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Should I stay or should I go? Love and friendship in a time of politics

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Oct 12, 2021 6:19 pm

War-torn 1940s. Two dazzlingly brilliant men met and became so close and brain-snug that rumors say they even loved the same woman.

One was born in Paris, France; the other in French Algeria. French intellectual life bristled with the words of this tandem to such a degree that the Café de Flore, which they frequented, almost became an altar to that friendship.

But when war broke out in Algeria in 1954, their friendship slowly began to deteriorate. Almost immediately, the Frenchman sided with the Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front), a group of communist resistance fighters who launched a guerilla campaign for the liberation of Algeria from France.

Quite surprisingly, on the other hand, the French-Algerian, while sympathetic in the main to the idea of a free and sovereign Algeria, his home country, threw his lot with the alternative position, that was, to resist a totally Stalinist view of liberation and utopia.

To the latter, to be neither executioners nor victims was the order of the day. To forfeit human life in the pursuit of a free society was simply not acceptable.

To these close friends, their rift wasn’t merely a difference in opinion. It was, by all standards, a difference in morals. A disparity too lopsided as life and death. After a long line of tirades against each other, they never spoke again.

Book lovers recognize this story from a mile away: the ill-starred camaraderie between literary luminaries Jean-Paul Sartre (French) and Albert Camus (French-Algerian).

A difference in opinion and a difference in morals between friends are two very contrasting realities.

One can argue well the health benefits of an apple over an orange. Or whether buying a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 over a Porsche 911 Turbo is well worth anyone’s extra cash.

Some people feel strongly about veggies as a healthier alternative than an inch-thick steak. Some might even quarrel over 2021 Nobel laureate for Literature Abdulrazak Gurnah’s quality of writing, if at all it deserves the Nobel Prize.

These differences, in the end, merely echo a variety of opinions on the matter of taste. Or at best, a preference for whatever reason one might have.

What the friendship of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus suffered from goes over and above the gullibility of opinion. What they fought for was a stark difference in morals.

In order to create a free and sovereign Algeria, Sartre chose any means possible, even embraced a totalitarian worldview, complete with its violence, to achieve the goal.

Camus would simply have none of it. None of the bloodshed, the imprisonment and torture in Stalinist camps, the self-imposed entitlement to be the enemies’ executioners.

If Algeria must be free, and it should, it must likewise be free to value human life.

The question of whether we should stay in a friendship or not, when confronted with stark political differences, is one that needs cautious explanation. Clearly, I don’t suggest throwing friendships under the bus for a mere difference in opinion.

On the issue of our choice for a presidential candidate, for example, considering all things equal for argument’s sake, there ought to be no cutting of close ties. But that’s in light of candidates having only a difference in campaign platforms.

But on the matter of differences in morals where, clearly, our choices could mean the spin-off of further violence, corruption, and hate, we have all the reason to give up the friendship.

Painfully as this might be (and I should know, having given up my friendship with a host of people as a matter of principle), these “friends” offer us little choice.

In dark times such as we are living in today, we should make peace with the possibility of losing friends. Because losing one’s sanity and mental well-being are but a few of the many costs of keeping them. This is to say little of the more profound betrayal where that same violence comes knocking on your door and crushes someone you love.

Oranges and apples, Mustangs and Porsches, veggies or meat, even the choice between a conservative and liberal platform, don’t threaten human life as siding with executioners always will. Having friends who agree to the violence and the lies as State policies is no different than pulling the trigger themselves.

Extremist views make for extremist actions. And nowhere is this more pronounced than in a kind of political agenda that approves murder, historical distortions, and other atrocities as law.

In dark times such as we are living in today, we should make peace with the possibility of losing friends. Because losing one’s sanity and mental well-being are but a few of the many costs of keeping them. This is to say little of the more profound betrayal where that same violence comes knocking on your door and crushes someone you love.

This is what your friend agrees to? In the end, when the matter of life and death collide in the choices we make, there is no going wrong when choosing life—your own, your community’s, and even your former friend’s.

If you don’t lose friends over principles, eventually you’ll lose them over time. That, too, is a big possibility, as anyone who has friends know. Thus, it is safer to treat losing friends as an open door to finding better ones.