Isolation and the Denial of Interdependence

This is part 3 in a series on economic injustice. Click here to read from the beginning.

“His philosophy was: to be up, you gotta push someone down.
That was all I knew cause that was all I was around
I found the flaws in his methods from the cause in myself
Father Diablo: Only an uncle to every one else
He taught me how to talk without looking in your eyes
Gave me a nine to five, made me ignore the lullabies
A puddle of the dried tears shade me colorless.” -Eyedea and Abilities, Read Wiped in Blue

Human beings are not independent creatures. Independence is a myth, but it is the god of the American people. From birth, we are dependent on others for survival. We cannot feed, clothe, clean, or protect ourselves. As we grow into so-called independence, we are still entirely dependent on others for these necessities. CEOs who make the most money in their corporations wouldn’t have their profits without the revenue produced by their companies. And it’s important to note that while CEOs of profitable companies catch a lot of the hatred for wealth inequality, they made up only 5% of the 0.01 percent of the wealthiest people in this country as of 2004.[1] The wealthiest among us, in fact, are the most dependent on others. The rich do not make or mend their own clothes, or wash them, for that matter. A shower requires hygienic products and running heated water, all of which are provided by someone else. Protection and security is uniquely more significant for the wealthy, because the wealthy have the most to lose in our society.[2] Paid for, yes. But money is worthless unless you have someone to pay it to.

We are interdependent beings. Yet as a country, we actively undermine interdependency.

Isolation starts with family. While some parents are ostracizing their LGBTAIQ offspring,[3] others simply don’t have stability to offer to their kids. Minorities will die young,[4] leaving little or nothing to their children, while many others are victims of unfair incarceration.[5] Meanwhile, parents who are willing and able to support their adult offspring are supporting their children more than ever: Young people living with their parents are at a 75-year high,[6] which CBS describes as a “failure” to leave the nest. Seeing young people as failures, rather than the system failing them, is a common mentality among Americans. 40% of young people are living with their parents, but another 20% also receive financial support from their parents.[7]

For the 60% of us who aren’t turning to our folks for housing, displacement is common. Every person I know who is LGBTAIQ has been ostracized by the community they were raised in – or are still closeted. Many have, like me, fled to other parts of the country to avoid the harassment of the communities that cast us out. Family and community is only part of the cause for isolation, however. Isolation is the price we pay for our individualistic ideals. As of 2017, the average American only has one close friend – and that’s just the average.[8]

What I know is that denial of interdependence is laughable, but forced isolation is no laughing matter. When I lived in Seattle, I would take a bus to work before sunrise, and I’d see silent ambulances picking dead bodies up off the streets. The New York Times published a piece just over a year ago describing the impacts of social isolation, and listed the old, the ill, and the uneducated as the most vulnerable.[9] In their analysis of the same problem, Business Insider pointed out that while social networking makes us feel more connected, equating individualism and success incentivizes isolation.[10] Perhaps the biggest contributor to isolation, though, is the taboo of discussing financial standing.[11]

In my personal experience of growing up in an extremely conservative family, I’ve seen how the ignorance of actual economic factors contributes to isolation. I don’t trust a single one of my siblings to offer any solidarity or financial support. Though several of them have set aside the religious beliefs and lifestyle we were raised to believe in, every one of my adult siblings is firmly convinced that poverty is the fault of the impoverished.

In the American mind, nobody is responsible for anyone else. Not family, not friends, not the government, not the company you work for. The proof for this is simple: suicide is seen as the crime of the person committing suicide, never the failure of life to be worth living.

Because interdependence is impossible to eradicate, the United States is a demonstration of failure to do the impossible. And as a society, we’ve collectively decided to go along with a system that sets impossible standards, then punishes its most vulnerable for their inevitable failure.

[1] https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/joshua-rauh-what-forbes-400-list-says-about-american-wealth

[2]https://books.google.com/books?id=TV_2AwAAQBAJ&pg=PT102&lpg=PT102&dq=matt+stoller+%22private+security%22&source=bl&ots=ho9htPyOvS&sig=nEu8dhAYS_WuBN3VFa6Oy1M3mUc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiez6Lwm9bZAhUjmuAKHfAxCtQQ6AEIQDAE#v=onepage&q=matt%20stoller%20%22private%20security%22&f=false

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/004c6df4-699e-11e3-aba3-00144feabdc0

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6613a6.htm

[5] https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons/

[6] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/percentage-of-young-americans-living-with-their-parents-is-40-percent-a-75-year-high/

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2011/05/20/parents-provide-financial-support-money-adult-children/#66102c161987

[8] http://www.businessinsider.com/emma-seppala-the-average-american-has-only-one-close-friend-2017-7

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/upshot/how-social-isolation-is-killing-us.html

[10] http://www.businessinsider.com/emma-seppala-the-average-american-has-only-one-close-friend-2017-7

[11] https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/04/14/the-money-taboo-why-it-exists-who-it-benefits-and-how-to-navigate-it/#6c7f08e72f62