I listened to the authenticity program from To The Best of Our Knowledge last night, which takes an appropriately post-modern look at the cult of authenticity.
As with most things, it can be a useful idea/filter at times, but also creates some problems if taken as reflecting something solid or real inherent in the world.
What is authenticity? How does it look?
In a conventional sense, it means to be true to who I am, whatever I take that to be. It may mean being honest – in how I speak and live – about emotions, beliefs, my history, and so on. It could also mean being consistent over time, in terms of keeping my word, and staying with the same or similar beliefs and identities. Similarly with non-human objects, it may mean being honest about its composition, history, and so on.
That sounds good, pretty straight forward, and maybe even desirable to some extent.
But even scratching the surface of this, it all quickly breaks down.
- I can be honest with my experience as it is, here now, but it quickly changes into something else and never repeat.
- Emotions arise, here now, but they are nothing solid or fixed. They are in flux. My experience of them can be filtered in innumerable ways, and if they are not resisted they turn into something that I cannot label even if I wanted to. And I can express them in any number of ways, depending on how the experience of the emotions are filtered and how the expression of them are filtered.
- I can be honest about my beliefs. Yet these too change. And if I look, I see that each belief has infinite causes… family, friends, media, subculture, culture, evolution of the species, and much more. I can be honest about the beliefs being here, but they are not “mine”.
- I can be authentic with my identity, yet this identity is made up of stories, and they have infinite causes and are not “mine”. This identity, of this human self, is not created by this human self. At most, it is maintained locally by this human self, although it is really maintained by the whole of existence.
- I can be authentic about beliefs and identities, yet when I look I find that they are simply thoughts and have no reality or substance beyond being just an ephemeral thought.
- If I am to be authentic in relation to my culture, then which aspects of this culture, and from what time? Again, there is an infinite of aspects and flavors, and an infinity of points of time to choose among. Also, if I look at what is typically considered the most authentic parts of my own culture, I find that most or all of it came from other places, it was all imported at one point. Even if I find something that originated here, it has been influenced and colored by everything else.
- I can be honest about my experience, but this experience is filtered. I experience anger, have an identity as not angry, so it must be someone else who is angry. My authentic experience of myself in that situation is of not being angry, yet if I “own” that anger, then that is what is more authentic.
- I had an opinion in the past, but that was then. Beliefs, identities, interests, passions change over time. The person I was is not the one here now. Am I more authentic if I try to stay consistent over time, or if I go with what is true for me now?
- Everything has infinite causes and effects. (What is “mine” is not really mine.)
- Everything is in flux.
So it all breaks down if I take a closer look at it, which means two things. First, it gives me a freedom from the whole idea of authenticity, and also from ideas of solidity and consistency over time. And this is also a freedom to use the term authenticity in a conventional way, in ways that have a limited and practical function, knowing that it is nothing more than that.
– infinite causes, what is alive here now (always), beliefs (what comes out of), identity (what take oneself to be),
– mutability/change, always new/different (anything… ecosystems, food, individuals, etc.)
– own what is here (vs. disowning, denying, although if disowned, then that authentic)