WOOG’S WORLD: I’ve been thnking about independence
Published 10:09 am, Friday, July 8, 2016
Like many Americans — okay, some — this Independence Day weekend got me thinking (so did the recent Brexit referendum, which caused some “leave” voters to crow about their nation’s new “independence.” It’s somewhat ironic for Britain to celebrate that word, particularly at a time when our country is celebrating our independence from them).
So what have I been thinking about? Independence.
Americans have a love/hate relationship with independence. We love the concept, but we’re not exactly falling all over ourselves to be completely free. We romanticize the idea of the open frontier and the lonesome cowboy, the boost-yourself-up-by-your bootstraps philosophy and the model of the self-made man. But in the same breath, we squeal like babies if anyone threatens to take away our Social Security or cut our Medicare. We want the government to stop controlling our lives, unless the government is controlling what women can do with their bodies. We cherish the right to be completely free to buy enough assault rifles to outfit an entire platoon, and we certainly don’t want to infringe upon the rights of folks on the no-fly list to arm themselves to the teeth either. But we also want the government to keep us safe and secure, preferably without surveillance cameras or breaking into our cellphones.
I know, I know. I’m painting plenty of people with a broad, black-and-white brush. I’ve reduced a number of nuanced subjects to a couple of crisp one-liners. But hey, it works for one of the presumptive candidates for president of the United States!
So what does it mean to be an independent man or woman in Westport today?
For one thing, it means we can park wherever we want. If we can afford a very expensive vehicle — or even a moderately expensive one — and we hope to prevent it from being dinged by thoughtless drivers maneuvering into absurdly narrow spaces, we simply take two spots. Or three, by parking diagonally rather than normally. We could, of course, do that in a far corner of the lot, and walk a few extra feet. But that would hardly prove our independence from laws that apply to the common person, but not to us. So we don’t.
To be independent in Westport today means to believe that certain problems do not cross town borders. Westporters are tremendously giving people. We volunteer and support Mercy Learning Center, Near and Far Aid and countless other wonderful organizations in nearby towns. Right here, we go above and beyond for the Gillespie homeless shelter, Project Return and so many others. We give time, money, energy, care and love — and that’s just in Fairfield County. Tons of Westporters are involved in tons of good, important causes around the globe.
And yet, somehow, we have managed to remain independent from sharing solutions to certain problems with our neighbors. Affordable housing is a huge issue. We know that many fellow citizens — including those who work here and help make life easier and safer for us — cannot afford to live in a place like this (or anywhere near).
But whenever affordable housing is proposed, we seek the Goldilocks solution. This site is too small; that one is too pristine. This site is too close to a residential zone; that one is in the middle of a busy thoroughfare.
In terms of independence, “a man’s home is his castle” is about as free as we can be. But — try as we might — our castles (aka McMansions) are not moated off from the rest of our road. Every decision we make affects others. When we build to the edge of our property line, we create environmental runoff issues. When we erect high stone walls for privacy, we change the streetscape.
We are so independent, we often do not know who lives next door. We prefer Netflix to neighborhood block parties, scrolling through Facebook feeds to strolling along the street.
We Westporters are very independent people. What a shame.