“It's equally lucky to find your exact place in [the] world,” Simone de Beauvoir writes in the early pages of her book The Mandarins. To find your exact place in this world begins with the assumption of a certain place. It defines finding one’s self beyond a physical location, perhaps along with the mental space that is self-sufficient. With this sentence, she also opens a new door for inquisitive readers: What is a self-sufficient space?
Self-sufficiency is a concept we come across not only in philosophy, psychology, and literature, but also in agriculture, politics, economy (i.e. autarchy), and many other fields. From an etymological perspective, self-sufficiency derives from autárkeia (autós meaning “essence, self” and arkéō meaning “sufficiency”), a characteristic limited to deities for a long time, especially in Ancient Greece. It’s not that surprising to attribute self-sufficiency only to deities in the social order of antiquity in which individuals needed each other to survive and lived in groups to meet their needs since they couldn’t produce everything on their own. Later on, this concept which was frequently mentioned by Aristotle started to be regarded as the most significant tool to live a good life (eudaimonia) because it essentially describes a content life rather than happiness. Therefore, it can be regarded as a concept that paints a more realistic picture of life with challenges instead of a mere quest for happiness.
Then, what does it mean to be self-sufficient? According to Aristotle, it’s what makes life worth choosing and what doesn’t lack. Although this description talks about an existence that is hard to achieve, a more modern interpretation would be to be less dependent on others, or more precisely, mean a lack of dependence on others and being sufficient for one’s self both physically and psychologically. Despite its attractive connotation, this gives birth to a state of discomfort and demands that one lives and produces in peace with it.
Can we live an absolutely self-sufficient life? Does setting such high standards for adopting an entirely self-sufficient life change the perspective of the society we live in or are we throwing caution to the wind? I guess it is the latter. This is exactly why we need a more accessible definition of self-sufficiency because considering that a lifestyle that is completely independent of the external world is quite utopic for most of us, making such an understanding accessible to wider populations seems more beneficial and realistic. For instance, can’t we define it as self-sufficient when you sew the hole on your pants, cook dinner for yourself instead of ordering takeout, or go on a walk on your own when you’re bored? Then, how wrong would it be to call this the courage to be alone with one’s self and the skill to take on life on your own?
When we bring all these thoughts together, being self-sufficient prerequisites production but it doesn’t stipulate that you need to produce everything yourself. The main problem probably stems from a lack of understanding of this nuance because, evolutionarily, our minds tend to see the world in black and white to optimize the use of our cognitive resources. Hence, it’s highly likely that describing self-sufficiency as a lifestyle in which you grow all your vegetables, produce everything you need at home, and fulfill all your mental requirements by yourself can frighten us and keep us from taking this step. However, accepting the existence of gray areas and adopting this lifestyle in certain areas instead of going off to live a completely self-sufficient life can be an endeavor that benefits both the world and our psyche.
The recent “reducetarian movement” which describes a lifestyle in which people consume less meat, especially due to ethical concerns, serves as a great example to acknowledge these gray areas. Can’t we use the logic behind this movement to reduce our dependence on others instead of completely diminishing it and to make it a more accessible lifestyle?
Of course, it would be very naive to deny that these actions would have economic consequences that are counterintuitive for the operation of the system in which we live. However, realizing that this is a more innocent, pro-social, and constructive rebellion against that very system can lead us as we internalize the process. In his book İnsan Olmak (Being Human, Engin Geçtan talks about this very process - living life in an active way requires skills that will constructively spark the changes you wish to see in the world.
The biggest advantage of this will be to collect the resources that are necessary to live a healthy life around us in case the ones we depend on are lost one day. The ambiguity we feel when we’re alone, especially recently, and the existential anxiety we experience can be read as a sign of how underdeveloped our self-sufficiency muscles are. It wouldn’t be hard to guess that individuals who are used to spending a calm day at home without an external stimulant, i.e. to being on their own, will reap more benefits during these challenging times.
Since being self-sufficient doesn’t only describe a physical production process, we can count beginning somewhere as a victory. Therefore, the next time we have some free time on our hands, we can minimize the external stimulants around us to improve our ability to be on our own by planting a few seeds in one corner of our balcony or fixing our favorite mug which broke last week instead of buying a new one. Wouldn’t it be worth it to try and be self-sufficient both physically and psychologically?
words: Didar Zeytun
florist & photography: Yunus Karma