Can friendships be political?


Back at ya with some serious political jive …

I gotta say, I’ve written a lot of the foundational concepts of politics the past couple months. While I suggest people review them simply to understand how power operates, there are also alternative applications for political inquiry. Here’s one that’s of interest for most people: their personal life.

I know nobody ever thinks politically about personal relationships, but they should, because it’s productive for everyone, really. At minimum, it forces people to define their relationships between people.

Friendships — I get it. They are innocent relationships where two people get along, have good times, and laugh a lot. However, I would say that’s actually the definition of an acquaintance-ship (made up word), rather than a friendship. While a friend can also be an acquaintance, there is something distinct about the “friend” label.

Have you ever thought to yourself: What actually is a friendship? As in, what is going on here?

There’s all this “dramatic” stuff on Facebook.

Something like this … “I can’t believe my BEST friend just stabbed me in the back!”

… Then, after that, the post is ambiguous at best.

Well, I would say, it’s because people have never thought about the political side of friendships; if they had, they wouldn’t be surprised by some of the behavior.

Political friendship is weird to think about …

It’s true.

I admit, it’s weird to think that your friends want something from you, or that there is some volley for power going on — but there is. There always is, because, as Aristotle said, “man is a political animal.” … and by ‘man,’ he meant men and women, they just weren’t feminist in ancient Greece.

But, if you have a friend, what do they want?

Incidentally, I read an interesting piece about this by a feminist political philosopher named Hannah Arendt. Arendt wrote some pretty rad stuff, but ran into some controversy when she wrote about the Nazi-Eichmann trial in Jerusalem.

Anyway, Arendt gave this take on friendship:

She said that friendship is neither speaking at a public forum, nor is it thinking in solitude. Rather, it’s a safe space in between sharing your ideas with many people, and thinking alone. Because thinking alone inevitably leaves ideas untouched, and in their primitive state, people need feedback. Because most people are frightened to speak in front of people, especially to share their ideas, friendship is the perfect place to share, rework, and shape ideas.

In this view, friendship is most useful as an incubator for your personal ideas about really anything. Of course, you have to want to be working on ideas, and you have to be at the point to where you’re ready for those kernels of ideas to be heard, but it’s better than going into a public forum without any practice, which would be weird in the first place. Also, the people very close to you probably won’t give serious feedback — because they don’t want to hurt feelings or something. By contrast, a friend should be able to give meaningful feedback, and, in some cases, act as an informal advisor, should you choose.

I invite the question to the reader; is this a safe definition of what friendship is? I found it pretty compelling, and I think if others accepted such a view, then friendships would have far less miscommunication (aka “drama”).


Like all relationships between humans, there are bound to be complications. So yes, there are things that can go wrong in our friendly relationships.

I would say, there are a few things that can happen, but it all ties back to the dynamic of people sharing, and shaping, information and ideas.

Imagine person A is friends with person B. For a friendship to remain solid, there needs to be equal flow of ideas and information between the two. That is, you don’t want your friend eating all the friend time up by talking about only their problems and ideas. That would be a disproportionate friendship, and the dynamic would no longer be sustainable over the long term.

So, if person A is always talking about their skin rash, their money problems, and their new novel, then person B is most likely going to distance themselves from person A — because the relationship is disproportionate, and person B isn’t getting to share their information and ideas. This goes vice versa as well.

Maybe person B has an idea to go back to school, and wants feedback — because things in person B’s head sound OK, until they say them aloud, or to another person.

Also, person A or B could be in a funk, have nothing to say, and generally not want to do anything. I would say, in that instance, then the people closest to this person should be able to identify such, and deeply personal troubles are outside the parameters of a friendship — after all, there are boundaries and limits to what friendship can be. At some point, personal relationships kick in.

Once there is an information-sharing/idea-sharing deficit, then a friendly relationship is in threat of failure, because there is no longer any meaningful relationship output other than listening to somebody moan. A relationship should act as a mathematical function, and in functions there is an output. Ideally, the equation should equate to an equilibrium of discussion, idea revision, and advice (and booze, ideally). At the end of the day, the objective should be to hear, and hone, the ideas of others. It’s how people survive, after all. In this way, friendships should be mutually beneficial for both parties. If it isn’t, then the cost/benefit analysis is to cut the relationship … or at least create some distance.

Similarly, distance tempers friendship — unless friends talk quite often, which, these days, is difficult, because people are busy.


With social media, people are making a lot of their friendships very public, and bickering is pretty well known.

Some people don’t really understand why they have the friends they do, and then are surprised to find out that the people they thought were “friends” end up severing ties.

… other complications have to do with infidelity, which is a topic for another day.

If there were any advice I would give, it would be this; Share information with thoughtfully identified “friends,” and distance the others into the “acquaintance” category. It’s easy to contain information flow when you do this, and, frankly, it de-complicates things.

Acquaintances, by the way, are necessary, but the relationship differs. Instead of sharing personal ideas, and shaping how you think, acquaintances, by contrast, are there for dinner parties, casual nights out, laughing, movies, and whatnot. While such relationships can act as a discussion forum, these gatherings are no longer a places to hone ideas … instead, these casual meetings, in effect, become more lighthearted discussions among people rather than closer, more intimate interactions.

Acquaintances can safely remain in the non-friend definition of relationships, yet they are there for social interaction. Acquaintances help relieve stresses of everyday living, and they don’t necessarily want to hear your ideas about life, careers, or whatever. But, acquaintances do help people forget troubles that they encounter every day.

I would say, friends can also be acquaintances, but acquaintances cannot be friends. In other terms, all friends are acquaintances, but not all acquaintances are friends.

… I think that idea came across.

Is all of this accurate?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But I invite answers from other people. At minimum, I suggest people identify what their relationships are, because it probably will help make sense of the world, which is seemingly non-sensical at times.

And finally, sometimes you just want someone to drink with, and tell inappropriate jokes to. This would also be included in the definition of a friend. Because why not?


One thought on “Can friendships be political?

  1. Pingback: OPINION: How to get more power. | Political Ideas and Education

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