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The principle of interdependence seems indispensable to transformative imagination.
And it plays havoc with rugged individualism and the ideas that “I did it all on my own” or “I don’t need anybody’s help and you shouldn’t either.” Herb Hatcher, Backwater Bay’s designated “cranky white curmudgeon in high dudgeon” is still seeking professional help for the conceptual crisis and ego atomization he experienced as a result of encountering the notion.
Riddled with supremacist thinking of all sorts, the dominant public imagination offers domination, dominion, and commodification as certain pathways to “the good life.”
In pursuing these paths, the dominant imagination reduces, separates, and partitions things so that they appear as sets of isolated, disconnected things (people = things, too) that are primarily viewed as some sort of property from which the maximum amount of economic profit should be extracted. The ideas of walls and cages to provide “safety” further supports the idea of disconnection. This, of course, blurs or erases general awareness of rippling, often massive, harmful consequences that ensue.
Even in justice organizations, the assumption of disconnection can inadvertently produce a rigid, single-issue lens that sees and fundraises around things in very narrow terms that erase, say, intersecting factors of race, gender, disability, citizenship status, class, and environment. Occasionally, large mobilizations – marches, protests – bring together different movements and constituencies for a short time. But there’s little collective vision to support ongoing, sustained multi-constituency organizing that also connects the work to the well-being of the biosphere, which is essential to existence at all.
By contrast, transformative, radical, or revolutionary imagination studies, honors, and reclaims its relationships across social/economic faultlines and with the biosphere. The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls this way of understanding “interbeing”, a word not (yet) in the dictionary, but reflective of the interconnectedness of the universe. Human beings do not exist apart from the web of life.
If, for example, you write on a piece of paper, you will find that in this paper are clouds, necessary for rain, and the rain that is necessary for trees. Look more deeply and you will see sunshine necessary for many things, including nourishment for trees. And many kinds of labor that go into the harvesting of trees and the making of paper. You will see food to sustain the laborers, and water to quench their thirst. And it is possible to look more deeply still. The various elements come into being only through complex systems of mutual dependence.
This is what interdependence acknowledges: How this affects that; how that is a part of this. Just as important is the recognition that interdependence exists across space and time, linking past, present, and future. Much older and much younger generations co-exist. Decisions made in the past influence societies today; decisions made today influence future generations. The need for right (mutually supportive, just, economically secure, and sustainable) relationships – individually and throughout society – becomes much clearer
Interdependence in the Imagination
Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability, edited by Melissa K. Nelson and Daniel Shilling (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
Through the lens of Indigenous perspectives, this book focuses on the ways in which environmental ethics and values can be applied to sustainable uses of land, within contexts that recognize, and honor, profound relationships between biological and cultural diversity.
“Why Indigenous voice matters in climate justice,” by Siku Allooloo, Indigenous Climate Action, December, 2017 Allooloo, an Inuit/Taino writer from Denendeh (Northwest Territories) notes the central importance of lifting up Indigenous voices in discussions about what kinds of changes are needed to ensure a more livable world for all: “[We are]people who understand interdependence and who respect the earth as a living and powerful force that human beings are at the behest of (not in domination over). Our sophisticated understanding of interconnectedness, both in terms of the compounding damage of colonial worldviews and our systems for living sustainably with the earth, make Indigenous communities ideal leaders in generating solutions and guiding structural change.”
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, by adrienne maree brown, (AK Press, 2017) The vision and practice of interdependence is woven into every aspect of this book. “Transformation doesn’t happen in a linear way,” the author says, “at least not one we can always track. It happens in cycles, convergences, explosions.”
Interview (2007) with eco-philosopher Joanna Macy on Interdependence, Politics, and Poetry, by Elizabeth Schwyzer, Santa Barbara Independent, October 25, 2007 Macy says, “(W)ithin an industrial growth society, the power of market forces-particularly the maximization of corporate profit and the way market shares are measured, quarter by quarter-drives us into short-term thinking where we’re willing to discount the future for the sake of the present.”
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