For a variety of reasons, the subject of friendship and coalition building is often on my mind. There are ultimately two different motivations for building coalitions–out of a common identity and common interests and a common worldview or out of a common enemy. Depending on the strength of that commonality, and on the openness and mutually beneficial nature of the coalition, there can be genuinely close bonds between different people, different groups, or different nations. To the extent that these bonds are deep and genuine, we can speak of such connections as friendships.
On the other hand, not all alliances or coalitions are founded on deep and fundamental agreements. On the contrary, many groups are founded on rather superficial levels of agreement or are alliances and partnerships of convenience, where both parties hope to get something out of the partnership, but where there is no shared commitments or worldview to bind such people close together. Where the concerns that lead people or groups of people or nations together are merely tactical or logistical, rather than being founded on genuine feeling or long-term commitment, there is no genuine friendship to be found, only people and groups and nations using each other for selfish and narrow and often temporary interest.
It is often difficult for us to know our true friends for a variety of reasons. One of these is that if we do not have awareness of our worldview and commitments, and the worldviews and commitments of others, we do not have enough knowledge to build a strong foundation of friendship and cooperation with others. All too often in this present day and age we have not taken the time to really build a deep worldview, particularly one that looks out with love and concern for the interests of others rather than only our own personal interests. We cannot have deep and genuine friendships and alliances unless we genuinely care about the well being of others and have others care genuinely about our own well being. Where reciprocity and mutual respect and love and concern are lacking there can be no genuine relationships of any kind.
It is often easy to unite temporarily and on a shallow level against a common enemy. Whether that common enemy is in the personal or political or geopolitical sphere, an enemy of sufficient hostility or difference is going to make others seem worthwhile as allies against that common foe. There is nothing wrong with this, except that we often expect or demand a greater level of common belief out of allies of convenience than is fair or just. Worse, often we mock and insult our allies of convenience as being just as bad our more serious enemies, because we fail to distinguish their motivations, demanding a rigid ideological purity when most people are simply not that ideological in nature. In fact, many people care far more about people than about abstract ideas, and while I am a fairly abstract person by nature, the human (and proper) tendency to consider people as more important than our own personal ideas and opinions and judgments is within me as well. This sort of behavior alienates those we should be working together with, and often hinders our ability to gain the power and influence that we seek. After all, he who would wish to have friends must be friendly, a truth as powerful in politics and diplomacy as it is in interpersonal relationships.
Often there are hurt feelings (and this is true even on a geopolitical level) when one side thinks of a frieindship or alliance as deeper than the other. What to one side may be a tactical alliance for the short term may be to the other a deeper alliance where a greater common spirit is felt. A lack of open communication and a lack of honesty about our true motives and intentions and worldviews often leads to tragic miscommunication. Nonetheless, there are plenty of hurt feelings that result even when both parties openly engage in an alliance of convenience only for one party to assume a loyalty from the other that does not exist. Often it is the more principled scoundrel that feels and ends up the most hurt in such an arrangement because their humanity leads them to want to turn the alliance of convenience into something deeper while the other person remains entirely detached and self-absorbed.
I have spoken so far on the abstract and intellectual and general level, in part because what I say can often be taken personally when such an intention does not exist (although generally I am the sort of person that believes that if the shoe fits, wear it). It is probably safest to examine this question on a political and a geopolitical level to examine just how this dynamic works, and the sort of complications and hurt feelings that result from the inability of people to be honest about the level of their commitment to a shared goal, or the depth of agreement and fellow feeling they really have with their allies. Let us look at one political and one geopolitical example, in the knowledge that many could be chosen.
In the United States, our main political parties are full of a variety of wings and different groups with different goals and worldviews that join together in the search of electoral majorities. On the side of the Democrats, one has socialists, majorities of various ethnic minority groups (often with conservative religious beliefs), and the occasional populist from the electoral coalition started all the way back in the times of FDR and even William Jennings Bryan. On the other side, the Republicans have a coalition that combines moral conservatives (who care mostly about social issues, and who may even have populist tendencies themselves), economic conservatives who are most offended by high taxes and government spending, and even libertarians who are entirely opposite in their political worldview to the morally conservative populists who make up the party’s electoral “base.”
This is obviously a simplification, as each person can offer their own shade of belief and perspective, but in general we may see that rather than being monolithic blocs, our political parties are themselves divided by cross currents and internal conflicts, which is readily obvious to anyone who has been witness to as many internecine struggles as I have. Even where we recognize a common enemy, and mobilize in opposition to it, it is obvious that we have many deeper shades of belief and opinion along multiple axes, rather than being simply in one box or another. And understanding that deeper picture also allows us to recognize that we are not always very far off from people on the “other side,” which makes us less hostile and harsh to them and far more understanding of their motivations, even if we disagree with their particular tactical decisions.
This division among allies is even more true in geopolitical conflicts. For example, right now a fairly loose coalition of Russia, China, and Iran are helping Syria’s dictator try to stay in power while another loose coalition of Islamic fundamentalists, Turkey, Europe, and the United States is surrepititiously helping out Syrian rebels, while in the north the Kurds are looking out for their own interests while Israel fretfully watches on to the south. Life is complicated, and all of these parties have their own different and often mutually contradictory interests that happen to align in the short term. And because most of our thinking and acting in these times is on the short-term, few people and peoples have any kind of interest in working toward deeper long-term relationships because that level of commitment simply does not exist for many people and nations. As soon as self-interest is being threatened by having to care for or work with other people, many people want the freedom to cut and run and fail to recognize their obligations and responsibilities to love and honor and care for others outside of themselves, obligations we have agreed to by covenant.
What these problems boil down to in general is that we have to become people whose faithful discharging of our responsibilities, whose concern and care for others and their interests, and whose honorable and upstanding moral behavior allow us to find the sort of people who are worth being genuinely close friends with, whether as people, as organizations, or as allies. Life is too short and full of too much suffering and problems for us to waste our time on mere alliances of convenience if we have the moral character and the longing for something more deep and satisfying. After all, when we entangle ourselves with alliances of convenience, we mostly end up hurting ourselves most of all anyway. And who wants that, really?