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Sunday, September 11, 2011

On Self-Reliance

A mantra of the political right is self-reliance.  Common sayings associated with this include “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and feed him always,” and “the smaller and weaker the government the better.”  The focus is from beginning to end on self-reliance.  It reminds me of the three-year-old child who petulantly refuses help from a parent insisting “I want to do it!”  We don’t want or need help from anyone—we are self-reliant.  But a moment’s reflection indicates how myopic and immature this view is—and how to the contrary the high degree to which we are always and inseparably connected.  Virtually nothing about our circumstances points to self-reliance as the modus operandi of our lives.  From the electricity and other utilities we consume daily in our homes; to the refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances that enrich our lives; to the services we receive sourced within a wide spectrum of skilled providers from doctors to mechanics; from the roads and bridges we travel over, to the houses we live in, to the well-stocked stores we shop in, to the vitality of our governance—none of these are the result of our sole achievement or self-reliance, but to the contrary testify to our vulnerability and perpetual need for others.  They indicate the degree to which we are part of a tightly knit social nexus with larger interests that can only be characterized as familial in nature.  Self-reliance is a myth whose raison d'être arises from selfishness and a fictionalized, romanticized view of reality.

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