You are sitting alone in your house. You are self-employed. You are not in a romantic relationship and have severed ties with friends and family. Does this make you independent?
Since we all use language, we are automatically involved in a chain of connection. Language implies the existence of other people to communicate with. To learn a language is to become involved in a relationship.
We do not create the languages we speak, we are born into an ongoing conversation. We do not name ourselves, we are named by other people. As we grow up, we are forced to identify with the identities we were assigned.
We are only able to navigate the world by using the words of others. We do not categorize our environments, other people label them for us. As we grow up, we are forced to accept and internalize these terms. Our ‘private’ desires can only be recognized and formatted through a language shared with others. For this reason, Jacques Lacan argues: “the unconscious is the discourse of the other.”
There is a difference between communication and language. Communication refers to sounds, looks, and movements utilized by all species to send a message. Language refers to an alphabet, words, rules of grammar, and a system of numbers used to send a message. Humans are the only species that use language. However, language is not simply an instrument. Language is the ultimate expression of humanity. We require recognition from others to gain coherence at all – and language makes that possible. Humans are language and language is human.
Humans use language because, unlike other animals, we have self-consciousness. This self-consciousness separates us from others (i.e. ‘I’ am not ‘you’) and the external world (i.e. ‘I’ am not ‘that’). Language is an attempt to fill these gaps. Thus, language is always deployed in the service of unity.
We can only exist in relation to others. There is no ‘I’ without ‘you’ and there is no ‘us’ without ‘them’. At birth, our body is literally connected to another person. However, the Western world fails to appreciate this. The father of modern philosophy – Rene Descartes – declared “I think, therefore I am.” This line of thought suppresses our social being in favor of individualism. Instead of “I think, therefore I am” – we should move toward the Ubuntu mantra of “I am because of who we all are.”
The word ‘independent’ depends upon the word ‘dependent’ to gain meaning.
The word ‘dependent’ depends upon the word ‘independent’ to gain meaning.
This is because language is dependency. Language prohibits independence. What we call ‘independence’ is simply a degree of dependency.
We need to stop saying we are independent.