Against authenticity

C C Offline

EXCERPTS: . . . They [romantics] argue that authenticity is one of humankind’s chief virtues and that betraying it is immoral and tragic—immoral, because it requires a person to lie about their underlying being; tragic, because it smothers the unique self beneath a dull blanket of conformity.

I do not share this enthusiasm for authenticity because it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature. At best, authenticity can be undesirable; at worst, it is philosophically incoherent.

The word “authenticity” is sometimes useful in ordinary discourse—we may say that a person is authentically a lover of the arts or authentically cheerful or authentically kindhearted, and it’s obvious what these claims mean. Nor will I deny that lying about one’s own traits and tendencies is often a bad idea and sometimes genuinely immoral. Nevertheless, authenticity, as understood by many of its modern champions, is not a noble or even attainable ideal.

[...] Romantics may respond that it is not inauthentic to repress a fleeting desire to insult, assault, or murder someone else. It is inauthentic to suppress and distort one’s fundamental beliefs and desires. But is it inauthentic for a violent sociopath or a hateful racist to suppress his desires? If not, why not? Did Joseph Stalin live more authentically or less than he would have otherwise because he obtained near absolute power and could therefore act on his whims without fear of reprisal?

To put a finer point on the problem: Suppose we are comparing the behavior of Thomas and John, two people who are, for whatever combination of reasons, both full of hatred and envy. But while Thomas struggles to contain his rage, his competitiveness, and his jealousy, John does not. After years of hard work, Thomas has built a successful company and become a revered businessman who provides hundreds of jobs to a once-impoverished community. He attends church and is kind to everyone, despite his seething resentment. John, on the other hand, is unemployed and constantly bickers with others. He frequents bars and brawls to relieve his rage. But he does not lie—he is candid about his contempt for everyone. The champion of authenticity appears to be committed to claiming that John should be celebrated whereas Thomas should be condemned.

When I challenge those who value authenticity with questions like these, they generally respond that wanting to be a murderous dictator or a bitter bar fighter are artificial and alien desires. And since racism must be learned, that too is artificial and alien. After a string of such responses, they usually end up defining the true self as that self of which they morally approve. Of course, this makes the praiseworthiness of authenticity tautological, since the true self is, by this definition, capable only of generating morally laudable beliefs and behaviors... (MORE - missing details)
Syne Offline
Yes, the notion of "I feel it so it must be true and I must act upon it" that masquerades as moral sense among the left is nothing more than the latest justification for their hedonism and complete lack of any moral sense of responsibility. It's just subjective solipsism that only incidentally finds agreement with others, in a mutually selfish sort of social contract. It's a "don't judge me and I won't judge you" sort of truce that can't withstand anyone who doesn't abide by it.

This makes it not only ignoble but also prone to outright violence, as they then justify any dissent as "words are violence" or "an assault against their being" and feel morally justified to respond in kind.
Magical Realist Offline
We have Heidegger to thank for the concept of authenticity, which he interpreted as the deliberate openness to the possibilities of our being. Inauthenticity is a floating along in the sleepiness of everydayness and a complacency with the mindset of the They. Death, as the absolute impossibility of our future being, resolves us and makes us take seriously our being here. We are awakened (not "woke") by the responsibility of our choices to be in the world in the ways that most deeply belong to us.

“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life - and only then will I be free to become myself. ”
― Martin Heidegger

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