Why Deny the Obvious Child?

Have you ever sensed while talking among friends, family or people you work with that much of our conversation is derivative from mediated cultural sources and sounds more like we’re speaking through second-hand voices instead of directly from our own authentic voice?

But maybe you wonder as I do what our interests, our sense of ourselves and of others would be like were we able to enjoy the feel of our own authenticity? Would our experience of the world then become more immediate rather than one that is heavily mediated? …and would gaining an understanding of what authenticity looks like further the effort to more cooperative and peaceful relations?

Perhaps until we are better able to experience authenticity through our immediate senses and perceptions (is this Hillman and Corbin’s Thought of the Heart?), in which it is understood how our ideas and language affect our daily lives, especially negotiating the choices and decisions at hand, we will not gain a sense of what authenticity looks and feels like, but will forever be placing it outside of ourselves and especially at the foot of a perceived expert or anyone we allow to speak for us. Of course, this is tricky because we learn and borrow ideas and language from each other all the time. That borrowing may not necessarily take away our voice if we work to develop the honesty and skill of sensing and  perceiving our immediate surroundings.

Paradoxically, without both differentiation and unity between self and other we may never know the authenticity that follows from honesty, understanding and compassion in ourselves and for others. 

The problem of authenticity and authority is for each of us a personal issue as well as a cultural one. Who do we trust? What makes an idea viable for us? What do we mean by the idea of “real” and “reality” that we often refer to? Does our use of those terms indicate who and what we have determined to be trustworthy? These are modern terms only recently coming into use to mean “authentic” and more recently coming to mean an objective actuality referring to the state of things.

Perhaps we all look for ways to authenticate and authorize our ideas and knowledge through others because we fear claiming any authenticity for ourselves. We want to be right, and need a basis to make choices, or a way to explain why we have no choice for how we live our life, but we also need to explain, or explain away, where our ideas and decisions come from. Authority abounds, whether from the state, the church or the laboratory, but in a highly mediated collective culture it less often comes directly from ourselves.

Collective sources more than ever have become our resources for knowledge. Whether it’s the popular media of television, radio, newspapers or internet, structures of our work environment, communities, church institutions, schools and governments, getting along in society means trusting in these sources to have our best interest and the common good in mind. If we question them there are often consequences, sometimes it’s just easier to ride the bus.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Bob Dylan

Today we are saturated with information and communication as well as choices in media – ways to participate in community activities – churches, sports, travel, even diet and exercise have become part of the cultural conversation. Although having choices can be freeing, we can only eat one meal at a time. But is it possible to eat and be healthy by attending to our own diet and feel our bodily reactions? Would we dare to?

The shadow side of being overly saturated in collectivity and culture is that the more ways we have to keep from being alone (or from boredom as some say) the less it seems that we need each other or recognize authenticity. We don’t as easily trust what a friend says, when we have placed authenticity in collective structures and a select few who have been collectively chosen as the Experts.

Expertise can be authentic, but a claim that one is an expert is an over reach; a misunderstanding of the nature of ourselves for it implies that our nature is static when it is ever-changing as much as Heraclitus’ flowing river.

When I ponder the possibility of creating a culture of authenticity, the disagreements, whether about religion, politics, science, the use of technology, limited and valuable resources, I see us more and more driven by ideas, technologies, desires, and choices that we don’t have the time or the resources to understand and so we punt, leaving it all to the experts, who also punt, and so I ask myself, who are the experts leaving it to?

“Some people say a lie is just a lie
But I say the cross is in the ballpark
Why deny the obvious child?” Paul Simon

28 thoughts on “Why Deny the Obvious Child?

  1. This post resonates deeply with me – I have had these questions on my mind a great deal lately, as I am only just now discovering the importance of individual intuition and learning to hear and trust my own. We are inundated daily by the advice of specialists – whose conclusions, even based on rigorous scientific research, are often confusing and contradictory. To me, it seems even “the facts” cannot be trusted or used as a means to prove the worth of an objective authority, knowing how even the scientific process is vulnerable to manipulation (even unintended) and results of studies to misrepresentation. Indeed, the “animal instinct” within us seems to be, at present, the most reliable source of knowing. This is a freeing thought – one that would seem to be the source of great individual empowerment in society. Thank you for this very thought-provoking post!

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    • You’re welcome! I very much agree that we’re not suspicious enough or even curious enough about life and rely too much on the latest consensus.
      It is freeing to, I so agree here, to come to know through the body or through the emotions and suffering of one’s life and to be find our way to a deeper trust in life.
      I recently changed my diet (2 years ago), and although I would never say it’s for everyone, I am amazed at how much better I feel and that I have only had one bout of a head cold in that time, and no flu shots! But, many people just think I am crazy or that it’s just a coincidence, because again, we are losing the ability to know from the inside.
      Thanks for sharing your insights here!

