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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Myth of Self Reliance

Sure, I can every year. No, I didn't grow these tomatoes. I had to buy the canning jars. Turnip greens I grew in a bowl are sparse. Someone else made the loom and loops for the potholder while I crafted it. A quart of pecans I picked up were on someone else's property. I am not completely self-reliant. This has nothing to do with Emerson's Essay, Self Reliance.

Tom Hemenway's post, The Myth of Self Reliance, explores the reasons we should never strive to "become fully self-sufficient." Interesting essay. It is long and well worth reading. So, settle in and learn from him after you hear what I have to first.

No matter how often I have said that I can make every article of clothing I wear (I can), including panties and bras, the truth is that someone manufactured my machines and my fabric. Even the lowly or exalted if you wish, sewing needle, was made by someone else. I rely on unseen masses. Even those who strive to produce all their own food realize there are some things that must come from elsewhere. Or, is just vegetable and fruit production the goal and the way they measure their their own self-sufficiency?

Even before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people in an agrarian economy depended upon the skills and labors of others. Home-crafted and homegrown goods were the means of obtaining needed items that an individual did not make or grow. The Industrial Revolution diminished the skill sets of many people, especially a generation who went into manufacturing and working for the jingle in the pocket instead of bartering goods and services.

We stand, as Hemenway states, "on mountains of shoulders."

In my case, I own many of the means of production--sewing machines, canners, gardening tools, drill/hammers/more, and land. Owning the means of production is more important than making money to buy items. However, your means of producing may be the abililty to buy all you need instead of actually producing anything tangible, just jingle. Those who own the means of production control more of the jingle and have deeper pockets.

So, a person can rewire a lamp? Did the person purchase the wiring or was it purchased from someone who knows how to make wiring? I surely don't! Who made the lamp? I did not manufacture my canner, jars, fabric, yarn, or the crochet hooks. Aha, I CAN carve a crochet hook if I set my mind to it and don't mind cutting or gouging myself! But, how many trials and errors would I suffer. But, I don't have a spinning wheel or sheep and know nothing about either. How can I crochet or sew without yarn or fabric? As much as I love milk, I will never have a cow or goat!

Hemenway's idea, not a new one, of building community for support and sharing and protection is something people should consider. We all know families who seem to live in "compounds" and can be supportive in many ways, making it possible for members of the family to feel secure about everything and support one another.

I don't have such a "community," per se. But, I think in a time of dire distress I could make it happen...maybe with much difficulty. I have never pretended to myself that I am self-sufficinet. I know I am dependent on others.

Your turn
How about you? Do you ever feel you are self-sufficient? Self-reliant? Interdependent?


  1. When I speak of self-sufficiency, I mean in food mainly as well as resources for our home. I have alot to talk about this and I dont want to make a blog out of YOUR blog, so I will post it on my blog one of these days. :-)

    I dont want to make my own tools, but I want to grow enough food to be able to supplement throughout the year.


  2. Oh, Simply Bonkers, I was certainly not talking about anything you said. We all, myself included, sometimes feel we are or can be self-sufficient. In actuality, we are not and should not be. Did you read the article by Hemenway? I think about things that I cannot do and worry. But, his post is a relief and points out why we are not self-sufficient and should not be. Yes, being self-sufficient in food production is much more doable if we don't have to make the tools, buy the seed, etc. I will be looking forward to reading your post. I would have referenced your post if I were refuting what you said. However, I don't intend to just refute posts. Hemenway's post and my own thoughts and lack of certain abilities and pride in other abilities was my only frame of reference in this post. Even my pride in sewing all my own clothing is full of holes because I did not make the machines, thread, or cloth. Okay? Now, I have to go back and read your post to see what, EXACTLY, you said.

  3. Oh my. I feel bad that you think that I thought that you offended me. :-) (Did that make any sense?) Please be assured that I didnt think you were zeroing me all. I was just answering the "your turn" part of the blog.

    I think alot about self-sufficiency. But when I think about it, I think more along the lines of food and energy usage in the home (as mentioned earlier.) But your post really got me to thinking...which is a good thing!

    I still have not had a chance to read the link posted...but I look forward to doing so in the very near future.

    Thank you for your post! As I said, it brought alot of things to light for me, and that's exactly what I need! :-)


  4. Okay, now that we both felt bad, let's go When I read the article, it made me think. Of course, I wrote my post and it made you think. I love an exchange of ideas that keeps on evolving until we can all reach certain personal or universal "truths." I read about two months of your blog and found nothing that you had said that would bring the response I thought I got, so I decided to wait for your post to your blog. Feel free to drop by and even if you don't agree, tell me. I am not that thin-skinned. Really! Hemenway's post is excellent. Linda


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