The Myth of Independence:
We’re not really independent, you know.
In a world of Internets and databases, microphones and camera phones, we are becoming ever more dependent upon the actions of others. Our every move can be recorded and broadcast for the titillation of the evening news, archived for the edification of future generations; our emerging global society is more connected than any before. Because of this, today’s societal choices will be researched and examined more than any other historical era. The sheer volume of data will provide future historians with the clearest possible view of today’s issues, policies, and mistakes. Through the holistic magic of hindsight, we will be able to examine the consequences of a long-standing historical belief of independence.
One fact we will learn, among many, is that our fundamental belief of independent systems, societies and governments is a fallacy. Evidence is mounting to support this, and we’re recording all of it. More than any time before, we are being forced to acknowledge our global interdependence.
Our society is in upheaval, exhibiting a pivotal moment in stress-testing the cultural assumptions of past eras. This is because our actions are based on outdated concepts: medical and scientific advances are straining religious doctrine created hundreds of years ago; economic theories of the seventeenth century are becoming hyper extended through globalization; imperialist expansion is challenged at every turn; and control of information - with its attendant power shift - slips out of the grip of the powerful into the hands of the citizens. Every viewpoint has an outlet; every voice can be heard. All over this planet we are being reminded of the homogenous nature of Earth and its denizens.
All people, all cultures are connected; what one CEO in Germany sets in policy can affect scores of American autoworkers. British, Irish and American rock stars can work together to feed thousands in Africa. Ideological hatred in Afghanistan can kill thousands of people in New York. An American retail giant can affect economies in Asia. A new governmental policy in China can destroy lives and harm environments with ripple effects occurring anywhere in the world. War occurring anywhere in the world is seen by all affluent nations and its atrocities march across our TV screens nightly. Even governments are finding out that there are no more places to hide the unconscionable policies of the past executed today.
No beginning, no ending, everlasting
No longer can we assume isolation in our actions and policies. Doing so invites the misunderstandings that form the foundations of heinous acts such as terrorism and war. In light of a viewpoint of interdependency, there is little difference between the two. Both are based upon the belief of isolated incident, cause and effect, and the notion of beginnings and endings. In a view of interdependence, all causes arise from previous conditions, therefore there are no concrete delineations of begining-and-end, start-and-finish.
To envision such thinking, try to see time as an ocean, and our place upon time as a cork. Without the ocean the cork cannot float, without the constant floes and eddies, the ocean cannot be expressed, and without the cork the effects of time and its undercurrents cannot be seen. Thus we can illustrate how time, underlying causes and the observable effects of those causes interact to create a whole. Each part is interdependent, and without any part, the mechanism cannot function. To attempt to isolate each part in order to gain knowledge is counter-productive; to narrow a perspective is to ignore the whole.
The illusion of independence implies such an isolated view. A mindset of independence can do what it wants, unmindful of affects on others. Indeed, one who believes the fallacy of independence within our global society willfully ignores the plight of others and turns away from the effects of their decisions as those actions apply to strangers in another part of the world. In this way global corporations based in affluent nations create chemical breaches, radiation leaks and oil spills that too often affect the lives, health and drinking water of the world’s poor. So, too, can governmental surrogates like the World Trade Organization loan money to floundering nations at exorbitant interest rates, uncaring of the impact such policies have on individual families and their children.
Declining air quality and recent climate changes speak loudly of the interdependencies of global systems. Our systems of ground and air transportation, logistics, and power generation were each built upon the assumption that such systems are independent of each other, with the associated belief that any effects thereof can be measured, monitored and controlled. We now know that large systems interact in unpredictable ways, largely unanticipated because of our faulty assumptions of their interdependent nature.
Social constructs share many of the same qualities. The effect of our anachronistic assumptions applies here as well. Recently it has become possible for an Internet user in Chicago to read the blog of a Muslim woman in Baghdad during wartime, acquiring information unavailable through more traditional channels like the press. Also, it is now possible for rock stars to unite in an effort to pressure the world’s richest nations into forgiving African nations of their debts in order to foster economic growth while spreading the word through the Internet.
To connect the dots between the seemingly disparate systems of entertainment, technology economics, and global politics to create positive social change requires new thinking. Old-school socio-political infrastructures cannot contain the broader mind necessary to today’s thinking.
Tibetan symbol of truth
What is required now is acceptance of the interdependencies of our complex systems of politics, economics, ecology, and sociology. We need to combine economic growth with fiscal responsibility, to balance energy consumption with ecological forethought, to blend national and global politics into a seamless whole. Otherwise, we risk the implosion of all these systems at the point of intersection.
To continue along the well-trod Roman road of Western socio-politics is to invite ruin; the foundations are crumbling beneath the massive changes of modern society. To continue to ignore self-compiling evidence of our interdependent nature is to continue the rule of the ignorant in an era of increased sophistication of the masses. We have been walking this road for centuries; we know where it leads. Our literature, our culture and even our politics have absorbed the truth of our continuing along this road. It can only end in one place: Armageddon.
But to open our eyes and minds to a new view of societal and political interdependence requires courage. It entails heartfelt admissions of wrongdoing by governments and corporations alike. It necessitates forgiveness on the part of citizens, groups, and nations of each other’s misguided acts. It can happen, but not from the top down. This type of massive change can only happen from the bottom up, as individuals in society form the necessary groups to affect social change.
Democracy is all about the will of the people, despite the attempts at corporate-owned governments and repeated religious manifestations within governments. Without the masses of common folk, Democracy has no legitimacy. Because of this, change must happen from below, and change can happen without revolution. It requires faith in the Democratic process, faith in humanity and belief in the inherent goodness of all people.
Mostly it requires a belief in One World - under God, if you must – Indivisible, because that is really what we have already.
Written on July 4, 2005, as my family paints my daughter’s bedroom.
I needed something to do to stay out of their way…