THE INDEPENDENCE ILLUSION Radical Bleeding Heart image


What is at issue is the terms of our unavoidable interdependence. A horse and rider are mutually dependent, but it is the rider who dictates the terms of that dependence. That makes all the difference in the world.

What we truly seek is not independence, which is unattainable, but control and power. Those who have the power like to divert attention from that fact. They prefer to talk about dependence and independence. They tell the weak and powerless to stop being dependent, to stand on your own two feet, as if it were a choice anyone could make. They make it sound as if the helplessness of the weak is their own fault, as if all they need do is to make the effort to stand on their own. That, they imply, is what they themselves have done.

It is a lie.

The laws of this and every other country are designed to insure that those who have power keep it, and those who do not have it will not get it.

Civilization is a network of dependencies bound together by a web of social contracts. Some of those contracts are enforced by law, and some by tradition and custom. And as we are dependent not only on each other, but on the resources of the world around us, so do we have social contracts that govern the control of those resources.

So the question of independence is a red herring, an illusion, and a distraction from the real issues. One of those issues is how power is distributed, which in our society largely means how money is distributed. How it should be allocated is a philosophical question, but one that one that cannot be answered without understanding the peculiar nature of money. That is a matter of economics.

The other real issue is who contributes what to the commonwealth — our common wealth — the wealth that we interdependent creatures must create in common. No one can be independent; no one can satisfy her own needs by herself. But if the world is not divided into the independent and the dependent, it is divided into those who pitch in and help create that wealth and those who get a free ride. Conservatives like to imply that the poor are the parasites and the rich are the productive ones. It is in fact the other way around. To understand why that is so, we have to talk about economics.

Those are the two real questions: Who contributes what to the common wealth? And, How are power and control distributed? Power and control determine how much of that common wealth you may control and consume.

Philosophically all of these issues — the sense of independence, the distribution of power, and each individual's contribution to the common good — are inevitably tied to two abstract ideas that we are often told are in conflict with each other: freedom and equality.

But the other question that is always raised in connection with this illusory “independence” is the proper role of government.