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  2. Your post is what I struggle with – and the idea that Hillman discusses in ‘The Soul’s Code’ – that we are not here to make ourselves happy but to fulfill an inner calling, the daemonic calling within each of us. I don’t think I have gotten there yet, in some ways I feel like I am wondering through the wasteland. Isn’t it the daemon within each of us that drives us to be authentic – to its own urgings and desires? What does Rumi say? Unfold your own myth? And how can I do that when I am infected to the point that I can recite the jingo to a cornflake commercial of my childhood but cannot identify the bird singing outside my window?

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    • Excellent points! I try to remind myself that even though I don’t know all of their names, I can still listen to the birds and other critters.
      ” Isn’t it the daemon within each of us that drives us to be authentic – to its own urgings and desires?”
      Yes, I think so and I think it can be frightening, like navigating without necessarily knowing where the trip will take you.

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  3. Experts need to be challenged all the time – they are like Saruman sitting in his tower, which can be toppled any moment. They embody the planet Saturn and they should remember that no structure in this world is permanent.
    I generally avoid the media, do not have a tv set. I have a deep distrust of what I read or hear through official channels. I hope this is not paranoia;-) . Looking for authenticity is very important to me – it’s an ongoing process.

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  4. Tough one Debra, but extremely exciting. I have come to understand that there is a degree of authenticity within the collective sources you describe. We cannot simply see them as void of all authenticity. Hidden within them are genuine levels of truth, but that’s not to deny their sheer falsehoods and the danger therein.

    Having said that though, my life or sense of self cannot simply be formed or shaped by this objective dimensional influence. There’s something far deeper. My life includes a deeply subjective dimension. The more I honestly interpret and come to understand my own depths and walk with those who do the same, the more transparent and authentic my sense of self becomes I know there are also pitfalls in our subjectivity, but I believe we grow in our skill to negotiate them as we do this kind of inner work of interpretation. The more clearly I see and understand these depths, the more I grow in authenticity and transparency.

    So for me the objective (collective sources) and the subjective (inner interpretation) are non-dualistic. They dance together, and in the dance, bring about authenticity and truth. And that for me comes about only where there is the dimension of depth and interpretation in both. Wonderful post, Debra – thank you.

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    • You’re making me think Don, which I enjoy!
      Yes, I like the image of the dance. Isn’t that where the persuasion takes place and leads our hearts to find love and embrace in that underlying ineffable world we share? Thank you for thinking out loud because I think the point is not one over the other, but being in the dance, and yet acknowledging the power of both the subjective, collective and the need for personal immediate animal sense.

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  5. Even when it comes to authenticity, there are two kinds – objective and subjective. Objective authenticity is easy to validate. If someone claims to be an expert, the facts will show the world whether he is one. Here, trust too is placed in an expert to the extent one is well informed, so the responsibility to explore is ours as much as it is theirs. So, yes, the burden of trust on experts can remain at little here. What I find most difficult is to be authentic is subjectively in the sense that Heidegger or Kierkegaard mention. Heidegger says that one should be primarily true to one’s own existence and this is authenticity. No amount of verifiable “external” facts validated by experts will help one decide what should be one’s own authentic way of life. Such is the quest of truth/authenticity. Kierkegaard says that truth is subjective which means that thought it is very important, it still is a very personal endeavor and experience. In the exploration of this kind of subjective authenticity, the burden is totally on the individual.

    So, depending on which authenticity we want, we can transfer the responsibility either to the experts or ourselves.

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    • Authenticity, I see is that which I can know from immediate sense, an animal knowing. It will lead to fact as much as an experts claim will.
      “If someone claims to be an expert, the facts will show the world whether he is one.”
      Yes, but I still hold to the idea that one can have an expertise, but is authenticated only when others can verify through their own animal sense that which is true and that within modern culture which is dominated by mediated experience, we risk losing and trusting our senses giving away our authenticity to others who know better.
      Otherwise we cling to experts as a substitute for immediate sense. Then we don’t recognize when harm is being done, to ourselves or to others.
      I must confess that I am not well versed enough in Heidegger or Kierkegaard and may be misunderstanding your point.
      My fear is that we are giving away a capacity to know from our immediate sense and substituting it with collective values and knowledge, out of fear and a desire not to rock the boat.
      I guess I am less concerned with what is subjective truth vs. objective truth and more concerned with our ability to relate to each other without the need to cite experts, statistics and facts, which can always be manipulated to uphold our favorite prejudices. I’d rather know what you know from your experience, regardless of the truth, because that is an opening between us in which we both must rely on our own resources to engage one another.
      Am I making any sense?
      Thank you for your note, it is making me think and to attempt to clarify what I am afraid might be muddy.

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