On “Financial Independence”: A Rant

I don’t believe in “financial independence.”  Ultimately there is no such thing, much as some people might like to believe there is.

There is a narrative of “independence” in our culture that goes something like this: being needy is a bad thing.  I am also reminded of the saying “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  I can see why this was a useful idea in the feminist movement, and of course I think it’s perfectly fine to be single…but on a larger scale, I don’t buy it.  To my mind, this kind of “independence” is not a virtue – it’s an illusion, and it’s high time we give it up.  Our culture is so myopic that we often refuse to acknowledge our own need for other people.  But the reality is that we need each other, and the Earth, to survive.  Period.  Relationships are our sustenance.  We need all kinds of relationships – social, cultural, and ecological – not just romantic ones.  It’s true that in the modern world some people can get jobs and provide for their needs with their earnings, and they may be perceived in the public eye as “independent” if they do this, but nonetheless, they are still dependent on their employers, a steady income, and the infrastructure (maintained by other people) that makes it possible for them to do their jobs.  Why is it so difficult for so many in our culture to acknowledge this?

People who have money often think of themselves as beholden to no one – “self-sufficient” and “independent.”  On the surface this seems true enough.  Look a little deeper, though, and the reality is different.  We are all just as interdependent as we’ve always been.  Sometimes we can use money to hide from ourselves the reality of whom we are relying on and which farmers provide our food, but the ultimate fact of reliance on others, and on the Earth that sustains us, remains.

If I seem “independent,” it’s not because I actually am.  No one is!  It’s because of a pervasive cultural narrative that tends to highlight only individual effort, and discount the effects of others’ support in making me who I am.  I’m here because other people empowered me, made sacrifices for me, gave me opportunities to learn skills, supported me, and encouraged me.  OTHER PEOPLE.  For the most part, these people didn’t balk when I needed them, or shame me for being “dependent.”  They just supported me and believed in me.  That is why I’m still here today to write this.

I am so fed up with people being shamed for “dependency” because they don’t have jobs or “financial independence”.  News flash, folks: There are never going to be enough jobs for everyone who’s capable of having one.  Unemployment is here to stay.  Get used to it.

Once again, for emphasis, because I think many people in our culture just aren’t getting this: Human beings NEED one other to survive.  NEED.  Let me say that yet again: We NEED each other.  And there is nothing wrong with this neediness.  Nothing at all!  You need me, I need you, and we both need the support of our community and social systems TO SURVIVE.

Repeat after me: There is nothing wrong with being “needy.”  We are born that way, for gods’ sake!  There is no shame in needing support.  We all need support, even those of us who use money to insulate ourselves and distance ourselves psychologically from that fundamental reality.  We are interdependent as a species, and we are ultimately dependent on the Earth and ecological systems for our sustenance.

It’s great that people want to take “personal responsibility” and help themselves.  But they still need social, cultural, and institutional support in order to do that.  We need a social structure that will support and reward these self-help efforts, instead of shaming needy people because they don’t have jobs.

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