Happy Interdependence Day!

Today is American Independence Day and there’s lots of celebrating going on (not to mention the volatilizing of hundreds of millions of pounds of different chemical compounds in the atmosphere). So it’s a big day in the USA today. But truthfully I’d rather wish everyone—American or not—a Happy Interdependence Day!

Of course, we are not independent. We depend on each other, and more so, on a living Earth system, both of which need far more reminding as American (and many other) societies polarize further and as we continually ‘improve’ human society at the direct expense of other species and the Earth system. (Yes, even our transition to supposedly clean renewables is causing horrific damage to the planet.)

So instead, I wish you all a day to celebrate our Interdependence with countless other species—with the blue-green algae that make the oxygen you breathe; the bacteria that make up more of you than you do; with the plants that make up your food (either directly or indirectly); the animals that are sacrificed so many of us can eat (or wear) them; the ancient beings that made up the coal, gas, and oil that we’ve become dependent on (in the bad sense); the future beings that will care for us when we’re old and that will inherit (and hopefully heal) the horrible ecological and societal wounds we’ve inflicted; and last but not least, our family, friends, extended communities, and the millions of people we don’t know who provide us with food, medicine, energy, goods, and services. In this complex civilization we live in, we are all deeply interdependent—interwoven with countless lives day in and day out.

America in all its interconnected glory. (Image by NASA Earth Observatory)

Interdependence with Each Other

Many have attempted to reframe Independence Day as Interdependence Day, including last year, when Peter T. Coleman, a professor of psychology who specializes in international conflict resolution wrote an opinion piece for USA Today. There he says it really well (other than forgetting to mention the interdependence we have with non-human beings). He notes that where unity is greatest, “the presence and commemoration of unifying values, norms and rituals is the most critical.” And in post-conflict countries, the efforts to heal that are most effective bring into dialogue opposing parties. In our increasingly divided societies—where people interact more and more only with similarly oriented people (whether in person or on social media)—finding “bridge building” opportunities is essential.

Perhaps this also applies to nature. The increasing segregation of the majority of humanity in cities (as well as in modern houses) has led many to forget their interdependence with countless other species. Instead we focus on trying to rid our homes of ants, flies, and spiders—and maybe grant refuge to the occasional plant. But if we go back out into nature, and connect (deeply) with all those living beings, perhaps we’ll come to understand our interdependence on all this wondrous life.

Perhaps simply tying the stars together is enough to remind us that all states depend on each other. (Image by TheDigitalArtist with additions by Erik Assadourian)

Imagining Interdependence Day

In his essay, Coleman suggests we have a national unity parade. That’s an easy upgrade as there are countless Independence Day parades going on that are already populated with people of all political persuasions. But the slight frame shift might be enough to redirect the focus away from politics and onto cultivating camaraderie. This is something I see in my karate dojo. I’m sure there is a diversity of political opinions (they leak out sometimes) but they’re never the focus and instead we’re unified in our study (and teaching) of this ancient art.

Along with a parade, my suggestion is to dedicate July 4th as an annual Dark Sky night.* We love our fireworks because they’re awe-inspiring. But so is the night sky—as anyone who has gone to a Dark Sky Place knows. If we built this into an exciting opportunity to see the night sky in all its magnificence all around America (or the world), perhaps people would get as excited for that as they currently do for fireworks, which, being uncritical is a nice tradition, until you add up the toll in environmental damage, injuries, and opportunity costs.** Neighbors would gather (in the dark) with others to observe the sky, and make new connections or deepen ties with neighbors, rather than just bumping shoulders (and not talking) to thousands of strangers at fireworks displays. And if those neighbor relations—not to mention our interdependence with neighbors—could start to be restored, that’d really go a long way in increasing the unity of the United States.

Of course, that’ll probably only happen once every night is a Dark Sky night (thanks to civilizational collapse) and then seeing the Milky Way might not even feel that special. But to look up once a year and see the billions of stars in all their splendor, to chat with neighbors over drinks and snacks on this holiday, to remember that we are all part of a larger Gaian system, and thus interdependent, and to remember that that’s why we choose not to consume as much, reproduce as much, live as large as we could, and why we tolerate each other, support our neighbors’ rights, and their businesses, no matter how we differ, that would be a really good way to spend July 4th. So, with that I wish you a Happy Interdependence Day!

How about a night of no lights rather than fireworks—so we can see the night skies in all their beauty? (Image by ESO/B. Tafreshi via Wikipedia)

Endnotes

*For those unfamiliar, there is an effort to map places (communities, parks, etc.) where you can see the stars in “Dark Sky Places” around the world.

**The annual cost of 4th of July fireworks is about $1.09 billion. What kind of lasting programs could be built with those kinds of funds? Though there could be a middle path: a rotating fireworks show so that fireworks occur in each state every 5 years or so. That’d make them extra special (like last night where the show in Middletown, CT was extra crowded and extra spectacular after a two-year hiatus due to COVID).

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3 Responses

  1. Brian Stewart

    I called it “Interdependence Day” yesterday in every conversation save one — a brief interaction with a stranger. (Of course, that might have been the most significant opportunity!). Thank you for this provocative essay.

    We were on a small family “farm” yesterday evening. Of course, there is no dark sky in Connecticut, but as a consolation we were treated to the most remarkable firefly display, accompanied by a symphony of green frogs, tree frogs, and bullfrogs.

  2. Erik Assadourian

    Yes, fireflies! I’ve noticed a few in Middletown but remember what their performances are like in a rural spot. Imagine a future where dark skies grace Interdependence Day evening and the fireworks are provided by fireflies (with frog accompaniment)–sounds like a dream worth striving for!

  3. Ben Sibelman

    Personally I’d much rather hold Interdependence Day on a different date (maybe Lynne Margulis’s birthday?), and make it global rather than U.S.-centered. But I do really hope there’s a way for Americans in particular to reconnect across ideological divides. One group working on that problem is Braver Angels (http://braverangels.org).

    And no offense, but that version of the flag looks kind of like a prison fence to me.

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