The Paradox of 21st Century Self-Sufficiency

Alex Kaplan

What does it mean to be self-sufficient? Self-sufficiency is defined as “the state of not requiring any aid, support or interaction for survival, or a state of personal autonomy.” But are you not self-sufficient if you [incrementally] require any of these things? Or are not an autonomist?

In America, we like to think of ourselves as capable, driven people who will find a way to get the job done, no matter how arduous. The truth is that we are not always able to live up to this ideal. In his essay America and Americans John Steinbeck writes, “We spend our lives in motor cars, yet most of us do not know enough about a car to look in the gas tank when the motor fails.  Our lives as we live them would not function without electricity, but it is a rare man or woman who, when the power goes off, knows how to look for a burned-out fuse and replace it.” This quote is powerful, as it shatters many of our beliefs about our own capability.

In 21st century America, we have a plethora of devices and gadgets to oversimplify everything. These inventions are great, but do they make us self-sufficient? Or do they do the exact opposite?

Take the Internet, for example. Many people behold it, depend it, and employ it daily. We use it to store files and photos, connect with family and friends, and acquire knowledge about the world. We think we are very independent because we have access to all this information and use the Internet as a public forum.  But when the Wi-Fi goes down in your house, do you know how to fix it? Many of us would turn the router off than on again, but what about when that fails to resolve the problem? Few of us would know to check the Ethernet cables and ports, or anything beyond that. Does it make a person self-sufficient if they know how to use the Internet, but not how to fix it?

Now let’s concentrate of self-sufficiency within the Latin community. The students of Latin are generally high achieving, extremely motivated, hard working individuals. Here, we are told we are leading the charge into tomorrow and that we are capable of anything we set our sights on. One may think, wow, this student body sounds superb, these children sound very self-sufficient. But why is it that I still hear people in the hallways asking where Division Street is, even though they’ve lived in Chicago their entire lives?

It is one thing to be able to perform an endless amount of schoolwork tasks; it is another to know how to navigate your own city. This brings us to the classic argument of which is more important-book smarts or street smarts. To tie this into self-sufficiency, are you self sufficient if you possess one or the other, or must you be able to do both?

Self-sufficiency requires versatility, and I think the answer to this question is that to be self-sufficient you must be resourceful and adaptable to many circumstances. A person who can name every single intersection in the city but cannot do algebra is not self-sufficient, nor is someone who plays nine sports and has straight A’s but doesn’t know how to ride a public bus. It is necessary to have a grasp of how to use the technology of today, but even more indispensable to have an idea of how they work in order to be able to fix them when things go wrong.

This is in no regard a conclusive article. The idea of self-sufficiency is very nuanced, enough to warrant many explorations and discussions like this article. These words are just where I stand on the matter; they are in no way final, indisputable or even close to correct.]]>