Declarations of Independence

by Jeff Oaks

1. I’m wondering about independence today. Who doesn’t want it? Dependence is a condition of weakness in America. We are a “fiercely independent” nation we hear. We don’t like freeloaders, moochers, or deadweight. We want workers, providers, and bootstrap-pullers.

2. We can’t think, it seems, about dependence without confusing it with co-dependence, which is by Wikipedia “defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (typically narcissism or drug addiction); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of, or control by, another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.”

3. Or maybe we’ve never known a mutual dependence in our history. Whites and straights and Christians especially, since they’ve been in the majority for a long time, haven’t had to worry much about the difference between dependence and co-dependence. Relationships have been asymmetrical for a long time. It’s only fairly recently when other groups of Americans have begun to speak about their own sometimes very different desires, and by doing so have begun changing citizens’ relationship to one another. For some people this is a frightening moment. It exposes how much of one’s self is unexamined, how much of the self is only a collection of received opinions, usually other people’s; it requires work to find out what the present truth actually is and then to formulate a feeling about it.

4. The English king sent an army rather than seriously enter into negotiations with those he couldn’t think of as anything other than subjects, by which he actually meant objects. He was the only Subject. He was the great Zero. His crown was proof, symbol, echo of it. We came out of nowhere. We were that annoying buzzing that ruins any room where you’re trying to achieve a pure quiet. We were rabble. Activists. A few troublemakers.

5. Think about the last time you lost an argument to someone you didn’t particularly like. Were you gracious in defeat? It usually takes me days to stop talking to myself, looking for why the other person is still wrong, thinking of ways to get even. Think about 1812.

6. But there is no one left who doesn’t know now how interdependent we are on everything else, is there? A disaster in the faraway can have profound nearby consequences. A game played by New York bankers so they can have another yacht can deprive families of their only shelter, destroy whole neighborhoods, decimate millions of retirements.

7. Is the stone independent from the ripple that drowns the ant? Is it to blame? The stone thrower? The properties of the water?

8. In an interdependent world, in which large actors’ actions can have enormous and profound consequences and even a few determined actors can hijack an entire way of life, how does anyone make a decision at all? It matters where we shop. It matters what and how much we eat. It matters what we call each other, how we name our own desires, how we react to fear, anger, frustration, and boredom. What does independence mean?

9. At this point, I think I know too much to believe in a pure independence. Maybe that’s why God had to be invented, the way zero had to be invented: to imagine a thing unburdened by number, weight, time, space, allegiance, responsibility. Spectacular and humble simultaneously. Maybe that’s why so many people seem to have given their independence up completely to religious organizations who worship a transcendent Presence, join groups whose actions demand a high level of purity, thus scrutiny, surveillance. To become zeroes themselves. What a relief. Million of lives are surrendered to the idea that there will come a world of pure justice or pure belief or pure action. But the problem almost always comes when a few folks confuse being a zero with being a transcendent everything. Soon comes the need to police everyone else, then the inquisitions, the star chambers, the burning of the impure lest they infect the pure. Are you a good Christian? Are you the right kind of believer? Will you sink or swim in water? Anyone who isn’t with God must be made into a zero.

10. Here’s the Declaration of Independence for anyone who hasn’t read it in a while: