Community Economy

A Declaration of Interdependence

Written by Sven Eberlein

Independence is a big and important word in this country. A noble concept in and of itself, it reaches far and deep into the American psyche. The U.S.’s independence as a nation is supported by a rugged individualism among her people that has enabled many to do things that would otherwise be considered impossible. Accordingly, to immigrants like myself, the U.S. is known as the land of unlimited possibility in our native countries.

However, in the last century this independence, rooted in material freedom and mobility, has come at an ever-increasing cost: The dependence on fossil fuels and all the problems associated with it. From fighting wars in oil rich countries, to epic oil spills, to climate change, our ostensible emancipation from the constraints of nature that enabled us to go it alone is coming back to bite us.

I’d like to wander past the “dependence vs. independence” paradigm and discuss a third and perhaps middle way of how we might live in balance with the earth’s ecosystem without losing our creativity and autonomy: Interdependence

To be sure, a declaration of interdependence is no more than stating the obvious, for no matter what we do, we humans cannot survive independently of each other. We may think we are doing it all without anyone else’s help — by driving to the store, picking up some food, paying with our credit card at the automatic checkout scanner, driving back into our remote controlled garage, popping the food in the microwave, then eating dinner while being entertained by the television — but we’re really just fooling ourselves. Just that seemingly simple process of getting food in our tummy depends on literally thousands of processes and interactions, from getting the oil extracted to fuel and build our car, to growing and distributing the food we’re buying, to powering the microwave, to producing the shows we’re watching.

It is, in fact, a very complex and anonymous system of interdependence that has allowed us to revel in a false sense of independence. These very complex systems have not only sheltered us from the staggering amount of energy that goes into them but the huge mountains of waste they produce. It’s only during blackouts, phone and internet disconnections, and periods of rising oil prices on an elusive world market that we realize how dependent we’ve really become on mechanisms that are beyond our control.

Since clearly we are interdependent creatures, not only amongst each other but in relation to all living things and beings on this planet, why not own it? Why keep that stubborn individualistic front when its hidden baggage has brought the ecosystem we depend on to the brink of collapse?

Resilience and Interconnectedness have become big buzzwords in the movement to transition to a post-carbon world, but they’re really just ideas for cutting out the big, bloated fossil-fuel-pushing middlemen. They’re tools for relearning and sharing valuable skills that we’ve been made to forget in the name of progress, and inspiration for regaining trust in our own and each others’ abilities to create the kind of support system that fuels not only our bodies but our souls.

The latest issue of Yes! Magazine has a survey where you can test how resilient you are.

While these “tests” are a bit simplistic, they can provide some good food for thought and self-reflection.

On the subject of Interdependence, here’s the section on how hooked in you are to your community.


Take this test to find out. Use this scale to score each stament:
1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = agree, 4 = strongly agree

13. I have friends and acquaintances in my local community (and I know their faces, not just their Facebook pages).

14. I am comfortable asking my neighbors if I can borrow stuff (e.g., tools, ingredients).

15. I could easily call on nearby friends and neighbors for help in an emergency.

16. I offer support to people in my community when they need help.

17. I’m active in community groups (like neighborhood associations, potlucks, churches, soup kitchens, gardening clubs, arts organizations, or local political groups).

to do the whole test and add your scores, go here

Posted as part of the EcoAdvocates series on Daily Kos

About the author

Sven Eberlein

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  • I never thought of this idea until reading posts at your blog. We figure as long as we pay for everything, we’re stable and independent–and it really hurts to lose our jobs and our ‘independence.’ You point out the circumstances when we get pulled up short and realize we NEED someone to provide electricity, water, food and so on because we’re not educated to create these things for ourselves. We live without knowing how to provide for ourselves. We are not strong of mind and body like our grandparents were. Thanks.

    • We just have to relearn some of the things our grandparents did, Pam, and do them in our own ways that suit the spirit of the time. With love in our hearts.

    • Hey Barb, that is so cool, and I love the connecting of the spiritual with the secular. I really think if we talk about this more and become more aware of how many things between us and within us really are interconnected we can slowly but surely ween ourselves off the dualistic black/white thinking we’ve become so accustomed to, and learn to appreciate each others’ uniqueness as well as all of our common ground much more. I’ll have to check out Ethan Nichtern’s book, thanks so much for turning me on to this!

  • Thank you for the post. America seemed to “get it” just after 9/11, but while the victims have not been forgotten, the lessons have faded a bit. I hope your words reach the many who need to be reminded. Interconnectedness is so much more beautiful than Independence…just as is enlightenment over material wealth.

    • Thank you, Ruth. Words of wisdom indeed. The beautiful thing about interdependence is that it recognizes each individual shift as a contribution to the whole. Every small deed to spend less time accumulating stuff and more time connecting with each other is a step toward making this planet a little bit healthier and happier.