THE INDEPENDENCE ILLUSION Radical Bleeding Heart image


Human beings are the most interdependent of all creatures. We are more interdependent than ants or bees, for while the social insects are dependent on the other members of their family, we are dependent on all the members of our species, all over the globe.

That is the source of our strength. It is why we dominate the earth.

Individually we are the most pathetically weak and helpless of creatures; collectively we have become one of the most powerful forces in the universe. But we love to indulge in fantasies of independence. In those fantasies we appropriate the collective strength and wisdom gathered by the human race over millennia and claim it for ourselves alone. That is the archetypal theme of “island castaway” fiction. We love Robinson Caruso stories through which we vicariously survive and then thrive, all alone, with nothing but our wits and wisdom and whatever resources nature happens to provide. But such apparent independence depends on the knowledge of the world around us, a knowledge acquired bit by bit and accumulated gradually by untold numbers of those who have gone before us. It is the gift of our forebears.

Despite such fantasies, few of us would really have ready access to that gift were we actually to be stranded alone on a desert island. Our dependence on others is more obvious and undeniable. We are totally surrounded by and utterly at the mercy of a network of things and services provided by others that we would be absolutely incapable of reproducing on our own.

Could you build your own house? Your own car? Your watch, radio, television? And even if you could, would you not need parts supplied by someone else? The richer we are, the more dependent on others we become. The vast wealth of the modern world is a result of an enormous, incomprehensibly complex global network of dependence.

Our dependence on one another is utterly inescapable. Perhaps you feel that does not seem right, somehow. Surely it is not meaningless to strive for independence. If interdependence is inevitable, does it mean that when people strive for independence or struggle to avoid dependence they are deluded? That they are all essentially and unavoidably slaves? Not at all. They have simply given the wrong name to what they seek.