The following article is reposted from the 2002 SynEARTH Archives.
Recognizing Human INTERdependence
Timothy Wilken, MD
Stop reading! Take a few moment to examine the contents of your pockets or purse ……
Can you find any item there, that you obtained without the help of someone else? Look around you. What do you see? Did you make the clothes you wear? Did you grow the food you eat or the tools you use. Look around your home or workplace. Can you find anything that you made. Do you know the names of those who did make all these things? Do you ever know upon whom you depend. Can you find anything in your environment that was obtained without the help of someone else?
I am not talking about ownership here. I will grant that you own your possessions. But would you have them if they had not been for sale. I would argue that nearly everything modern humans possess was obtained with the help of others.
As I examine my world I discover that I depend on others to to grow and produce my food. I depend on others to design and build my home. I depend on others to generate my electricity. I depend on others to supply my water. I depend on others to deliver my mail. I depend on others to educate my children. I depend on others to entertain my family. I depend on others to manufacture my automobile. I depend on others to refine the gasoline for my car. I depend on others to care for my family when we are sick. I depend on others to protect us from crime and war. I depend on others to………. I depend on others, I depend.
Human INTERdependence is made less visible by our present economic exchange system. I go to work and help my employer. He depends on me. At the end of the month he pays me for my help. I depend on him. I can then take some of the money from my paycheck to pay my house rent. While I depend on my landlord for the roof over my head, he depends on me to pay the rent promptly. Sometimes I depend on others and sometimes others depend on me. When we buy and sell in the economic marketplace we are really exchanging help. When I help others they owe me. When others help me I owe them. Money is just the present accounting mechanism we use to settle up. Arthur Noll explains:
“People are interdependent, social beings. We do not, and cannot, live as the independent tiger, or orangutan, coming together only to mate briefly, all child care and education provided by the mother.
“This has seemed obvious to me, and probably it is obvious to most, but it is such an important principle to base further observations on, and logically it is often ignored in the present scheme of things, so I think we should look at the reasons. Lets start with your naked body. Can you manage to clothe and feed and shelter this body, with no hands touching any article except your own hands? If you can make your own tools and live independently for just a few weeks or months, this is interesting, but of course real independence would be a lifetime of this, a reproducing lifetime, so it does fall considerably short of the mark. Additionally, it is an interesting thing that we are communicating, I have written and you are reading this paper. Independent organisms don’t behave like this, if you were independent, your only concern for me should be to tell me to get out of your way, or that you want to mate, and you need no language beyond what the tigers and orangutans use for this. I have heard people say, that they could live independently if they chose. To those few who feel that way, well, you haven’t chosen that path if you are reading this, so if you want to choose it now, then I think you ought to take off your society made things and go. We will send a biologist to study how you live – if you live.
“Next question, is a male- female unit capable of independence? The answer is quite important to the issue of reproduction.
“I have never heard of this being done, and I don’t believe it can be done. Working together, a man and woman with the proper education might make primitive tools and cover some basic needs, if resources are abundant. But wherever resources are abundant, you are going to find competition. Predators can be a serious problem with just primitive weapons, and just two people, one of which might be pregnant or holding an infant. It is true that most large predators are afraid of human beings at the present time, but animals of all kinds eventually test the limits. Domestic animals can be very sensitive about electric fences, for example. You can turn off the fence for weeks, after they learn about wires giving shocks. But they eventually test and learn, and are out. You would not likely find it workable to stay together all the time, either, and the one carrying the child would be alone and vulnerable. And of course, human predators working as a pack, a social group, certainly exist and are the most powerful threat of all. While fantasies are common about individuals and couples escaping social groups, the reality is different. Groups of people have made the rules for individuals for a long time.
“It is interesting to note that walking on two legs has not been all that uncommon in the history of life, but I can think of no other species that has attempted pregnancy on two legs. Two legged creatures have always been egg layers, or marsupials, have never attempted the balancing act of a pregnancy on two legs. I think it is only possible within a social group.
“Further problems are having very little backup for minor sprains or illness. Loneliness can be a big problem, even for couples, as most of us eventually crave other people in our lives.
“The genetic and archaeological evidence indicates that we split off from chimpanzees, which are social creatures, and that we stayed social.”
This may come as a surprise to most readers, but humans are not and cannot be independent. We are an interdependent species. We rely on each other for nearly all our wants and needs. Independence from other is not available to the richest man with the most affluent life style. He is as dependent on the staff of servants who wait on him as they are dependent on him for their livelihoods. Only the poorest of hermits with a quality of life poorer than a cave man can achieve true independence from others. True independence from other humans, requires that he must grow and cook all his own vegetables. He must hunt, kill, skin, dress, and cook all his own meat. He must build his own home using only the materials he can gather and prepare by himself aided only by tools that he made for himself.
We humans are not an independent life form. Despite the common desire of most of us to be independent, human independence is not possible in any scientific sense. Our bodies do not contain chlorophyl and we cannot get our energy directly from the Sun. Other plants and animals serve as our source of energy. We are as dependent on others for our survival as are the animals are for theirs. We can ignore this fact of science by calling the other plants and animals — food and cooking in ways so we are not reminded of the source of our food, but we are still not independent. When we further examine our relationships with other humans, we discover that even here we are not independent. In summary then, we can say that in the lives of plants — the independent class of life, other plays no role . In the lives of animals — the dependent class of life, other serves primarily as a source of food. And finally in the lives of humans, the interdependent class of life, other is very important. Our bodies are as dependent on others for food as the animals, but socially, psychologically and economically, we depend on others and others depend on us. We humans are interdependent.
INTERdependence means that we are dependent on the actions of others to meet our needs. And, others are dependent on our actions to meet their needs.
Once, we accept the reality of our human INTERdependence, then we can get on with winning. The secret of winning then is to get others to help us. Let us examine these options through the lens of synergic science.
Receivers-Givers — partners in survival
The human condition of INTERdependence means all humans need help. This is important enough that it can not be said too often. All humans need help unless they wish to live at the level of animal subsistence. INTERdependence means sometimes I depend on others and sometimes others depend on me.
Sometimes self is a giver of help. Sometimes self is a receiver of help. Sometimes other is a giver of help. Sometimes other is a receiver of help.
Sometimes my actions help others meet their needs. Sometimes other’s actions help me meet my needs.
The bottom line: We humans need each other.
Read more on INTERdependence
Read Arthur Noll’s Harmony