"It's amazing how much 'mature wisdom' resembles being too tired." --Robert Heinlein

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Independence is an Illusion

(Adapted from a previous essay I wrote on 5/24/02)

I have a self-image of myself as an independent person. I live within a culture that takes pride in its individuality and freedom.

Yet, my powers are quite limited when measured against the rest of the universe. I am dependent on other people for many things, including food, water, shelter, and companionship. Just because I have a bunch of money in my pocket doesn't mean I don't need those other people ... the money enables me to depend on them, it doesn't make me independent.

I'm dependent on others for that money as well. I don't print it myself. I may work for a living, but that work doesn't make me independent, it merely enables me to depend on others for the money that I use to live.

The issue isn't "independence", it is whether you have something that you can use to enable a particular dependency. People who can't find a way to depend on others will die.


If you steal food to live, you are still depending on others to produce that food. It wouldn't exist for you to steal otherwise. You are depending on them not protecting their food too well, and depending on them to not punish you for stealing.

If you hunt wild game for food, you are still depending on that game being there, and dependent on that game not outwitting you or killing you. If it weren't for the wild game being there, you'd starve.

Truly, we are all dependent upon our surroundings, and other people. We aren't independent at all! When we say we are independent, we mean something different -- we mean that we have the power to choose or reject some of our dependencies. Independence, or freedom, is really defined in terms of choices. These choices are usually limited ... they are rarely infinite.


So, when I conclude that I'm an independent sort of person, I mean that I have enough negotiating power to choose from a range of possible dependencies. I mean that I have the power to say "no" to any particular dependent relationship.

When it comes to romantic relationships, independence means that I know I can survive without a particular Mr. X in my life, and I know that I'm attractive enough to have a range of people with whom to relate sexually and emotionally.

It doesn't mean that I don't have sexual or emotional needs. I am both "independent" and "needy", at the same time.

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