Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"... authenticity has travelled so far from its roots that it has become its opposite ...

"The notion of authenticity that emerged during the Enlightenment was a ‘close twin’ of moral autonomy. To think and act for oneself, and therefore to develop a truer, more authentic expression of the self, required one to be independent of the judgement of others. But in its modern, politicised form, authenticity has been institutionalised as a ‘social aspiration’ – something that people are expected to cultivate, and which therefore depends on validation by others. ‘[T]his new form of dependency, generated by the ethic of authenticity, has another name: narcissism’,"
That's from an interesting piece at Spiked.

“Authenticity” has long troubled me. Once upon a time I thought the concept morally useless. I'd no longer say that. I think that it has a place but that it is of limited use. It is one of a number of concepts—purity, sincerity and truth are other examples—that seem terribly important for morality but turn out to do very little real work.

Or, to put another way, I suspect the contention that authenticity has traveled so far from what it was originally meant to mean that it now means something like its opposite is true but the real problem was trying to make too much of the concept in the first place. It's a perfect example of Wittgenstein's dictum that you cannot pack more meaning into a word just as you cannot make a teacup hold more than a teacup-full by pouring a gallon of water over it.

1 comment:

  1. I've never understood what the fuss was over "authenticity" in the first place. It doesn't strike me as a difficult concept at all. To declare someone "authentic" is to say that they are, essentially, genuine. They are not affecting anything, they wear no masks. Their interior world, and what they show to the outside world, are in full congruence. What they seem to be, is exactly what they are.

    What they show the world is an AUTHENTIC reproduction of what is actually inside them. They are "the genuine article". You can trust that what they say about themselves is what they actually believe, because lying about something like that is inherently misrepresenting themselves to the world, and is thus being inauthentic instead.

    In short, all the labeling on their tin is correct. What you see is what you get. A person who fully lives that credo is perfectly authentic. The opposite to this approach is the "poseur".

    I find this to be a fully virtuous and moral precept to cultivate in oneself, as it increases the strength of social ties when we have confidence that someone is not deceiving us about themselves... and no one is less likely to do so than the truly authentic person.

    The problem that the referenced article points out with the modern approach to authenticity is fully analogous to the observation that sincerity is the most vital component to compelling personal interactions... and that once you learn how to fake that effectively, the rest is easy.

    The blame for this decay lies directly at the foot of the postmodernists, where the blame for nearly everything else that has gone wrong in society lies.

    "Selfie culture" is simply "Thoroughly Postmodern Millie", virally propagated via social media. The implications are left as an exercise for the reader.