An Illusion of Independence

An Illusion of Independence

(Approximately a 4 minute read)

In the modern world, independent individuals and nuclear families are artificially sustained by a fossil fuel dependent, growth-at-all-costs system that cannot last. 

The alternative that most appeals to me is a world in which we live interdependently – in direct relationship with each other and with the web of life that can sustain us indefinitely, so long as we care for it as the extension of ourselves that it really is. 


The heroic athlete, poised alone atop the mountain he has conquered, is an image that sums up our culture's obsession with competition and individualism.

Independence is among the highest values in our culture.

Our kids are pushed to be independent of their parents from very early on. 

We like to live in our own separate houses with our nuclear families, and we like it best of all if we can own those houses independently.

We idolize the image of the heroic athlete poised alone on the mountain top or bursting across the finish line ahead of his competitors.

Our idea of career success is becoming a self-made millionaire or a powerful and wealthy director perched at the pinnacle of the company built with his own toil and tenacity.

These concepts and images are part of an "independence illusion" that's at odds with our more basic reality of heavy dependence on things we have no control over—things like cheap oil and ​never-ending ​economic growth—that will not continue to be available or to function in the future as they have in the past.

As a culture or society, far from being independent, we’re actually highly dependent upon a system whose components are the very essence of un-sustainability. (Yes, I may have just made that word up.)

​3 Examples​ of how we've become dependent

​​The greatest folly of all may be that we have become dependent on modern industry, manufacturing, and distribution not only for the things we need, but for things that are far beyond "enough."

​​Putting it bluntly, we've forgotten how to trust our own thinking, given up the basic skills of self-reliance, and allowed family and community ties to disintegrate and be replaced with increasing isolation, separation and dependence.​​​

Here are three examples of the kinds of things I mean:

1. We’re relying on experts and institutions to do things for us that people previously were well able to do for themselves.

​Birthing and caring for our babies, educating our children, building our homes and managing our energy, food and water needs, ​ caring for our sick and elderly...

These are all examples of things that were once taken care of within families and communities, but that are now routinely considered to be better ​handled by outside experts and large​ institutions​.

2. Supermarkets, superstores, and fossil fuel based production systems provide us with all our needs. From food, to self-care and cleaning products, tools, building materials, toys, and entertainment.

Just a few generations ago, people produced all these things themselves, within intact communities. Now, all of this comes from outside the community, from giant, faceless conglomerations of profit makers.

And, all of it comes at the cost of our personal autonomy and at enormous expense to future generations from whom we are borrowing, and to the entire web of life upon which we ultimately depend.

3. We’re allowing sophisticated, ever present marketing to continually skew our perceptions of what our needs are, rather than defining our real needs ourselves.

Perhaps this is the greatest folly of all, since this makes us dependent not only for the things we need, but for many things that are far beyond "enough."

Keeping up with the Jones's

​​"I worked hard for this independence. Why would I give it up now?"

All this—or much of it—has come about in our rush to catch up to the Jones's. To get, and keep, our "fair share." To enjoy the fruits of our labors. 

For Alain and I, moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle began with examining the matrix of dependence that underlies this modern illusion of independence. 

Can we really attain freedom and the quality of life we want, by disregarding our connection to the rest of life?

Is this life of "me," "mine," and "yours" really what we wanted to create?

Or did things somehow snowball into a situation that turns out not to be everything it was cracked up to be?

Unless I become part of the solution, I'm still part of the problem

​​Now that we're in this mess, how do we get out of it?

How must my understanding evolve, what practical skills must I re-gain?

What relationships (both with other people and with the raw, living world that we abandoned in favor of air conditioned, sanitized comfort) must I re-build?

What do I need to do and who do I need to become, to change my life from an experience of lack and constant striving for more, to one of "enough"?

To live sustainably requires that we re-build the skills of self-reliance and get back to providing for some of our own needs. 

It also—and this, for some of us, may be far more difficult—requires that we ​loosen our grip on the enshrined western ideal of independence, and ​consider that to live sustainably ​may mean learning again to live interdependently.  

Thanks for reading!

​If you've enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy ​Getting Together. ​​Or you could ​visit the Thinking Differently page​ for more posts on breaking out of the conventional thinking that surrounds us.

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