The myth of self-sufficiency

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Self-sufficiency is a dangerous myth. We need each other. Love your circle, cultivate it, and enlarge it. Share food you grow or make with your community, and encourage others in their food production activities. Community is never perfect and takes hard work, because people have such varied visions, ideas, and values. But do the hard work of finding common ground, and build community with the people around you.

While self-reliance, as I have said in writings many times before, is possible and desirable even (total) self-sufficiency is impossible and thus also a dangerous myth. Dangerous because some people believe that this can be achieved.

No man is an island.

The term self-sufficiency became used, I believe, as a substitute for self-reliance in the early days, such as in the early 1970s when Seymour and others wrote books on the subject of self-sufficiency. More or less it was an error in the choice of words. In due course, however, it was being adopted by other writers and advocates to mean not self-reliance but in actual fact self-sufficiency, of being able to do everything on one's own, not needing other people.

Even the Native Americans were not self-sufficient in that they, even as a band or tribe, would not do everything alone. They traded with others who had and made things that they did not make or have and the same goes for many other such indigenous peoples. For an individual or even a family total self-sufficiency, without trading with and getting help from other people is just not feasible, at least not in the long run.

Man was never entirely self-sufficient on his own. He always was in a group where some had skills that others did not have. No one can be a master of all trades, so to speak, and there are limits to what anyone, even as a nuclear family, can achieve.

Self-reliance is a different kettle of fish and that is achievable but it does not mean that you can do everything and live without the help and skills of others.

Why did I say that self-sufficiency is a dangerous myth and why call it dangerous?

It is a dangerous fallacy even to believe that anyone, on his or her own, or even in a small nuclear family, can be entirely self-sufficient. That, however, is a tale we are often being told by those who want to sell us this or that tool to make self-sufficiency easier for us. Hello! Let's try it again. Self-sufficiency cannot be achieved and all you do is throw your money at someone who is just out to make a buck to your detriment.

As said, we can be self-reliant and live with less, much less, but we cannot be ever entirely self-sufficient all on our own. You can have a self-sufficient – or almost self-sufficient – settlement or village but self-sufficiency for an individual or a family is something that is not attainable and the belief that it I can lead to fatal consequences. Hence me saying that it is a dangerous myth.

© 2015