American independence and interdependence
Anderson edited "Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework" (Springer, 2014), has taught at five universities and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016.
Two of the most widely discussed concepts in social theory, psychology and political philosophy are independence and interdependence. Each concept can be defined in a broadly positive way, but however the concepts are defined they can also be the target of criticism.
Independence can be defined as a condition where someone or some institution or some political entity is capable of existing on its own without having to rely on others to sustain itself. With interdependence, two people, organizations or countries are mutually dependent on each other for their survival.
A country which declares its independence from a colonial ruler is therefore thought to be better off for having separated from the country which has dominated it. At the same time, a person who pursues independence to the point that he or she fails to rely on others who wish to have a more intimate relationship may be the cause of a failed interdependent relationship.
Many relationships, be they personal, professional or political, have some dimensions which involve healthy interdependence and some which involve excessive independence that thwarts healthy interdependence. Two partners in a marriage may have a relationship with healthy financial interdependence but unhealthy emotional interdependence. Or, indeed, the relationship may have both unhealthy financial interdependence and unhealthy emotional interdependence as in the case where a wife is financially dependent on her husband, he physically abuses her, and she cannot leave him because she becomes emotionally dependent on him. Psychologists also refer to the concept of co-dependency to explain relationships with these unhealthy, even dangerous, patterns.
The meaning of life may in the end come down to seeking a balance between independence and interdependence, yet recognizing that it will be impossible to ever achieve this balance as one will always be striving to become more independent or more interdependent. Still, we should always analyze our personal, professional and political relationships to try to determine when we have instances of either excessive independence, excessive dependence or lack of interdependence.
In the United States today it would appear that we have at least two major camps with respect to the independence/interdependence tension. On the one hand, we have citizens which identify with the Republican Party and the value of independence. Republicans, as a rule, believe that the federal government as well as state governments should promote laws and regulations which promote the value of independence -- the liberty and autonomy of persons.
This amounts to celebrating the value of independence, whether it concerns guns, higher taxes or reducing environmental legislation and regulations. Republicans stand for a society in which the government does not restrict individual independence or liberty, recognizing that some restrictions are necessary. Libertarians go much further.
Republicans may also be more inclined to promote a foreign policy that stands for an America that has fewer moral commitments to other countries (with the exception of countries like Israel). Ideally we would be as independent from other countries as possible. Certainly, Trump's America First philosophy took that approach.
Democrats, in contrast, are more inclined to promote the value of interdependence when articulating a vision of the relationship between citizens and government, since everything from health care to transportation and national defense requires government support. Medicare, Medicaid, the 1956 Interstate Highway Act and our $600 billion plus annual defense budget all rest on a concept of interdependence. Democrats believe that the federal government and state governments have a moral responsibility to provide citizens with the support they need to pursue educational and employment opportunities to realize their potential and provide for their families.
Democrats are also more inclined to promote a vision of foreign policy that accepts the need for economic, political, and military interdependence with our allies in North America, Europe, the Far East, Australia and South America.
The struggle to unite well-formulated, inspiring concepts of independence and interdependence is endless. Moreover, the debates over balancing freedom and equality, individualism and community, and economic growth and economic efficiency, though valuable, have become tiresome. We need some new concepts at the highest level of political and social debate. Certainly the concept of interdependence is not as widely discussed as the concept of independence.
Politicians, political consultants, the media, think tanks and academia would do well to elevate both concepts. These concepts can also incorporate concepts like freedom, equality, individualism, community, economic growth and economic efficiency. If we are going to wrestle with ongoing challenges over guns, climate change, race, gender and sexual orientation, and different ways to improve capitalism and push for peace in the world, we must transcend much of our current vocabulary.