Every moment of my day today was made possible by the helping hands of others. The oatmeal grown, harvested, trucked, stocked on shelves, sold, the clothes warming my body made by unseen hands and again, brought to me through countless unseen hands, the very house I wake up in built by others, plumbed and electrified by others, furnished with things made by others, mapped by others. Pick any tiny corner of your life any day of the year and follow its journey and wouldn’t it be astounding to keep going? For example, just casually saying the oatmeal was trucked to the store says nothing of who made the truck and it’s hundreds of parts? And who made the machines and tool that helped make the truck? And what about the gas? And who built the gas station? And where did that material come from and how did it get there? To truly follow the whole life of the simplest object would multiply exponentially into an enormous community of fellow human beings whom you will never meet, never mind even think of, all of whom made the simplest act of jotting down a list with the pencil a joint effort of an enormous labor force.
And so, interdependence. We need each other, not only in the practical sense, but also in the spiritual sense. We were not made to be alone, but to exult and grieve and sing and dance and feast and work and play together. The issue is not whether we are independent, self-reliant people. We aren’t and no one is and no one has ever been and no one will ever be. The issue is whether we are aware of and understand our profound dependence on each other. The more we do, the more our live changes.
Americans in particular seem to be infected with a toxic independence, brought to the surface by the guy who thought he could piss off the whole world and proclaim “America First.” As if. At the lowest level, some of our citizens’ notion of freedom is driving gas-guzzling SVU’s, stocking up assault weapons, flying whatever flag, Confederate or Nazi, they want. They are infected with a toxic independence, with no understanding that their freedom to extend their arm goes exactly as far as my face. All the while benefitting from the government they claim they don’t want, buying things at bargain prices from the countries they claim to not need, vilifying those who dare to think differently—no, those who dare to think! —asserting that ignorance is just as valuable as education and whatever they say is true is true because they said it— or the guy they’ve given away their independent thought to says it’s true.
The work ahead to heal the divide has little to do with just listening to each other and respecting each other’s “truths” and everything to do with revealing the deep truth of our unquestionable interdependence. It needs us to look deeply at both our toxic dependence on privilege, greed and selfish power, to re-define our toxic independence that thinks freedom is doing whatever we want and finally arrive at the gold standard of interdependence, not only the poetic, flowery variety, but the down-to-earth reality of where our oatmeal comes from and our need to link arms (masked, for now) to face down pandemics and climate change.
We need to start buttoning up each other’s smocks and pouring each other’s beers. We need to stop the ”slaughter of our finer impulses” and get down to some serious work. As Henry Miller made clear over a half-a century ago:
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”