Like most Americans, I prefer to think of myself as independent. Perhaps even more than most Americans, because I’m originally from Rhode Island. Rhode Island, for those of you who don’t know, was founded when Roger Williams decided to rebel against the Massachusetts Bay Colonists who were rebelling from England. It was the first state to declare independence from Britain, the last of the 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution, the only state to still celebrate VJ day, and has its state house topped with a statue called "The Independent Man." Rhode Island may be small, but it is formidable and charming -- basically the Peter Dinklage of states.
This being my heritage, I like to envision myself as a self-made man independent from most of the world. Last week I was reflecting on just how independent I am. I have my own place to live, which I paid for myself, where I arrange my own schedule. I’m self-unemployed, don’t even use a credit card to borrow money, and it occurred to me that in many ways I am very self-sufficient.
And that’s when the power went out.
I am nocturnal (see above, re: arrange my own schedule), so I was still awake and working on the computer at 3 a.m. And then at 3:01 a.m., my computer was suddenly off, and it was suddenly exceedingly dark. I managed to find a flashlight in the dark, and then a phonebook so I could fail to get through to the electric company, at which point there was pretty much nothing I could do except go to bed. It occurred to me that in many ways I am not so self-sufficient.
Absent a constant feed of electricity and Internet provided by others, it turns out that my independent nocturnal writing lifestyle doesn’t really work. When I woke up the next day, I learned that much of the Berkshires had suffered a similar blackout, thanks to a transformer exploding in Adams. As if we haven’t suffered enough from Michael Bay’s movies. But it reminded me that we are all more connected and reliant on each other than we would like to pretend.
There are obvious ways in which some of us rely on others, and insofar as we can wean ourselves off of the most obvious examples, we pat ourselves on the back (self-sufficiency means not waiting for someone else to praise you) and proudly congratulate ourselves on independent living. Only, it’s somewhat of a misnomer to call it independence when we’re reliant on so many vast infrastructures that have been built up for us.
I have a few friends that might have a shot at surviving the zombie apocalypse. But most of us, like me, depend on the many systems we have in place and would be lost without them. My self-employment doesn’t exist without the Internet. Your formalwear hired car service ("Tuxicabs") relies on maintained roads. Without electricity, much of the country grinds to a halt. The things we call public utilities, so named because they have great utility to the public, have served as a dependable boost for all of us.
And that’s only the tip of the publicly constructed iceberg, whether you are a product of public education, or home schooling courtesy of public libraries, or even if you’re an autonomous AI program who has simply built upon the collected stores of human knowledge.
If the Independent Man seems tall, it is because he stands on the shoulders of giants.
Seth Brown is an award-winning humor writer, the author of "From God To Verse," and sits quietly on the shoulders of giants. His website is RisingPun.com.