Independence ⇄ Interdependence

When I was younger, I prided myself on being independent, not needing others' help. That's why, when I sliced my thumb open in a Safeway, I just wrapped it in a few napkins, pretended it wasn't a problem, and continued to bleed on the Caltrain all the way home.

After my housemates convinced me to stop filling their sink with blood and go to a hospital, I was grateful for their help, and realized the importance of being interdependent. I started to put others' happiness before my own, which was how I let my personal boundaries get violated again and again in a string of terrible relationships.

The point of my two stupid anecdotes is:

Independence without interdependence leaves you isolated.

Interdependence without independence leaves you vulnerable.

And I think a lack of balance between independence & interdependence is a huge source of anxiety today. Not just anxiety in our personal world, but also our political world. If you'll indulge me in a bit of armchair philosophizing, I think the biggest ideological divide the West faces today, is the question of independence "versus" interdependence.

It's a divide on economic issues:

Independent – "America First", "British jobs for British workers"
Interdependent – free trade, globalization

A divide on immigration:

Independent – preserving "our values", very little immigration
Interdependent – multiculturalism, lots of immigration

Even a divide on our sense of identity:

Independent – nationalism
Interdependent – "a citizen of the world"

And so on.

That's why, to someone with an independence mindset, people with an interdependence mindset seem insane. "Why would you want to leave us vulnerable to terrorism & people taking our jobs?" Same goes for vice versa. To someone with an interdependence mindset, people with an independence mindset seem backwards. "Why would you want to be isolated from moral progress and long-term prosperity?"

So that's one reason why I'm blagging this blag post. If you wanna effectively argue against someone's ideas, you must understand the worldview that it comes from, on its own terms. Otherwise, you're not changing hearts & minds, you're just yelling past 'em.

But there's a more important reason I'm writing this. It's to remind everyone (especially myself) that not only can you have both independence and interdependence, true independence requires interdependence, and true interdependence requires independence. You need the help of others to learn new skills to help yourself. And if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of others.

Sure, that applies well to people, but can it apply to politics? What policies would we pursue if we follow the virtues of both independence and interdependence? I do NOT claim to have any final answers, but to get us started, here's my first draft:




It's been said that in the long run, globalization & automation create more jobs than they destroy. It's also been said that in the long run, we're all dead. Either way, it still sucks to lose your job due to reasons beyond your control. Losing your job is losing your independence, and since independence ⇄ interdependence, what is a loss for you IS a loss for all of us, in the long run.

And in my humble opinion, since protectionism can't actually protect jobs – it can only delay short-term losses and worsen the long-term losses – we need to make sure the gains of globalization/automation reach everyone, not just the multi-nationals & robot owners. I'm not talking about a mere handout, but a hand up. Helping others help themselves.

We could do this with... I dunno, totally spitballing here... more trade schools, better adult education, job retraining and placement, public works, universal services, revitalizing local communities, a stronger earned-income tax credit, heck maybe even a basic income/citizen's dividend??? Again – very rough first draft of a "united vision" here.


There's probably more options than just "Imagine no countries" or re-creating the Berlin Wall.

If you didn't know, I'm an immigrant. And honestly, I'm glad I "lost" my birth country's values of patriarchy & homophobia, and "assimilated" my new country's values of equality & self-expression. At the same time, I think it's good for immigrants to be able to preserve (and share!) their art, food, stories, traditions, faiths, etc.

So yeah, maybe let's be "multicultural" on the fun parts of culture, and "assimilationist" on just the minimal core set of values needed to sustain a civic democracy. Why not both, you know...?????


Just as you can love both your family and your community, you can very damn well be proud to be a citizen of your nation and a member of the human species. You can celebrate your independence and interdependence.

In the words of Benny Frankfurter, “we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

. . .

Those are just details, all up for debate. I'll most likely change my mind on the specifics, but what's important is the core idea: that those of us who value independence, and those of us who value interdependence, don't have to be mortal enemies. In fact, our respective values can, and should, benefit greatly from each other.

"Independence ⇄ Interdependence" is a lesson I wish I'd learnt earlier in life.

And now more than ever, I think the world needs to learn it, too.

~ Nicky Case