Throughout Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford makes the case for a certain kind of self-reliance. He argues for the value of being able to understand and master the physical things you own–understanding the principles behind their operation as well as how to repair or maintain them. But then, at the very end, he makes the following comment:

“But viewed from a wider angle, self-reliance is a sad doctrine, arguably a consolation for the collapse of institutions of mutual care… Family bonds give way to social security, which in turn gives way to the individual retirement account. To fill the void that comes with isolation, and give it a positive cast, we posit the ideal of the sovereign self, unencumbered by attachments to others and radically free.”

With the breakdown of networks of mutual care, isolation increases. But if we choose to view this isolation in a positive light–telling ourselves we’re not isolated, we’re “self-reliant”–we may find ourselves in a vicious cycle. It’s possible that in our pursuit of being more self-reliant, we’re inadvertently continuing to weaken our networks of relationships. And the result is further isolation.

It’s one thing to want to take responsibility for ourselves and our possessions. It’s another to use the concept of self-reliance as a way to sugarcoat the isolation we experience. Because if it’s true that we really do need others, and others also need us, how will we ever deal with isolation if we choose to see it in a positive light?