An Illusion of Independence

(Approximately a 4 minute read)

We value independence, but we tend not to notice that "independent" individuals and nuclear families are actually heavily dependent on a fossil fuel based, growth-at-all-costs system that cannot last. 

The alternative 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. 


We value independence and individualism very highly in our culture.

We push our kids 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. God forbid that we should have to share with an in-law!

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

These concepts and images are part of an "independence illusion." The truth is that in this culture of nuclear families and high-achieving individuals, we're heavily dependent on things we have no control over.

Things like cheap oil and never-ending economic growth -- which will not continue to be available or to function in the future as they have in the past.

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.)

When independence is packaged with consumerism

We call it independence when (for example) a young person moves out of home and no longer needs their parents to provide for them. 

But independence that comes packaged with consumerism destroys healthy interdependence with family and community. 

It's replaced by reliance on experts and profit focused corporations, keeping us hooked on the conveniences and widgets they dangle for us.

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 short term quick fixes.

Here are three examples:

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, providing for our own energy, food and water needs, caring for our sick and elderly...

These are all 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 and superstores 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 our relationships of mutual reliance with those living near us. It also comes 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

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

We feel this way because we've grown up in a world view that says that "more for you would be less for me." In such a world, it makes sense to sit on top of the heap, hoarding our spoils and grabbing for more.

How must my understanding evolve, for me to become a person who can trust that sharing = more for everyone?

Who do I need to become?

What will it take for me to feel able to loosen my grip on what's "mine," and make space within myself for the abundance that can grow when we pool our resources and share generously?

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 for some of us this will be far more difficult—requires that we loosen our grip on the enshrined ideal of independence. To live sustainably means learning again how to live interdependently.  

Thanks for reading!

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

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  • […] around us, pervasive and largely un-examined, there exists a construction of subtle dependence on institutional and corporate providers – the long, dark shadow of the independence so coveted in […]

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