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