by Ethan Mack
In his magnum opus After Virture, Alistair MacIntyre brings our attention to a contemporary crisis. The crisis is that moral vocabulary has lost all meaning for the modern world. Ethical terms like “virtue” and “vice” are nothing but relics of a bygone era that possessed an understanding we have lost. It might be a bleak picture, but it is one that holds a great deal of merit; I think that a similar crisis exists today within friendship. Our friendships develop from the same kinds of interactions that have always existed, however, but now those interactions have lost their true meaning.
Here at Boston College we can clearly see several symptoms of this crisis. First and most obvious, is the drinking culture. Now to be clear, drinking alcohol is not in itself problematic. Alcohol is morally neutral and thus it can be used towards good or evil ends. However, there is a clear problem when alcohol becomes put at the very center of social activity. Second, 1 on 1 social interaction has largely been forsaken in favor of constant group interaction. As a result, friendship has become less about personal interaction and more about fitting the proper niche within a group dynamic. Third, friendships are not the place to discuss moral, philosophical and religious questions since this can make people uncomfortable. Thus, the questions that matter most to us are distanced from the people that matter most to us. Forth, friendships no longer involve vulnerability and a willingness to show one's imperfections, but rather the challenge to appear perfect at all times. These symptoms are all indicative of the larger systemic crisis.
So, now that we see the crisis we are faced with the inevitable question: “What is the way out?”. Answering that sufficiently would require a book as long and well written as McIntyre's, which I have neither the time nor the skill to accomplish. Nevertheless, I think McIntyre's overall solution in After Virtue is quite applicable, the solution being the reclamation of teleology. Friendships require a telos. There must be the notion of a transcendent Good, which the two friends are in relation to just as they are in relation to each other. Otherwise the foundation of friendship is mere human feeling, which is always in a state of flux and change.
However, friendship is not only the relation of two friends with a telos, it also involves each friend being an instrument to aid the other in approaching that telos. This can only occur if we reclaim authentic conversation. The medium of any friendship is conversation. It is hard to imagine a friendship without a means to express one's inner thoughts, beliefs, desires, and feelings to the other. However, in contemporary friendship conversation has become trivial and impersonal. Authentic friendship requires a kind of truly authentic conversation, within which friends are not afraid to discuss meaningful topics, admit when they are wrong, and share their flaws and imperfections. This kind of conversation needs to be at the center of social engagement, whether that be in a group or 1 on 1. When the centrality of authentic conversation is replaced with something like alcohol, friendship is no longer concerns the other person as a person, but only in terms of how many shots they can take before losing consciousness. Thus, we admire our friends for their feats of alcoholic consumption instead of their moral actions.