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.

Friday, March 20, 2020

“The feeling increasingly is that experts and the media are all part of this elite class ...

" ... that is self-dealing and is looking down on less-educated and less-fortunate people, and [that] they can’t be trusted to tell the truth.” He adds, “That dynamic … has been reinforced” by the emergence of the “conservative media ecosystem,” which unstintingly presents “elites” as a threat to viewers."

I'll plead guilty on that. That's exactly what I believe. The only thing I'd add is that many of these elites are not particularly elite.

This week, the state broadcaster, CBC, published a piece about how to communicate about COVID-19 on social media without causing panic. That is stunning in its lack of self-awareness.

The local test centre is at the Brewer Arena that is a half-block from my house. Access to the arena is through Bronson Avenue but you can also cut through my neighbourhood to get there. There are barriers set up at the end of my street to stop people from doing that. As I walked t he god this morning I watched a man drive around the barrier and park and walk over to the arena. I looked him right in the eyes and he guiltily looked away.

This sort of thing makes me angry. It's easy to follow the rules, just do it unless there is a damn good reason not to. Your personal convenience  is not a damn good reason. If you live in a government city like Ottawa, you get to seeing this sort of abuse. The very people who spend their days thinking of new ways to regulate other people's lives, cheerfully ignore or circumvent regulations because they're special or something.

All my life I've angered people I know with my lacking of respect for authorities. That lack of respect pisses them off. I think we need a lot less respect for authority and a lot more respect for rules.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Self Reliance

I am preparing a seminar on Thomas Aquinas for this afternoon. I decided that I would scandalize my fellow Catholics by, approvingly, quoting Emerson. (This is not the first time I do this.) I love Emerson.

The following is not the quote I plan to use. It's just an old favourite that I noticed because it's underlined with an exclamation point beside it in my copy.
Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done in apology or extenuation of their living in the world,—as invalids and the insane pay high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself, and not for spectacle.
For four of five generations before me, every boy educated in the Northeast read that essay. They read it. They were called upon to read it aloud at public gatherings. And they were made to write precis and responses to it. It was in my high school reader but my teachers hated it and only called attention to it to tell us how horrible they thought it was. By the end of the 1970s it had disappeared from textbooks.

It's a shame because it's very good advice. Virtue is about becoming the person you want to be. And live your virtues, don't talk about them. That means DON'T EXPLAIN THEM! Yes, you might discuss them quietly with a trusted friend whom you can be vulnerable with to see how well they hold up. Otherwise, just live them.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Americana: From "Jack and Diane" to "American Kids"

Very few people would qualify this as Americana and that is their loss for this is not only Americana, it's about as good as Americana gets. Sometimes "Americana" can feel like the genre for people who love country music but hate its fans.

Which brings me to John Mellencamp. If you were alive in the 1980s you will remember that he became the lightning rod for music fans who loved traditional American music but hated traditional America. Ironically, he was seen as an inauthentic Bruce Springsteen wannabee. Why is that ironic? This is why: “Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something about which he has had absolutely no personal experience,” Bruce Springsteen. Mellencamp, on the other hand, was the real thing and he wrote about a life he had real experience of such as, "A little ditty about Jack and Diane, two American kids growin' up in the heartland."

Later, Mellencamp would claim that the song was really about an inter-racial couple. That might be true but I don't believe it. I think that was what he said when he finally gained some respect from the cool kids who used to hate him. Ultimately, it doesn't matter because a song only succeeds to the extent that you can apply it to your life. That means both people in the interracial couple and the same race couple have to be able to imagine its about them.

Or, to be more accurate, that it is about the person they used to be because the whole thing is hindsight. It's about having grown up too fast.

Which brings me to Kenny Chesney, who was 14 years old the summer Jack and Diane was on top. You couldn't avoid it that summer. Chesney  didn't write "American Kids" but it speaks to that experience. It's a song that says, we were that generation and we turned out okay. Which generation exactly? It probably doesn't matter. Any generation from back then.

There are two John Mellencamp shout-outs in the song. There is the title and the line, "Growin' up in little pink houses, makin' out on living room couches." Kant famously said that he understood Plato better than Plato understood himself, Chesney can make the same claim about Mellencamp.