Special to The Green Register by Kyle Crider, Manager – Environmental Operations, Ecotech Institute
“Independence? That’s middle-class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.” ~ George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion
Perhaps, amidst all the fireworks and flag-waving of July 4, we actually gave some thought as to what it means to be independent. But, successful revolutions aside, I’d like to ask: Are we truly independent? In 1835, shortly after the newly United States of America won its hard-fought independence from Britain, a visitor from France toured the fledgling country and wrote down his observations. In this famous treatise, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, under the heading “Tyranny of the Majority,” wrote, “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.” American founding father John Adams himself once said, “The Declaration of Independence I always considered as a theatrical show. Jefferson ran away with all the stage effect of that... and all the glory of it.”
As much as we like to believe we’re independent, or at least aspire to this quality, the fact is, none of us are independent. “No man is an island,” proclaims both the title and opening line of John Donne’s famous poem, which ends with, “Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.”
Survivalists may lay plans for surviving various doomsday scenarios, and environmentalists may go totally “off grid,” but the simple fact is we are still interconnected with one another and with nature. For example, our fossil fuel emissions create global warming and extreme weather events, which disrupt agriculture and inflict fires, floods, and droughts, even on those living off-grid in bunkers. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” Matthew 5:45 reminds us.
If we forget just how connected we are to one another, we are downright oblivious to how totally dependent we are upon nature. From the air we breathe to the food, water, and natural resources for shelter that sustain and protect us, we are totally dependent upon our planet’s living shell, the “biosphere,” the very web of all life whose strands we are systematically disassembling with shocking rapidity.
The more we learn about how life itself came to be on this planet, the more we realize that it is interdependence, not independence, which makes life possible. It was chemical cooperation, not competition, which built life from its humblest beginnings through today. Although we have come to surround Darwin with “survival of the fittest” mythology, Darwin himself said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change,” and “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
Thor Heyerdahl tells us that “Civilization grew in the beginning from the minute that we had communication—particularly communication by sea that enabled people to get inspiration and ideas from each other and to exchange basic raw materials.” Perhaps nowhere is our modern interdependence more obvious, to those taking the time to reflect, than the Internet and global satellite communications coverage. Marshall McLuhan once famously said, “The new electronic independence re-creates the world in the image of a global village.”
Now that Independence Day is behind us, let’s sign a Declaration of Interdependence and learn what it means not just to be free, but to be a part of the Whole.
“As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.” ~ George Matthew Adams
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org