The Hollywood Hills dazzle in December with million-dollar house parties drowning in champagne. Women, competing for the swankiest dress, and men, hiding their wanton eyes behind shades, flash their invitations at the door to enter a world of luxury that might as well have jumped off the big screen.

The saturnalia accompanied by a full orchestra playing in the mansion garden, tables heavy with lobster and steak, and drunkards stumbling on the dance floor is reminiscent of the licentious Capitol celebrations in the Hollywood blockbuster, “The Hunger Games”.

But these attendees are playing a different game.

They call it networking.

Plutarch, the Roman statesman, called it flattery.

The idea is this: schmooze the right people, and with a bit of luck, you just might break into The Industry.

This culture is captured brilliantly in the award-winning musical movie “La La Land.” As the main character Mia and her roommates get ready to attend a house party, termed jocularly a “casting call”, they sing that “someone in the crowd could be the one you need to know, the one to finally lift you off the ground.”

Though Plutarch lived 1,900 years ago, he has a word or two for Mia and her unsuccessful actress friends in LA, as well as for anyone else wishing to find far greater fulfillment in friendship than flattery could ever offer.

In an essay addressed to a powerful acquaintance, Plutarch advises him, and us, on how to both attract and be a true friend, while fleeing flattery.

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According to Plutarch, “self-love makes each person his own primary and chief flatterer, and makes it easy for us to allow someone else under our guard.” Like Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pond and wasted his life beside its waters, the fool is “excessively in love with himself”.

The solution then to deception in our relationships with others is simple.

Know thyself so you may rule yourself.

Socrates, the famed philosopher, is often attributed with a similar saying, “I am the wisest man, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

King David in the Psalms describes the converse, a foolish man who does not fear the Lord but “flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated”, whose lips the monarch prays elsewhere that the LORD “cut off”.

The flatterer feigns friendship successfully by feeding the flattered with sweet deceit. But when hardship or failure befalls the flattered, the flatterer flees.

Solomon, David’s son and heir, reminds us in Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Modern America is a nuclear wasteland for friendship. But is it any wonder when we prefer the kisses of a foe to the sanctifying stripes of community?

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The entertainment industry in LA is not the only place where flatterers are more abundant than friends. Friendship has become a forgotten art in our day and age. Perhaps this is why modern myths, either historical such as the “Band of Brothers”, or fictional such as “The Lord of the Rings”, grip the hearts of our people so dearly. These stories similarly paint a devoted troupe of men, who grow to be true friends, close-knit by pain and smoke, who journey to destroy evil. 

America desperately needs to recover the art of friendship, and the first step toward its restoration is the true understanding and practice of self-governance.

Each of our lives must be examined so that we might grow in brutal self-knowledge, free from the whispers of flatterers and foes.

How then shall we live as self-governing individuals?

We shall live as people who are free to do good. We shall live as people who are not the slave of our desires.

The glitz glinting off the Hollywood Hills is not the only source blinding man’s eyes. If we can sweep away the glitz settled on the mirror of our hearts in an age of self-authenticity, we might find ourselves next to Plutarch with stronger friendships, far from flattering lips.

Catie Robertson is an intern with the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Government.

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