I think it telling to our American Values that our greatest national holiday is a celebration of independence. Some people say that we hold individuality in such high esteem as a country because of our cultural myths of scarcity, separation, and progress through competition. I feel that.. I feel we are separate, and that I have to compete, and that it’s a dog eat dog world. I have been told that I am “free, white, and twenty-one” over and over again and that I have no excuse for failing to achieve great success. People think I am smart, I don’t know why; I think it’s pretty clear from my writing I am uneducated. My explanation for peoples’ benevolent prejudice is that they see blocks of text they have no interest in reading and assume my body of work has worth and value. People assume that I am college educated and hold multiple degrees because that is generally the type of company I keep. I have the apparent free time and money to pursue interests and hobbies, rather than seeming to be running on the hedonistic treadmill that is the compulsion to build empires and monuments. People seem to think I am successful and it’s mostly because I am white, and able to schedule three o’clock meetings during the week. I am pretty grateful for it because I end up with opportunities not available to people who.. well .. “aren’t free, white, and 21”
We teach our high school children that Thomas Jefferson penned this immortal and amazing document which touts high minded principles and rights endowed upon us by the creator, and then we share a chuckle about how he kept in bondage and subservience human beings who had a darker complexion than himself. We use this as an example of how public perception of Morals and Ethics changes over time. This Founding document speaks of Democracy, and Freedom… about Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and then go on to create the constitution which is the actual legal framework that has nothing to do with Justice or Majority Rule, and everything to do with property rights, and who qualifies to have them…. these rights and principles only applied to free white men of age.
Many “Tiny House” people were attracted to the movement by the idea of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency. I also liked the idea of having higher quality stuff, and more money to presumably spend on quality foods, consumer electronics, musical instruments, and my hobbies in general. Promoted is a sense of peace and order; you would look at those tiny beautiful interior spaces and think “I would never misplace my keys or wallet again” Photos of tiny house interiors across the web inspire a feeling of openness, simplicity, and order with clear counters and space on the bookshelf for your tchotchke. It turns out that is all just images of perfection; a beauty that we long for but can never quite attain. Life in a tiny house is real… I mean really real. It’s hard to describe how intense life can be so consider this metaphor. Imagine a pint glass full of water… now imagine dissolving everything that is your life into that water and boiling it down until there is one or two ounces left. Everything that is your life is still there, but there is a lot less water and you are left with is a viscous mess of all that is you.. the real you; and you are forced to look at exactly what it is that makes you so viscous. We thought that we were building a home, but the reality is that no matter where we go we will be guests. In our search for self sufficiency and independence, we discovered how desperately interdependent we all are; no Tiny House is an Island.
A tiny house is a big mess. Life is messy, and in a tiny house it is doubly so. I have to be conscious and mindful of my behavior, for every time I pick something up.. I will have already had to consider where I am going to put it down. Behavior is something that comes from thoughts; thoughts are based on underlying assumptions that we make based on conflicting fundamental stories we tell ourselves about who we are. A person who fundamentally believes all humans to be selfish and that selfishness and competition create wealth will build their beliefs and political analysis quite differently from individuals who understand that our fates are all intertwined. This is odd because the attractive little cottage in the woods speaks to my desire to hitch the house up and head for the hills in retreat; the American image beatific which is in stark contrast to the behavior which would honor true interdependence. My messy house is keeps me safe and warm at night, and it provides me security in that I can lock those material things that I care about and they will be safe until I return.
I have seen people exclaim “a conspiracy by the rich to convince all the poor people to live with less, so they can be crammed into even tighter spaces. The wealthy elite will create even more bogus financial products to divide the land and developers will get 30 more years of work building things” To these people I ask that they spend some time asking themselves where they fall on the spectrum of fundamentally independent or interdependent. Creating a legal infrastructure for these things is going to be difficult because it is so new and the local governments have been working with builders and financiers for decades and are entrenched in system that stands only to be taken down a notch by wide spread self provisioning and refusal to take on debt. This is opening the door not only to a new types of housing, but new types of civic organizations, and new types of thinking about addressing root causes social problems.
History has shown us multiple times that natural and man made disasters alike can strike anywhere and at any time, and millions of people have experienced instant peril. 19.5M worldwide refugees at the end of 2015… which proves that not only are we interdependent upon the living economies of human activity that are beyond any individuals’ grasp, but we are in fact also interdependent upon entire systems which are the mechanics of the one universe which we are all experiencing individually but can never fully understand. On this day, may we wave our flags in an understanding that yes, we are all fiercely independent, with our unique gifts skills and thoughts and behaviors. We are also inextricably interdependent, reliant upon our planet, and it’s systems, as well as upon each-other for every individuals’ unique contribution or need. Happy Independence day, but Happy Interdependence day too.