Are There Huge Dangers With Overemphasizing Self-Reliance?

This was inspired by an Atlantic article stating that Americans place too much emphasis on self-reliance. It talks about Horacio Alger and the 1834 origin of the phrase involving bootstraps. But states America is no longer really a meritocracy. This seems too extreme a view, but there is some merit to its claims.

Is Self-Reliance “America’s Most Insidious Myth?

Paywalled for me, but the concept seems ridiculous. If anything we have a much bigger problem in that peopl keep looking to someone else to protect them from life.

The opposite of self-reliance is dependency. Do we really want to have nations full of people dependent on others? I know that’s the socialist goal, but it doesn’t work out too well in practice.

Self reliance is anti-fragile, and that’s a good thing. Of course it can be overdone - we are social creatures and our economic well-being relies on cooperation. But we should be as self-reliant as we can possibly be while still taking part in economic and social public life.

People who depend on government eventually discover that government isn’t very dependable.

ISTM that’s what a lot of the article is about.

Hard disagree.

Self reliance is fundamentally fragile… it is only as resilient as a single human. Efficiencies of scale, being able to respond quickly and skillfully to challenges by relying on skill sets distributed across a group of people, and being able to rely on shared resources when adversity threatens one’s safety/health are all strong arguments against the idea that self-reliance is “anti-fragile”. The most precarious position I can imagine a human being be in is one in which they cannot expect to rely on anyone else for anything.

The least precarious position I can imagine a human being being in is one in which they don’t NEED to rely on anyone else for anything. That’s the definition of self-reliance.

The problem with relying on systems is that you open yourself up to systemic collapse. That is fragile.

Since half the participants in this thread so far (including the OP) are Canadians (and the article deals with the U.S.), I have a question:

Is "self-reliance a fundamentally different issue when applied to Canadians? And how are you personally affected by the degree to which Americans feel self-reliant?

There are different kinds of self reliance. Handy man skills, for instance, are great to have when you can’t get anyone to help. You do it yourself.

Cooking skills when restaurants are a long drive away. Vehicle stuck? Get it out yourself.

There is no Sherriff or police protection between 11 pm and 7am where we live. And at that, you would be lucky to get someone to my house in 2 hours during their ‘working hours’.

Last spring, I was going to an in-person meeting. On the road that I live, I saw a moose (laying in the ditch). Looked injured. I would have had to drive back home and get a rifle. My plan was to put it out of it’s misery when I got back. When I got back a man was skinning it. He had taken care of it.

There are many, many things that absolutely depend on self reliance for my Wife and myself.

The article is paywalled for me, but I’m going to guess that what you guys are discussing is not what the article talked about. It’s probably not about whether striving for self-reliance is an admiral or practical goal, but rather, it’s an attack on the cruel ideal embraced by Americans of the just world hypothesis: everyone has an equal chance to be successful, and if they work hard enough and are virtuous enough, they will achieve it. Therefore, if they do not achieve success, they must not have worked for it and/or they were not virtuous enough.

This attitude has been used to refuse to fix - and even to exacerbate - social and systemic failures. Why should we fix social problems or recognize that some people have harder struggles than others if we can simply blame those with disadvantages for their own problems? Everyone can succeed here if they try hard enough, so it’s their own fault if their lives are bad.

The flip side of that is also just as toxic - those who are on top of the power structure and who have the most obviously deserve it because they’re hard working and virtuous, and it would be evil if we were to take from the hard working and virtuous people to give to the unworthy.

This attitude has people fighting against a better society for quite a long time; perversely, today especially you see people arguing against their own interests because of manipulations that include amplifying this way of thinking. It is certainly a key component in American culture that allows us to maintain the richest society in the history of the world while demanding more and giving less to the average citizen so that a few people can sit on a giant pile of dragon gold.

