On How (Not) to Create An Economy From Friendship

June 10, 2015

All economies are based on a form of production that begins with capital and labor.  All friendships are made up of a certain subjectivity and affinity of feeling.  What is certain is that, at this stage of the game, this relationship cannot be assumed to be an innocent one. 

Seeking to trace a political analysis of friendship, I think of Tolstoy and his account of war as an articulation of friendships and enmities.  But perhaps I am being too dramatic.  Then again, when I think of the traditional frontiers between public (the economy) and private (friendship), I see that the problem with this distinction is that it is influenced by the conventions of reason and modern institutions.  Labor can be a form of pleasure, and it is possible that affinities of feeling are also related to political and aesthetic affinities.  This is the happy middle ground, when public and private are confused to the point that they can't be distinguished at all. 

I'd like to think that we are still sensitive, emotional, friendly beings.  But retaining a healthy dose of pessimism, we are also political beings, full of pre-textual interests and affinities.  For there to be an economy, there needs to be the possibility of capitalizing on use value and exchange value, so how can one create an economy from friendship? Wouldn't one then have to capitalize on a symbolic/subjective kind of exchange value?  What then would be the ethical base for such a value?

As one of the most notable manifestations of the so-called "economy of friendship" in Latin America, Cheverismo has managed to question a system of art that has been propagated on rigid platforms, restricted capital, a sometimes precarious public sector and a bureaucratic way of doing things.  It is here that Cheverismo achieves the merit of operating from a place of informality, hoping to maintain consistency with certain material conditions in Latin America and with a critical notion of labor, based on pleasure and humor.

I should clarify that I find the idea of an "economy of friendship" problematic; I prefer to believe that there is Economy and then there is Friendship (with a capital 'E' and a capital 'F'), and that there are friends with whom we work—thankfully—and songs like Why Can't We Be Friends? by the funk band War. 

Nonetheless, there are several points worth considering.  I wonder about the politics upon which Cheverismo is founded and that it uses to legitimize its circuits of friendships, recognizing that any system of exchange is also a system of inclusion/exclusion.  Following this line of thought, it is important to think about whether the capitalization of friendship promotes the decentralization of sites for the articulation of art, or whether, to the contrary, it perpetuates a restricted preference for specific places that are repeated and propagated in a discursive and symbolic way.

Another point to examine in a discussion of Cheverismo is the danger that it might lose its "freshness" and self-critical nature, when it is dependent solely on the cyclical and spectacularized circulation and representation of gestures, converted into political correctness.  (I refer to the danger of privileging attitude over the critical object).  Like all artistic movements, Cheverismo runs this risk. 

So we must recognize the contradictions in our affinities of feeling, especially if we are dealing with a Latin America characterized by its colonial politics of class, race, and gender, all of which we need to keep tabs on constantly, keeping in mind our own patterns of complicity as well.