moot point 2014

Mooting dependence-independence-interdependence

2014 theme mooted by Juliette Brown

This is a link to the sound files of the day. Juliette’s introduction failed to be recorded so the text can be found below. All other moots are available as sound files.

Juliette Brown
introduction to the theme:
dependence – independence – interdependence

Andrew Williams
(in[ter])dependence : transactional analysis

Alana Jelinek
objects of encounter:
dependence on trust

Liza Thompson
Jen Clarke
national independence: scotland, northern ireland



10.30 a.m. Sunday 31 August 2014, Juliette Brown

Welcome. I’d like to start this 6th year’s moot point with a couple of business items.

Many here are new to moot point this year, so I will briefly outline the structure and format. Moots are 10 minute propositions by invited guests followed by gentle interrogation by us all.

I will start shortly with introducing the theme, followed by Andrew at 11. At 12 Alana will give us a doing and thinking moot. Lunch at 13 will be framed by the foraging moot. At 14 and 15 Jen and Liza will present linked moots. At 16.30 we will finish, with lifts to stations and weepy farewells. We have sadly been disappointed by the non availability of one of our planned mooters, but I think we can depend on the resources of the group to survive this setback.

The second piece of business is about the culture or values underpinning moot point at the field. Like everything human that takes place in this field, moot point is underpinned by an interest (largely Alana’s) in exploring an ethical engagement with otherness, difference, diversity. What this means in terms of moot point is that people coming here commit to a spirit of generosity toward each other. It seems to me that fear (and a sense that too much is being asked of us) can get in the way of our being kind and generous, so I’d like to remind us all that this isn’t an academic forum, we are not especially testing rigour, we should ideally be enjoying the process! And we come from very different places. Some are experts in their field, others of us experts only in our own minds, but we all are, I think, somewhat anxious about what we have to bring today, and that’s absolutely to be expected.

I am Juliette Brown, I am a psychiatrist, I studied English as an undergraduate, I have some interest in arts, philosophy, anthropology. I proposed a moot point on dependence / independence for 2 reasons:

1. since coming to the field 6 years ago, issues of dependence and independence have cropped up repeatedly – whether it is the amount of shared endeavour needed to fell a tree or build a fence, or the fantasy of off grid self sufficient independence or the particular self-efficacy of growing one’s own food. The reality of the field has slowly shown up both of these extremes to be unsubtle and artificial.

2. secondly, of course, we were here a year ago discussing the option of independence in Scotland, and we’re all now even more acutely aware of the impending vote, and the opportunity to think about what dependence and independence means to a body of people.

I hope that the discussion here today can produce some interesting thoughts. Here’s something to kickstart the discussion:

What influences our reactions and responses to notions of dependence and independence? One major influence – from my perspective – is our early attachment experiences.

In short, attachment theory as framed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth describes a set of behaviours of the infant and his primary care giver that serve to create and maintain a bond between them and help the infant to establish a secure base from which to develop a functioning ego, which can tolerate frustrations. The reverie of the mother, which is her response to his strong emotion, contains the child, accepting his dependence and his emotions and transferring a capacity for him to do the same for himself as a later stage.

Bion said that a failure to do this returns to the child nothing but a nameless dread.

Dependence on the care giver is a function of these years, as it will likely be later in life for many of us, and if it is adequately done, it will not carry associated shame or humiliation. Conversely if there is inadequate, neglectful, indifferent, incompetent or cruel treatment, fuelled by resentment, resistance, anger, or fear, the lifelong ambition will be to avoid dependence at all costs. This will be sustained by an internal working model of relationships – that those on whom we depend will let us down or worse. In deed we will frequently feel that our needs can never be met.

Beyond or perhaps related to universal experiences of early dependence, dependence in our society is a deeply negative concept. The kind of word that has a silent ‘too’ prefacing it – one is never dependent, always TOO dependent., in a society with a horror of need. difficulty managing dependence and difficulties caring for those who are dependent are a feature of the lives of millions of carers and carees, in this country alone, difficulties that are compounded by stigma associated with great and unglamourous need, the negative associations of dependence with a failure of adult tasks, a failure to MEET OUR OWN NEEDS.

Some theorists have contextualised the most recent failures in care in the UK health service using this kind of understanding (Campling, Wesby, Evans, Pollock) – Here, there is a unholy combination of great need, a societal horror of need, individual shame around need, and memories of a ‘persecuted dependence’ (from Martindale), with a system that does not allow room for healthcare workers to acknowledge any of these difficulties in themselves or their charges, to acknowledge just how hard some of this work is.

Independence by contrast is productive, an aspiration, a value particularly pertinent in societies labouring under the illusion of meritocracy, believing it is predominantly the talents of the individual which guarantees him success and reward. Independence is based in positive self regard and self efficacy. Independence, ally of autonomy, initiative, purpose and will. Independence, which encourages self-reliance. Which at times seems to be a preoccupation, paradoxically, of those in society with the most privilege, whose self-reliance and vaunted initiative is founded on the hard labour and often unwilling inward investment of the multitude!

Independence, a deeply romantic notion, for those for whom collective difficult endeavour is uncomfortable? An ideal for those of us averse to compromise? Tending to isolation, even arrogance? Perhaps rooted in a horror of dependence?

One can see that views of dependence and independence rooted in early experience, could easily frame national debate, with independence in particular representing a flight toward a romantic ideal.

To end by engaging these thoughts on a slightly different register – it seems to me that both dependence and independence are individualistic notions, by which I mean rooted in profoundly individual subjectivities and experiences, hopes and fears. They are states of being beleaguered by emotional associations. They stem from a distinctly singular understanding, even when the debate involves a tribe or a nation.

If we could possibly shift our perspective temporarily to consider the social and natural ecologies in which we operate, say, in a place such as this (the field), as well as in our ordinary lives, we can see that both independence and dependence are faintly nonsensical notions.

The truth (and I can talk of truth since reading Derek’s recent work!), in these systems – beyond our individual or social anxieties – is profoundly one of INTER-DEPENDENCE, one of complex webs of reciprocal reliance. For good or ill, (and beyond good and ill), this is the reality. Interdependence politically tempers the extreme poles of ambition and ethics. Interdependence hints at the complexity of systems – be they natural or social. Dependent and independent can become concurrent states. The reality of interdependence can be personally and politically uncomfortable, but it renders outmoded both the idealisation of autonomy and the fear of society’s overwhelming need. Inter-dependent, we can contain the needs of many, and sustain the drive and potency of each individual.

The interdependent reality is that as a planet, set of life forms, species, we stand and fall together, and exist solely because of the other.

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. (This is Martin Luther King in 1963). Our self interests and the interests of others are inextricably linked.


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