Here’s a chunk from the OP’s linked article:

This sounds similar in tone to another new book I recently read about, in an article called “How America Manufactures Poverty”:

Sure, I agree that those aspects of self-reliance are vital. (I notice you don’t mention the third member of the Core Needs Triad—shelter, food and clothing—in this context, but the ability to make and repair textiles is right up there with home-repair and cooking abilities in constructive self-reliance.)

Where I think the concept of “self-reliance” can become toxic is when it gets away from concrete skillsets and starts to become an attitude about how people interact with complex systems. It’s very easy for the better-off, as the authors quoted in my previous post note, to assume that people stuck in systemic poverty, abuse, ill-health, ignorance, etc., are just being too lazy and passive. But most of those situations are ones you can’t fix with simple concrete easily-acquired skills like boiling an egg or sewing on a button.

People in the big cities are no more self-reliant than they are anywhere else. But Canada is a huge, sparsely populated country where for many self-reliance is just prudent.

I grew up in part on a farm in Saskatchewan. Self-reliance was just what we did. We had enough canned food (not store cans, but food my Grandmother laboriously grew in a huge garden and canned in Mason jars), to last for months, a 500 gallon gas tank, cistern, generator, etc.

That was just common sense. And still is. Everyone should try for whatever level of self-reliance their own circumstances will allow.

When Covid hit and supply started to look iffy, we bought a large freezer and filled it, and I bought a 2200W generator to power it and the furnace and water heater if the power should go out. Self reliance.

Are people generally more self-reliant in some Canadian provinces compared to others, and if so, why?

…when you think of America, what values and ideals do you think it prioritizes?

Freedom. Independence.

This is the bedrock. The foundation. And it permeates everywhere, from healthcare to federal vs state, to the industrial prison complex, to unemployment, to housing.

“Self-reliance” is a mantra that is perennially tied to how most Americans see themselves. And while to a degree we can see the same thing in many other places, there really isn’t anywhere else in the world where self-reliance is so tightly aligned with the US national identity.

This isn’t the case everywhere else. Not everywhere operates under the same paradigm. Not even your immediate neighbours.

Here in NZ, for example, especially in Māori and Pasifika communities, our values and ideals prioritise whānau, our whakapapa. Which is the polar opposite of self-reliance. Relying on others isn’t a weakness. Its a strength. Its okay for children to live with their parents for as long as they like. The parents look after and protect their kids. And later in life, the kids look after and protect their parents.

So are there dangers with overemphasising self-reliance? Sure. And the United States of America is just one giant red flag. So many of its problems can be traced directly back to simply leaving people behind.

And did you find that basic food availability and the power grid were in fact substantially undermined by Covid in your area, so that you needed your stockpiled resources to get by? Or was it essentially just a backup plan for potential deprivation that never materialized?

The trouble with valorizing expensive emergency measures (as opposed to basic lifestyle practices such as growing and canning one’s own vegetables) as “self-reliance” is that it puts a heavy burden on the non-affluent to figure out which such measures should be prioritized as really necessary, and which are of secondary importance.

Can’t read the article. I do think people have an inflated idea of how self-reliant they are and have no business criticizing others for their lack of self-reliance. It’s amazing how often those who can afford to buy whatever they need consider themselves self- reliant while criticizing those who have little and as a result no choice other than relying on themselves and an all too often insufficient outcome.

That is the least likely position that I can imagine a human being being in.

There are, admittedly, lots of people who claim to be in such a position, because they think that having enough money to pay their bills means that they’re not relying on anybody. They’re still massively relying on the work those other people are doing, on the financial system that means those people will take money for the results of their work, and on the forebearance of those people in not either whacking them over the head, or running over them just because they happened to be going that way.

Grow every bit of your own food, fuel, clothes, housing, and medicines, do you; as well as doing all the preparations from raw materials to make them usable? Never travel anywhere you can’t cut your own way with a machete, let alone anywhere where you needed to rely on other people to not run their cars into you? Dug and smelted the ore to make the machete?

Sure. Everybody should be able to do as much basic stuff for themselves as they’re capable of (which is not going to be the same amount for all people.)

