I think one of the things that define modern Western culture is the trend toward depending on others to provide things we are unwilling to provide for ourselves. I am not talking about the exchange of goods and services that represents commerce, rather I am talking about the demand that someone else give us access to the things we want without the need for such an exchange.
The glaring example of this idea in action is the “health care reform” legislation pending in Congress. While I think that most people agree that aspects of our current health care system need repaired, the current legislation serves more to make millions of Americans dependent on the federal government and the federal government dependent on the continued prosperity of a shrinking portion of the American population.
The heart of the health care legislation is that the United States will provide health care for millions of people who cannot afford that care by taxing other Americans who make more than a certain amount of money every year. The people receiving the care contribute nothing to provide for their own care, and the system depends on the people making the money to continue to make it. The result is that the people who depend on the government care really depend on the ability and will of the people making the money to continue to do so. No one seems to ask the question as to what happens if the system breaks down.
This kind of dependency is not just limited to government social welfare programs, nor is it always easily identifiable. One insidious dependency that infects nearly every American household is the way we feed ourselves. Most Americans depend on the industrial food chain to make sure there is a continuous supply of food available at their local corporate box store without ever realizing that how fragile that system has become or that they have no idea how to provide food for themselves if that system fails.
In fact, corporate industrial systems represent perhaps the most prevalent form of dependency in the world today. Most things that most people have came from systems structured around the notion that products and services can be produced for the lowest cost possible providing the highest profit possible forever. Such systems depend on an ever-increasing shell game of hiding the true costs of the system by shuffling the consequences somewhere else or simply ignoring them.
Yet, when those consequences reach critical mass, they bring the system to its knees, as the world recently observed with the collapse of the world financial, housing, and auto manufacturing sectors with the same year. Millions of people were directly—and indirectly—dependent on those sectors for their own livelihood and economic wellbeing, and when they collapsed, the livelihood and wellbeing of those people collapsed right along with them.
Of course, even the most independent people are dependent on others in some way, and it would be disingenuous of me to suggest otherwise, but the dependence I speak of here is the kind that leaves people unable to fend for themselves if the dependency fails. The original idea of independence was one of self-sufficiency in the face of adversity where it was impossible to bring the whole system down because it had too many individual constituent parts.
The idea of ending my own dependence is what led me to the path I currently travel. As much as it is possible, I work for myself, I am engaged in the process of raising my own food, and I am actively engaged in developing networks of similarly minded people with whom I can exchange for the things I cannot do myself. My belief is that, when the dependency systems that I am replacing with independent ones fail, I will be able to weather that storm and to provide for myself and those I care about.
So, here’s the question for you: what do you depend on? If it were to go away, even if it was because of nothing you did, how would you replace what you lost? Could you survive without the things you depend on, or would you be in danger?
We live in an era where the danger of dependence is real and growing, and the only way to avoid the consequences of this danger is to make conscious choices to be independent. By choosing independence, we choose to liberate ourselves and to be better off in the world, whatever might come next.