Banal Documentaries
Chomsky Film
Domain of Demands
Emporer Penguin Evolution
Lottery Life
Peace School

Personality & Classification
Police Interrogations
Press Ethics
Stun Guns
Suicide Bombers
Target Civilians
The Criminal/The Military
Time Memory
Ways of Life
A Good One of Those


So far as we know, most human societies are and have been held together by relations of affinity: blood relations collateral, ascending and descending. They work at the micro level between cousins and uncles, and can be aggregated into very large collectives. Pretty neat.

Since we are not, alas, one big human family, we need alliances to get us through. Alliances require agreement and can be terminated without a lot of huffing and puffing ‘out of my sight you are no child of mine’ sort of thing. This is their strength, but the absence of a grounding in biology is commonly thought to be their weakness. So while treachery more or less comes with the territory in alliances, it signals the coming of universal chaos in the world of affinity. Lear is the master here.

Alliances are converted into affinities by marriage. But it’s tricky determining exactly how the blood flows. Marriage alliances produce new affinities, and this is what makes young male/female alliances special [in addition to the cuteness]. Nevertheless, for most of our history marriage was a subset of contract; not until the late 19th century did it begin to form into the ensemble we know as domestic relations.

Friendship lays claim to both the durability of affinity and the pragmatic similitude's of alliance. This is its strength and also the basis for its irritation. In great literature friendship almost always appears as a challenge to the certitude's of affinity: a loyalty at once admirable and more than a little foolish. While we have best friends at weddings and form very strong attachments in warfare, our culture has almost no institutional sanctions for the relationship.




It may be that friendship will become increasingly important as a source of satisfaction in high tech cultures where, on the one hand, affinities are less prominent, and on the other hand, work environments are constituted by cohorts, teams and temporary task specific groups. Looking for ties that bind, we may find something less than the blood of our ancestors, but more than a similarity of play list.

Now perhaps we are ready to think about the place of gender and sex.

{ Why do we locate inter-gender friendship on a continuum from precarious to implausible? Because the presence of sex changes the category [friendship is now located somewhere within romance], and the absence of sex suggests satellite homosexuality?}

Friendship does not arrive with a clutch of duties that serve to shape the relationship; in each case this is something for the parties to work out as they will. This is why when they are friends will accuse each other of having some distorted or improper view of ‘friendship’. Unfortunately, no one has much training in this sort of negotiation so much of it is implicit or worked through de facto.

When successful, friends create an ad hoc system of duties and responsibilities that are similar to those pertaining in relations of affinity. While they swap little chores and favors, the really big payoff comes in ‘being there’ for each other. The great model of being there has always been military friendships, because in this context people come to experience one of the truly amazing circumstances of life: people otherwise strangers coming to share their fate. To take responsibility for the life of another means to link ones own outcome to theirs -- with all the risks this implies. Why would someone volunteer for this duty?















©Al Katz • Prof. of law SUNY, Buffalo, 1969-1989 (ret.)