You are not independent. You are “in-dependence.” Independence is an illusion; it does not exist, anywhere. As an individual, as a society, as a nation, we like to view ourselves are independent. Especially in the United States which was founded on the principle of independence. But, think about it, what are you not dependent upon? Who are you not dependent upon? Dependence is not a bad thing; it has earned a bad rap due to issues of “co-dependence” which refers to a dysfunctional relationship between two or more people. We like to think of independence as freedom. But, freedom is a mental concept that has become distorted to mean no responsibilities, which is a fallacy. Freedom has more to do with our capacity to make choices and decisions for which there are consequences to which we are bound. The natural world, of which we are a part, is a complex web of dependence. We use our freedom to make choices and decisions within the confines of our dependence upon the natural world. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which we are integrally dependent upon the natural world and other people.
If we consider some of our basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing, we readily see that without the soil, the rain, the sun and a conducive atmosphere, we would have no food. And, you will certainly agree that we are dependent upon food! Shelter too is based on utilizing natural resources: wood mainly, which comes from trees, which grows in soil, which needs sunlight and rain…and a conducive atmosphere. Clothing comes from natural fibers such as cotton and silk. Or, it is made from synthetic materials which are petroleum based and again part of the natural world’s resources.
One of our more basic needs is physical safety, security and protection. These needs too are dependent upon the resources of our natural environment. Whether it is a fortress built of stone, a spear of wood, a sword of metal, a gun, a cannon, a bomb….they are all built from materials outside of our individual existence, meaning we cannot simply materialize these things from within ourselves. We can imagine tools such as these, and so many others, from within ourselves…but, we cannot materialize them without the aid of natural resources. It has been suggested that “hom0 sapien”, the knowing animal, ought to be renamed “homo faber” the fabricating animal. All of the tools and technology which surrounds us today is a fabrication utilizing the materials available to us…and without which, we would have nothing. We are dependent!
Higher needs have to do with social interaction…belongingness and connection to others. The complex division of labor in society requires that we interact with others; systems of exchange are devised of which money is only one. We are not so much dependent upon money as we are dependent upon exchange. We could not exist in society alone as a solitary individual. We are dependent upon others, and they upon us. The complexity of our dependence can be mind boggling. Just having food to buy at the market, or gas to buy for the car, involves a vast array of people doing varying different jobs. As you sit at your computer reading this article, you are reaping the benefits of your dependence upon a system of manufacturing, production and distribution of goods that dwarfs individual efforts. We are dependent upon the collective activities of society. And, in today’s world of globalization, we are fast becoming aware of our dependence upon the global marketplace, of which we are all a part.
Beyond our needs for belonging and connection with others, we have needs for knowledge. And, here again, we are dependent upon others…specifically, the mind of others, the mind of humanity, if you will. In that regard, we are dependent upon our ancestors, our history…our collective history. Knowledge grows, expands and becomes increasingly complex. We become dependent upon systems of data as well as the storage and transmission of that data. No one person can do this alone. And, in fact, any one person, you for example, is really composed of millions of component parts all intricately connected and dependent upon each other. The cells and organs of the body, the nervous system and it’s subsidiary systems of circulation, respiration, digestion, elimination, immunity….Where is there any independence?
We need a Declaration of Dependence. We need an awareness of systems and how they interact for it is within systems that we exist and it is within systems where dependence is an absolutely necessary functionality. We need a recognition and acknowledgement of Complexity. Complexity Theory states that “Complex Systems is a new approach to science that studies how relationships between parts give rise to the collective behaviors of a system and how the system interacts and forms relationships with its environment.” (Wikipedia).
As an individual, we interact within systems; and the way we do that is through communication. Communication is a means of relationship and exchange, it is a means of understanding and knowledge. In a system of dependence, communication is critically important for without accurate and effective communication we would not be able to function. Our body is a striking example of complex communication in action. Just the mere act of walking requires sophisticated communication between cells, nerves, ligaments and muscles ranging from the tips of our toes to our eyes. Without that communication, we would easily and quickly fumble. Communication is THE critical ingredient in healthy dependence.
So, the next time you hear somebody expounding their independence, think about the complex systems upon which they are dependent to even vocalize their illusory perception and belief of their own independence. In fact, when you hear yourself falling into this trap…catch yourself and recall the truth: we are all in-dependence.