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28 June 2008

Independence is a Lie

I'm getting really sick of hearing about this value we have in the US of independence. People are supposed to be independent, conjuring up the old rugged individualism fantasies that our nation was built on. The problem is that nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, is truly independent. Everyone needs something from somebody at some point in their lives whether it's a home cooked meal, a piece of clothing, reassurance, love, or a kind smile.
The only reason that we're able to see ourselves as independent is that our social relations have become so abstracted - you need a new shirt? Just go down to the shirt store and buy one. You don't have to know who made it, where it was made, what the working conditions were like, how much they were paid, or anything. All you need to know is how much cash to put down to claim it as your own.
Not too long ago, and you can still see this many places around the world, families - parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, etc. - lived together all in the same house or close by. They took care of each other when life was rough, they played together, they worked together, they dreamed, laughed and cried together. But now, here in the US, we live in a fragmented world. If we live with our parents into our twenties then there's something wrong with us. In a relationship, if we show our partner that we need them and act vulnerable then, again, there's something wrong with us and we risk driving the other person away because we threaten their own sense of independence.
It's an illusion anyway, though. We can never separate ourselves from the people around us and everyone needs some kind of social support. The strongest, most confident, most apparently independent people are that way precisely because they have that underlying social network to hold them up.
I would like to hear less talk of independence and more of caring and helping, of supporting each other rather than leaving each to his or herself to deal with the vagaries of life on their own. We need more dependence and less independence.
PS - sorry this post is a little rough - it's kind of off the cuff.


Josh said...

Coincidentally, I had just made a comment earlier today about independence being impossible. I was speaking more on a national level though, but the concept is exactly the same for an individual; only the details differ. We may have won an "independence" from Britain, yet they still affect us enough that certain crucial elements of our society depend on them (and the same goes for every other country in the world) Everything is a web of relatedness, and, although excessive dependence is a detriment (think alcoholics and other addicts, or people who only take and never give, ie, they depend but cannot be depended upon), your definition of dependence here is a good thing for a person and society to possess.

Jeremy Trombley said...

I think you're right, Josh, it works on every level. As i mentioned in the Bateson post, there are no linear systems only circular systems of feedback.
Perhaps interdependence is a better word for what I'd like to see. Dependence does imply a one way structure, but if we were to recognize our mutual interdependence then I think we would all be much happier and healthier. As for alcoholism, addiction and other forms of pathological dependence, I suspect that these stem in large part from the pathological desire for independence. I don't quite know how to explain that, but it seems to me that these problems increase as society becomes more and more fragmented or dis-integrated and decrease as they become more integrated.

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