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Aristotle Thinks You’re An Asshole

April 17, 2015

We spend a lot of time on this blog, discussing the importance of building what John Robb terms a “resilient community,” while I turn back to the more traditional “tribe.” One of the recurring themes that arises in the commentary to these articles is the inability of people to find and befriend “like-minded people” to band together with for protection and security.

If this is your problem, rest assured, Aristotle thinks you’re an asshole. In his Nichomean Ethics, after pointing out that friendships are essential to the human experience (another example of classical antiquity being smarter than the ‘retreat survivalist.’), Aristotle went on to describe friendships as having three fundamental bases.

The first type of friendship that Aristotle described is the friendship wherein we like someone because they’re simply enjoyable to be around. This is the college buddy that you still hang around with because he’s good for laughs, or because he throws great parties. Aristotle explained that this was among the lowest forms of friendship, and they seldom last any great length of time. They’re not what most mature people would describe as “real” friendships.

This friendship—whether you are the guy who enjoys hanging out with someone, or you’re the guy who people enjoy hanging out with—stops, the minute shit gets tough. It’s entertaining to point out that “laughter is the best medicine,” and we need court jesters, especially in times of stress, but if that’s the only value someone is bringing to a relationship? Meh.

The second type of friendship that Aristotle mentioned, was also a “lower” form of friendship. Today, most of us generally view this type of relationship as only being valued by people who are inherently pieces-of-shit. These are the relationships where one party (or both), find utility in the friendship.

Aristotle wrote, “Those who pursue utility….sometimes….do not even find each other pleasant; there they do not need such companionship unless they are useful to each other; for they are pleasant to each other only in so far as they rouse in each other hopes of something good to come.” It’s not necessary that either party to the friendship is being mercenary per se. It’s simply a matter that the motivation for being friends is “what’s in it for me.”

This is ultimately the issue for most survivalists and preppers trying to build tribe among other preppers. We look for “well, what kind of preps does this person have? Do they share the same political values as me? Will they help me fight the good fight, politically?” Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this; it’s a reason for developing a friendship, it’s just not the highest form of friendship, and when we’re building a tribe—from scratch, mind you—we need the highest levels of friendship, trust, and frith.

I repeatedly suggest a thorough, annual reading of Dale Carnegies’ “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and I stand by that. It’s important for people to recognize however, that Carnegie was writing for the businessman who needed to develop rapid, ultimately relatively shallow, business friendships of a utilitarian nature. You need to use those tactics, when meeting people, but you also need to go far, far past that step.

Aristotle also described the highest form of friendship. Considering that much of what we understand as modern, liberal (in the Classical sense, not the contemporary political sense) Western values are largely derived from Aristotle’s writing, it should be no real surprise that most people’s concept of what “real” friendship, at the highest level is, coincides pretty closely with Aristotle’s definition.

“Perfect friendship is of those who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish each other well alike to each other…” Different from pleasure- or utility-based friendships, true friendships…the type of friendships that tribes must be based on (after all, remember, we’re talking about building a group of people that meets the definition of “kith and kin”) involve genuine care for the well-being of the other person/people, not mere ego issues.

This is not—as many anarchists would like to believe—a matter of radical self-sacrifice. It’s simply a matter of genuine concern for the well-being of the other party, regardless of the benefits to the self. This is the guy who stands up and teaches classes to his local survival group, not for his ego, but because he genuinely wants to pass on good information for the well-being of his friends, not because he’s getting paid, or because he needs to stroke his ego. This is the guy who shows up at 0600, on his day off, to help a neighbor get his crop in, and doesn’t ask anything in return, because he knows he doesn’t need to ask: the neighbor will be there next weekend, when HE needs a hand moving some furniture.

The problem that I see too often in the preparedness community is the “John, how do I find like-minded people to build tribe with?” questions we constantly get.

You don’t “find” like-minded people to become your friends. If that happens, it just happens, because you happen to meet like-minded people that you express a genuine interest in. The most important lesson of Aristotle’s discussion of friends is, looking in on-line communities for “prepper groups” to join is, how are you going to have a legitimate interest in the well-being of someone you don’t know?

You don’t know if those people in that group share your values. You don’t know if they share your work ethic. You don’t know anything about them. Oh, wait…you know what they said on the Internet, or on the telephone? You met them for beers once, and they said all the right things? Shit, I’ve charmed a girl out of her pants over a beer, by knowing “all the right things” to say…didn’t mean she got a long-term relationship out of it!

Ultimately, as was once said on the second best show on television, “Big Bang Theory,” (the best is undoubtedly “Vikings,” duh….), “There is no algorithm for making friends!”

You’ve already got friends. If you don’t, well, the problem is you, not other people. Cherish the friends you have, continue developing those friendships. If your friendships are pleasure-based, or are strictly utility-based, start trying to find greater interest in your friends’ well-being. Perhaps a little self-sacrifice, for THEIR good, would do YOU good?

Build your tribe by strengthening the friendships and relationships you have.

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