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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Myths of independence and the Self-Made Person

As I try to figure out what is the matter with my laptop, I realise how much I have become dependent on technology in my daily life. Indeed, one may say that I might be more dependent than other people on technology, especially information technology due to my physical and visual impairments. I realise that if I had just been born just 40 years ago, much of what I have today would have been unthinkable. 

It’s sad but true, but I would probably be staring at the wall waiting for the time to pass, forgotten perhaps, in some institution with no hope of release. And, yes, today I would be 71 today. OK, given that medical treatment to treat my condition were only just being experimented, I would probably be dead. Six feet under. Caput! Finis. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for technological progress (here I’m including medical discoveries) and reform in the socio-political landscape, my current life wouldn’t just be impossible but inconceivable.

I used to believe once in the fairy tale of the self-made individual. A person who goes from being a pauper to a prince, from rags to riches… You get the picture. But even the great “geniuses” of history that we, including self, have thought to have achieved what they have out of sheer will or determination had lots and lots of help and opportunities that allowed them to reach their peak.

However, we tend to mythologise the lives of these so-called “geniuses” and, perhaps conveniently, forget that they had access to opportunities that improved their chances of success.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that such individuals did nothing. In fact, they have developed extraordinary skills and abilities. But to assume that they were born with special abilities would be stuff of fantasy and Hollywood movies. Yes, people may be born with a predisposition to excel in music, science or the arts, for example, if they are not exposed to the right stimuli or in an environment that cultivates their minds, they would not manifest anything.

What if Mozart had been born in a poor family where children had to work the hard way and there was simply no place for music as this wouldn’t contribute to thee livelihood of the family? What if Einstein was born in a part of India where the poverty was so pervasive that the only maths and physics necessary were to calculate how much money you can spend and whether you can balance your food or water to reach home - if you have one that is.

My point is simply that it would be false to believe that individuals can make it on their own. There were many factors, often omitted from biographies, that contributed if not made it possible for people to maximise their potential. This myth of independence and independent actualisation is particularly dangerous when applied to disabled people. I don’t know how many times I was praised for my resolve and determination to go on with life. While my choices had a certain influence on my current position, I would be pretentious and ‘full of it’ if I declared I did it all on my own. Indeed, people with impairments, like myself, may need more help and support to maximise their potential. Will and determination have only a little part to play in all this. If you have a choice but do not know you have one in the first place, it is unlikely that you will take it.

That’s why I believe that we should recognise that the idea of complete independence is but a myth. No one can make it on his or her own in modern society. I also think that we must refrain from mythifying the lives of others just because we think they “have beaten all odds”. Instead, we should be asking why haven’t more people experiencing the same conditions and situations failed to improve on their lives. Is the myth of independent autonomy, as we may call it, a way to rationalise the injustices of poverty and inequality? Are these our way to deny responsibility for the welfare of the whole of society not just those we deem ‘deserving’.

And, I believe, we shouldn’t start pointing at our leaders, our politicians, or those in authority, but first ask ourselves what we are doing ourselves. And, many times, this means distancing ourselves from our own affiliations, biases, prejudices and assumptions and start to treat each other with equal respect and dignity as any other human being.

Yes, I should start with my own life.