Consider Me Your Greatest Ally

A prudent man relies on friends the way a carpenter relies on his hat. That is to say, not entirely. Hats and friends can, of course, be quite nice and provide as much satisfaction as any other accoutrement. Though they are best understood as the drapery of our lives: furnishings not foundation. Those foundations are instead family.

The compelling element of family is it doesn’t require like in order to love. Most people have raged at their siblings, while remaining loyal to the death. Family is resilient. It absorbs loss, disruptions, lies, and disappointments. Family is there for you, even when you weren’t always there for it.

By comparison, friendship is brittle and often ephemeral. Friendships are typically beings of opportunity. They flourish in a particular environment and quickly wilt outside of it. They do not well sustain impacts, and often falter when jolted by hurt feelings. They are hothouse flowers. Delightful during their time, but not hearty at all under the glare of expectations. Friendships are something to be savored…for all of their seven year half-life.

Because these two classes of relationship feature such dramatically different root systems, it should be no surprise that people derive more psychic nourishment from one than the other. That ultimately translates to health. Consider this.

A recent study from the University of Chicago found that people who had close relationships with family members lived longer than those who had close relationships with friends.

Maybe the study only sampled people whose close friends live on the Southside of Chicago. Friendship in that case could correlate with remarkably high mortality rates.

But that statistical quirk aside, the findings are fairly intuitive. And they are likely a significant component of why we are so deracinated in comparison to our forebears. My grandmother was one of ten children. Her social support structure was cast iron. None of it was contingent on the frivolity of transient affections. And perhaps most importantly, fidelity among her family members was almost never unrequited.

Unsurprisingly enough, the positive pull of reciprocity weakens with social distance. I suspect this might have significant implications for harmony in diverse societies, but can’t quite put my finger on what those would be. Though its effect at the personal level is sufficiently illuminating.

Most of us think that friendship is a two-way street — but that’s true only half the time, according to research.

Their new joint study says only half of your buddies would consider you their own friend. People have a very poor perception of friendship ties, and this limits their ability to influence their “friends,” according to the research.

“We found that 95 percent of participants thought that their relationships were reciprocal. If you think someone is your friend, you expect him to feel the same way. But in fact that’s not the case — only 50 percent of those polled matched up in the bidirectional friendship category.”

Friendships are not only fleeting, many aren’t even friendships at all. Eventually we come to grasp this, despite an almost heroic determination not to. Speaking of which, I’m almost certain there is something here we can extrapolate.

It turns out that we’re very bad at judging who our friends are,” says Dr. Erez Shmueli, who conducted the study with Dr. Laura Radaelli, both of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Industrial Engineering, in collaboration with Prof. Alex Pentland and Abdullah Almatouq of MIT. “And our difficulty determining the reciprocity of friendship significantly limits our ability to engage in cooperative arrangements. We learned that we can’t rely on our instincts or intuition.

Sorry, we’re having a little equipment malfunction here in the Tel Aviv University Engineering Dept.


Alright, as we were reading, Dr. Erez Shmueli has found that people are incompetent judges of who their friends really are, with an astounding 45% delta between perception and reality. And because we presume the existence of benign reciprocity, where in actuality none exists whatsoever, we are limited in our ability to engage in the cooperative arrangements that would actually benefit us. I don’t disagree.

Though I wonder if someone in a sort of loyal extended family relationship with Erez Shmueli has ever considered how this human frailty could be leveraged against people they consider enemies, but who mistakenly view them as friends. Surely not.

But if the Shmueli people did apply this to their advantage–purely speculatively, you understand–then we would surmise that the longevity of their duped “friends” would be dramatically truncated in comparison to an environment where the victims had maintained healthy positive relationships within their own extended family.

And that would be very bad indeed…but not for the Shmuelis.


14 thoughts on “Consider Me Your Greatest Ally

  1. Interesting ideas, deftly presented.

    But why should fidelity between and among friends necessarily be dramatically weaker than that among family? The dividends to human cooperation are significant.

    And could the capacity for fidelity (a kind of prospective and retrospective reciprocity) therefore be a very advantageous trait–at least under some circumstances. And could it vary across ethnic groups? (Did the study distinguish?)

    And if it is an advantage, what is the calculus made by an outsider or rival ethnic group in choosing whether to destroy it or to free ride on it?

    Sowing distrust within a cooperative group (by telling its members they cannot trust another) might be one way to undermine its degree of cooperation. Not saying that was necessarily the motivation behind the publication of this study. But a group that is characterized by strong family-ethnic based fidelity might be tempted to inject that distrust into one that has a deeper capacity for non-familial fidelity (which is an advantage) – to the extent the outside not solely pursuing a free rider strategy.

    • But why should fidelity between and among friends necessarily be dramatically weaker than that among family? The dividends to human cooperation are significant.

      My working template for human relationships is that reciprocity (and fidelity) work much like gravity: strong close and weak afar. Though to your question, weaker doesn’t necessarily mean weak. That is to say friendships will be weaker than family, though stronger than non-friendships within the community, which are stronger than relationships without, and so on.

      The obvious larger social implication is that as societies become decreasingly homogenous they will feature increasing interactions at the farthest reaches of reciprocity’s influence. Which means you’ll get a lot less good faith social synergy and a lot more “got mine (or ours), fuck you.” I’ve sometimes called this “social viscosity” though there’s other more common terms.

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  3. Wow. When I started reading this, I had no idea where you were going. We think alike. I’ve thought of the US/Israel relationship as being similar to master-blaster from thunderdome. The big guy loves the little guy, and assumes the feeling is mutual. But in reality, master only cares about blaster to the extent that he is helpless without him.

    It’s a hell of a ‘friendship’ we have with Israel. We have smashed their enemies to pieces and killed missions of people. All we have to show for helping our ‘friends’ is another 4-6 trillion in debt and tens of thousand dead and maimed Americans. Some friendship.

    • This entry had several layers, though how many readers had an interest in peeling them may be quite a smaller figure.

      As for Israel, US taxpayers should be heartened to learn Obama just committed them to $38 billion in additional charity.

      On the bright side, we’re likely to see some of that money back in bribes.

  4. I really enjoy most of your posts but I can’t endorse this one which seems intent on undermining our Shmuelio – Christian values.

  5. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2016/09/18) - Social Matter

  6. In addition to the US-Greatest Ally allegory this could probably also apply to the current rapefugee situation in which a good percentage of Euro women and cucks are willingly severing their bonds with their national identity and history in favor of currying friendship with people that want them at the business end of a scimitar.

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