The Myth of Independence 1

The Myth of Independence 1

Yesterday we completed our consideration of the Myth of Competition with an account of some of the thinkers who are coming to understand that cooperation beats competition, and with some advice on how to promote cooperation in our personal lives and in our social relations.

Today we begin a new topic.

The first three Major Myths—the Myth of Scarcity, the Myth of Self-interest, and the Myth of Competition—create the impression that living in the world is a struggle—a grand competition against nature, against other individuals, and against other groups. For many people, this sense of being opposed at every turn makes them close in on themselves. They feel that they can trust almost no one—perhaps a few very close family members or close friends who have shown themselves to be loyal for a long time, but no one else. And when even these few trusted individuals turn out to disappoint, they fall more and more into a state of deep distrust.

In that state, it is no wonder that many begin to feel that they must rely almost entirely on themselves, and that they must be independent of others if they are to avoid disappointment and even betrayal. This, in turn, gives rise to the next Major Myth—the Myth of Independence—which we begin to examine now.

Today’s installment is a brief preface noting the utter impossibility of this Myth.


The delusion that the strong succeed on their own

The Myth of Independence is this: The strong succeed in life on their own.

All the Major Myths are counterfactual, but this one is especially blind to nature of reality. It arises as a sort of outgrowth in the mind of someone who has been convinced of the previous three Myths. It begins with the underlying fear that inspires the Myth of Scarcity; it then takes nourishment from the selfishness that informs the Myth of Self-Interest; and it gets its finishing touches from the antagonism at the heart of the Myth of Competition.

If you believe the first three Myths, you will likely also believe that you are constantly being attacked by other people, and that you must be able to stand up to all the competitive obstacles they put in your way. But this fourth Myth adds a new note, insisting that people survive the onslaught produced by the first three Myths by their own efforts alone, or at most, by the efforts of a small team of like-minded individuals. Indeed, Mythers often become completely enamored of this particular Myth. They come to take it for granted that they have come as far as they have without help, and that they can maintain themselves in the future without help.

Just take a moment to examine real life, and you will see that this attitude is deeply self-deceptive and seriously thankless. No one succeeds—or even survives—by himself, but only by interaction with others. When you got your first job, the person who gave it to you most probably gave you a break, because you didn’t have a track record to recommend you. If you ever started a business, even if you failed, someone probably gave you a break during the early going. If you own a successful business, some customers probably took a liking to you or your product, came to view your company with good will, and passed on your name to an acquaintance. No one gets by without someone else’s assistance.

Of course, if you are the kind of person who regards other people as dupes and stooges to be fleeced, you are more than likely to regard yourself as getting by without anyone else’s help. You think the rest of the world is against you, so you try to take them for all you can. But anyone who is not this cynical sees clearly how much they own to their families, their friends, their colleagues, and the organizations to which they belong. No one makes it alone.

The Myth of Independence is one of the great falsehoods of the modern world.


Tomorrow we will begin to collect the evidence for rejecting this Myth. We will begin by noting that both science and religion testify against it, and that the very existence of society attests to its impossibility.

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