But I doubt you made all of your tools; and I doubt you made that vehicle yourself, and even if you did I doubt you manufactured the parts out of raw materials. Or made every mile of the roads you drive it on; or, again, aren’t relying on others to at least most of the time follow the rules of the road when you go where there’s any traffic.

And nobody ever got to be an adult without being dependent as a child; and very few people are going to get all the way through adulthood without ever being sick or injured enough that they need help from others. Especially if part of their self-reliance is splitting their own firewood.

(Plus which, even for somebody like me, it’s important to have some people you can talk with.)

Point one: I note the “we” there.

Point two: you didn’t make the freezer, let alone all the parts of it. You didn’t make the generator, or the furnace, or the water heater, or the parts thereof. You didn’t prospect for, drill for, and refine the fuels those probably run off (though I suppose it’s possible you’ve got wood-fueled versions and cut the wood; but if so, almost certainly with tools you didn’t make, or make the parts for.) And you relied on other people, not only to make all those things, but also to bring them to you or to somewhere you could get them from (almost certainly in a vehicle that you didn’t make, or make the parts for . . . )

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have done any of that, or that it doesn’t make you better able to temporarily manage when the system breaks down. I’m the one who among other things had a hand pump put on the old well, so I’d have water if the electricity goes out. I’m saying, don’t delude yourself into thinking this means you didn’t have to rely on lots of other people. You did, and you do.

That is a fantasy state. One which I’ve seen plenty of elderly relatives cling to as they come to terms with their own growing helplessness. People need people to survive. Always have, for as long as human existence. That’s why we tend to congregate, because we’re safer in numbers, and because we can create whole societies with any number of wonderful benefits that would be impossible for one person to supply for themselves.

Being 100% self reliant is not evolutionarily tenable. Even those who try it today usually end up dead. (I just read Into the Wild so these things are on my mind.)

I keep reading the thread title as “Are There Huge Dancers With Overemphasizing Self-Reliance?”

I can’t speak for Canadians everywhere, but my guess is that self-reliance is higher in less densely populated areas, no matter which province.

Alberta and Saskatchewan, however, have large populations of Mennonites, Hutterites, Mormons, and other faiths that preach self-reliance. But really it cimes down to the fact that in sparsely populated areas self-reliance is a necessity. On our farm, if there was a major snowfall no one was coming to dig us out. We could be stuck there for days or weeks. No one was prepping for the apocalypse - we were prepping for bad weather that comes along every few years.

We didn’t have any long power shortages or major food outages, but it turns out we saved a bundle by being able to buy meat in bulk before prices went through the roof.

The generator is a suitcase generator that has other, non-survival benefits. We plan to use it camping, and are toying with buying a small trailer, for which the generator will provide shore power if we are off-grid. I can also use it to power my telescope gear at a dark site. I try to buy dual-use emergency equipment that will be useful in non-emergencies as well.

That’s exactly backwards. If people with the means to do so can look after themselves, it frees up responders to look after the people who can’t. Whynshould someone capable of looking after themselves rely on limited public resources rather than looking after themselves? I consider self-reliance to be good citizenship.

Expensive? Of course if you are completely poor it’s expensive, but our freezer was $400 at Costco and has probably already saved us at least half of that by allowing us to buy in large quantities at lower prices, and the generator was $499. I bought the smallest and cheapest one that would do the job. You know what I paid a lot more for last year? Home insurance. And our house didn’t even burn down. What a waste of money, huh?

I can’t believe anyone would think that taking steps to care for yourself in an emergency so others don’t have to is some kind of anti-social act. People who don’t have to lean on the state or charity as a matter of need should not lean on the state or on the help of others. That should be basic citizenship. It doesn’t mean ‘every man for himself’, it means ‘don’t worry about me - go help someone who truly needs it.’

? I don’t think anybody said or implied that your purchase of emergency backup equipment is “some kind of anti-social act”. What I said about it is that I don’t think it’s very usefully described as “self-reliance”.