security but also serve other purposes.
In an interview with the Jewish Tribune, Almog spoke of the values that Israel shares with other democratic nations such as a commitment to liberty and justice, but also emphasized its unique Jewish nature, all of which are in stark contrast with anti-Israel groups that demonstrate and campaign in Canada and elsewhere.
“I was accused [of being] a war criminal in the UK. So I know how they use information, I know their cynical method of manipulating the truth and harnessing information to increase antisemitism and attack the legitimacy of the state of Israel…. Doron Almog or a specific incident (such as the recent Gaza flotilla) is not interesting from their point of view. They try to use a specific case to create delegitimization of the state of Israel.
“The main difference between them and us is that we choose life and some of them choose death. Death as a method, death as a philosophy: destruction and death.
“What’s their goal, what do they want at the end? Do they prefer a peaceful solution or do they prefer a totalitarian solution, forcing fundamentalism by Sharia law over the world? And most of them say, without any blink, ‘we prefer Sharia law in the long term, we would like a different world, a monolithic world of Islam, of people who are living according to one law, in obedience to fundamentalist Islam.’
“I’m in favour of looking inside, trying to be better people and trying to do good things for our people and for the rest of the world and judge ourselves by what kind of goodness we bring to our world. Let’s talk about technology, medication, how we can make our world a better place with a better quality of life, not better demonstrations, not more hatred. And that’s the main difference between these jihadis and Islamists and us. Ask what goodness they’ve brought in the last 100 years and what goodness the state of Israel and Jews have brought. How many Nobel prizes they’ve brought and we’ve brought.
“We intend good. We’d like to have peace around us. We would like to spread love, but if we need to fight and protect ourselves, we’ll do it, and we’re committed to do it.”
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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 June 2010 )

The MasterLiving Blog: Israel’s strength rooted in commitment, Almog says

Greek Default-Swap Costs Only Beaten by Venezuela: Chart of the Day

The cost of insuring Greek government debt is now second only to that of Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez has declared “economic war” against the “bourgeoisie.”
The CHART OF THE DAY shows that credit-default swaps on Greek government bonds, in red, have overtaken Argentina, which failed to pay more than $80 billion in December 2001. The Latin American nation still has more than $6 billion of defaulted securities outstanding after its second attempt to restructure.
“Greece isn’t Argentina,” said Niels Jensen, a portfolio manager at London-based investment firm Absolute Return Partners LLP, which oversees more than $300 million. “From an economist’s point of view, there’s no question that it’s much, much worse.”
Greece’s debt burden last year was equivalent to about 115 percent of gross domestic product, compared with a level of about 60 percent for Argentina when it defaulted. Credit swaps signal there’s a more than 67 percent chance the southern European nation won’t meet its commitments within the next five years.
Venezuela’s Chavez, a 55-year-old former army paratrooper who champions a socialist ideology, oversees an economy that may contract 2.5 percent this year, according to Bank of America Corp.
“You’ve declared an economic war against me, so I accept your challenge, stateless bourgeoisie,” Chavez said June 2 after business chambers criticized his handling of the economy. “I’m declaring an economic war with the help of the people and workers.”
Credit-default swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent should an issuer fail to adhere to its debt agreements.
(To save a copy of this chart, click here.)
To contact the reporter on this story: John Glover in London at

Greek Default-Swap Costs Only Beaten by Venezuela: Chart of the Day – Bloomberg

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