Thanks, rleigh, for putting things so clearly. I couldn't have.
To illustrate: I'd managed to set up a Debian system without dbus (libdbus had to go in -- even Emacs depends on it these days). One upgrade and *whoosh* this thing wants to go in (i just could avert it this time by ditching recommends).
I'm on the verge of giving up on binary distros. The (binary) interdependencies are reaching an all-or-nothing level, and for some folks it's by design. I grudgingly half-accepted /bin/ls dependincy on libselinux (why? -- and no, "it's just a teeny-weeny lib", wielded down-thread doesn't convince me. It doesn't seem to scale).
Time for a "reduced" Debian derivative, perhaps: "Curmudgeon's Cut"?