Part of what makes the United States unique is the broad rage for cultures and individuals that coexist here. The word Independence represents a quality that almost all Americans, regardless of their background, struggle to obtain. Form the very beginning of our country this idea has been a core component in the America charter. It has always conveyed a sense of freedom and has acted as beacon of hope for everyone from slaves to immigrants.
History & EtymologyEdit
The first record of the word independence is from the year 1600 AD, literally meaning not dependent. Several other uses also emerged such as the 1808 meaning, not being part of a political party, and Independence Day, created in 1791. The meaning has not changed much from the original definition; even today it is essentially the same. However the emphasis our culture puts on independence has definitely grown. As western society becomes increasingly individualistic and consumer oriented, individuals value their independence with a much higher regard than ever before. Almost every American longs for independence. It has always been an important component of the “American Dream”, something that everybody works to achieve. Throughout American history this freedom has attracted people from all over the world, building what America is today.
Many factors influence independence in modern America. Some of the most prominent are individualism and conformity. The focus on the individual in the United States is no accident. It stems directly from revolution and even reaches in to our economy. In America individualistic ideas such as independence are highly valued. To a certain degree, it is expected that people will show independence. But isn’t this counterintuitive? If it’s the norm to conform to independence, wouldn’t that meant that it isn’t really independence at all? Not necessarily. Even though conformity and independence appear to be opposites, there is a key distinction. Independence is different for everyone. So while people might conform to independence, they won’t all show independence in the same way. In the future globalization and the influence of technology will probably change the meaning of impendence. The world is getting smaller at an increasingly rapid rate. As we become more interconnected, will we lose what makes us unique as individuals? This would certainly make humanity more efficient and is a step that we will eventually take, but will the benefits out way the sacrifice? This will be a key issue in the future and certainly one that America will struggle with.
Independence in FictionEdit
The idea of independence is extremely prominent in western literature and media. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a prime example of this. The book describes a futuristic dystopian society in which the independence of individuals is sacrificed for the “greater good”. "The greater a man's talents, the greater his power to lead astray. It is better that one should suffer than that many should be corrupted. Consider the matter dispassionately, Mr. Foster, and you will see that no offense is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behavior. Murder kills only the individual-and, after all, what is an individual?” (Huxley Chapter 10) Among the insights that Brave New World provides, the value of independence is very prominent. Would people be willing to forgo their personal liberties for a “better” society?
House MD, a critically acclaimed FOX television program, is another prime example of independence. The show is focused around Doctor Gregory House, a brilliant diagnostician whose unorthodox methods of practicing medicine and antagonistic personality demonstrate a clear sense of independence. “You pretend to buck the system, pretend to be a rebel, claim to hate rules. But all you do is substitute your own rules for society's. That's a nice, simple rule-tell the blunt, honest truth in the starkest, darkest way. And what will be, will be. What will be, should be. And everyone else is a coward. But you're wrong. Someone cowardly should not call someone an idiot. People aren't tactful or polite just because it's nice. They do it because they've got an ounce of humility. Because they know that they will make mistakes, and they know that their actions have consequences, and they know that those consequences are their fault. Why do you want so badly not to be human, House?” (House, M.D. May 23, 2006) Jack, the character speaking to House in the quote, raises an interesting issue. At what point does excessive independence cease to be productive? House’s extreme disregard for social norms makes perfect logical sense, but humans are intrinsically irrational. Sometimes people must conform to ideas that they don’t necessarily agree with in order to make progress. This is something that House, an individual obsessed with logic, struggles with.
Independence in Non-FictionEditNot only is the concept of independence present in fictional narratives, but it has a strong presence in non-fiction as well. Into the Wild, a book by Jon Krakauer, tells the story of Chris McCandless as he goes on his quest for answers. At the start of his journey Chris strongly believes that solitude is solution to finding himself and happiness. To him society and the people living in it are the problems. “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” (Krakauer 54) Independence is obviously extremely important to McCandless, as he demonstrates throughout his travels, even right up to his death.
It is also important to note the effect our quest for independence has had on American history. A Student’s Guide to U.S. History a book by Wilfred M. McClay effectively demonstrates this idea. “All this said however it is important to stress that for most Americans, and for many people around the world what makes American liberty so attractive is its friendliness to individual ambition and achievement. The Declaration of Independence speaks not only of equality of men, but of the “pursuit of happiness” as an inalienable human right; to enshrine that pursuit. To be sure, we are all to aware the dismal effect of such pursuit in an era of mass-culture mendacity and mindless hedonism.” (McClay 55-56) Independence is definitely changing as American culture evolves. Where it is going however is much more complicated. One thing is for certain thought, independence is an extremely important part of the United States, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
America, as with most Western cultures and countries, is highly individualistic. Our society emphasizes the importance of being different from everyone else on both a personal and economic level. The need to be independent is probably one of the only traits that all Americas share. That being said, the opinions of different Americans on the word differ. William McCarty felt quite strongly about the issue, claiming “We are not independent”. However Drew Rose successfully argued a counter point with the shockingly insightful comment, “I do not know, come back to me”. My father presented another point of view, “The idea of independence is something that is very ingrained it the America charter. It conveys a sense of freedom that an individual can peruse almost any activity without government interference. Independence allows people the opportunity to work and think outside the box, to be innovative and to take risks if they so choose in areas such as economic opportunity. Independence also reflects the ability to freely choose leaders without feeling that one’s situation is in jeopardy.” All of these ideas share a common theme, Independence is clearly important to Americans. It will be extremely interesting to see what the future holds for this enduring American value. Will the rapidly shrinking world bring us closer together than previously thought possible, or will it create a need to further differentiate ourselves from each other?
- Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. United Kingdom: 1932. Print.
- Krakauer, Jon. Into The Wild. United States: Anchor, 1996. Print
- McClay , Wilfred. Student’s Guide to U.S. History . Wilmington: ISI Books, 2000. Print.
- "No Reason". House, M.D. By David Shore. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox Broadcasting Company. FOX. May 23, 2006