I know you don’t see the titles I come up with for these letters so I’ll tell you that yesterday’s title was “Declaring independence.” It was a reasonable fit for the gist of the letter and reflected my strong belief that it’s high time we throw off our government since it still privileges whites, men, cisgendered and heterosexual people over everyone else.
However, this morning I realized this title has some serious shortcomings and might be taken to mean I endorse the idea of independence wholesale, as an ideal, when I do not.
Last night we recoiled and started after every huge, illegal firework blast that went off around us for hours on end as our neighbors appeared hell-bent on expressing their rage at being fenced in by covid. Last night I was horrified to see a young man pull his sports car up across the street from our house, hop out, go around to the side of his car facing the sidewalk and proceed to take a very long piss. He didn’t appear the least bit chastened when I yelled at him to stop it, adding to my sense that many of us want to assert our independence regardless of the harms we might cause or the norms we might violate in the process. So it wasn’t this sort of independence I meant to encourage.
Earlier this morning I realized it would be really radical if we were to declare our interdependence with and on one another, if we were to redeem our great green states “And make America again” (the final lines of Langston Hughes’s Let America be America) in a way that acknowledges our deep need for and reliance on one another.
I’m going to call on the Google dictionary here for some help unpacking this idea, starting first with “independence.” The dictionary frames it very affirmatively, emphasizing the ideas of freedom, liberty, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and self-determination. There are no dark-side synonyms in the mix at all; nothing like “renegade,” “self-absorbed,” “unruly,” or “heretical.” “Dependence” on the other hand is framed incredibly negatively and seems like a state no one would ever want if they could help it – here are the synonyms Google offers: helplessness, weakness, defenselessness, vulnerability, subservience, subordination. I’m giving you all this dictionary’s got; I’m not holding back anything neutral or positive. For example, what about “reliant on” or “leaning on” or “supported by”? Those are variants on the idea of dependence that don’t invoke utter abject weakness and less-than-ness, but they aren’t included.
If dictionaries are reflections of culture, then it stands to reason that we’re collectively allergic to the idea of dependence and enamored with the idea (the ideal, apparently) of independence even if the former is more accurate than the latter. The idea of interdependence, or what Buddhists call “inter-being,” is the belief that that all phenomena are inter-dependent, that nothing can exist all by itself. It’s really quite simple – you can’t exist without the food the farmers grow, the workers pick and process, the truckers bring to market, the grocers store, the cooks prepare, and the people finally bring to your table (and all these actions are supported by countless other conditions). You also can’t exist without the sycophants adoring you, the GOP propping you up, the racists lapping up your dog whistles, the Mercers financing you, and so on.
Obviously not all systems of interdependence are healthy, but the point is that we’re all tangled up with one another and with the planet. We exist and can only exist as inter-beings, so what if we were to “make America again” with that truth front and center? What if we were to reckon with and reconcile to the idea that we need ways of governing that assure everyone’s interconnected safety, well-being, and happiness? In my humble-ish opinion, to not do this invites disaster – maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but pretty dang soon here.
May we be safe from willful ignorance of our interdependence.
May we get off our monumental high horses and deal with reality.
May we know we are strong and healthy enough to deal with our reliance on one another.
May we accept the need for a radical reset grounded in respect and centered on wellbeing.