Courtesy social media, I am coerced into registering that today is Friendship Day. I find it highly oxymoronic to be reminded about friendship by social media as it has completely reinvented the institution of friendship.
If I hyper-simplify a not too fashionable theory dealing with human behavior and make it a bit pedestrian, Freud proposed that all interactions between mind and reality can be reduced to a search of three Fs; Foe, Food, and for the want of a printable F-word, Sex.
Anyone or anything our brain encounters is first checked for its potential of being a survival threat, source of nutrition and mate for procreation. This simple process is the engine that drives all human behavior.
As Freudian theory makes us no different than all other animals driven by primordial drives of old brain, we prefer to consider it limited and presume that, as social animals, we should be having something more than just three Fs to form a cooperative organization like human society. Hence two more Fs, Family and Friends, are required to be added.
For a logical machine like brain, it becomes necessary to provide these additions with a clear non-conflicting definition; so, in very simple terms, our brain presumes that family and friends are not our enemies, we don’t eat our family and friends and we don’t consider them as potential mates. Across all cultures, violation of each of the above is linked with a deep-rooted taboo.
Interestingly, friendship is the odd-woman-out here. It is the most enigmatic relationship known to brain because it allows a bond transcending genetic connect, and it has worked only because of a strong social caveat attached to it to prevent it from conflicting with the most dynamic F of the old brain, i.e. sex. Friendship, as our brain knows it, is always without benefits. Thus, sexless-ness is precondition for friendship.
Till Facebook came on the scene, people we knew were well defined; as relatives, potential mates, friends, acquaintances, strangers and enemies. Transition was allowed between them but the process was slow and socially regulated because there was no medium to make sexual advances crucial to move up or down this relationship ladder. And if confusion was sensed, it was possible to prevent it by hoisting the friendship flag as a social signal.
Facebook came and removed social restrains that held back sexual advances by playing the wildcard of friendship. Facebook is so successful because it is like Freud’s dream come true, allowing primordial undercurrents to surface by subverting neocortical social sanctions in the name of friendship and weakening signaling conventions evolved over thousands of years. As the restrain is lifted, we all are looking at this as an enriching liberation. But, is our brain ready for it?
Our brain is a machine that feeds on cues. It keeps the body ready for the eventuality it senses. Procreation being a complicated event, brain prepares for it as per the needs of the phase we are in. Brain-state for courtship and parent-hood are radically and chemically different.
On the virtual platform of Facebook, one can be married and flirting or pregnant and seeking a new mate; while each state requires dramatically different brain chemistry and hormonal presence that can’t co-exist. So, in long term, such schizophrenic demands are bound to tax brain and, in turn, undermine social institutions.
Friendship is not a casual construct as Facebook has made it. It is one of the finest products of social evolution to deal with power of sexual drives that, otherwise, can rip apart social fabric. Let us hope that its innate power can survive the gratification onslaught waged upon it by commercial objectives of social media.
Happy Friendship Day.