Thursday, June 5, 2008

On independence

Above all other qualities, I value independence.

As much as human frailty allows, an independent person is self-sufficient. An emotionally independent person may be social but serves himself first and, as a result, is better equipped to serve others. An intellectually independent person craves knowledge from without, but he keeps his own counsel within.

Independence is a manifestation of personal responsibility.

In today's hyper-political climate, however, "independent" has been prostituted beyond recognition. Disillusioned with the two dominant parties, indignant citizens brandish their opposition by declaring themselves "Independents." And the cheapest trick of all is turned by the likes of Lou Dobbs, who urges his viewers to register as independents.

"Registered independent" is as nonsensical as "practicing agnostic."

I'll stipulate to the tendencies of human nature, ill-conceived acts of rebellion and the principles that sustain our political system. But allegiance to a party, affiliation with a movement, or characterizing oneself as "conservative" or "liberal," is antithetical to independence.

It's like volunteering to be simple-minded.

Fundamental to independence is critical thinking. Independent critical thought -- which isn't the same thing as being contrarian -- isn't difficult, but it does demand intent.

With clear intent, we must let go of the party lever along with our desire to be in like-minded company. We need to absorb information without feeling compelled to adopt or reject it. And we must measure everything we absorb -- not against beliefs or values, but against personal experience.

Experience can be neither duplicated nor shared. It's the core of our uniqueness and, therefore, the very wellspring of independence.

Each of us, then, confronts a choice. We can squander our gifts on some mass ideology or political movement -- or we can think critically, act from experience, and express our true independence.