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Reading in 2013: The Authenticity Hoax

My first non-fiction read of the year was The Authenticity Hoax. It is, in short, a book about the meaning of life and our search for significance.

These two quotes essentially summarize the main argument (although tracing the history and trajectory of our culture’s status competitions is, I think, worth the read):

“The quest for authenticity is about searching for meaning when all the traditional sources no longer have any sound, rational justification.* This book is an exploration of the quintessentially modern attempt at replacing these sources with something more acceptable in a world that is not just disenchanted but also socially flattened, cosmopolitan, individualistic, and commercialized…Absent from our lives is any sense of the world as a place of intrinsic value, within which each of us can lead a purposeful existence. And so we seek the authentic in a multitude of ways, looking for a connection to something deeper in the jeans we buy, the food we eat, the vacations we take, the music we listen to, and the politicians we elect. In each case, we are trying to find at least one sliver of the world, one fragment of experience, that is innocent, spontaneous  genuine, and creative, and not tainted by commercialization, calculation, and self-interest.” 
“In the end, authenticity is a positional good, which is valuable precisely because not everyone can have it. The upshot is that, like the earlier privilege given to the upper classes, or the later distinction gained from being cool, the search for the authentic is a form of  status competition. Indeed, in recent years authenticity has established itself as the most rarified form of status competition in our society, attracting only the most discerning, well-heeled, and frankly competitive players to the game.”

My biggest disappointment with the book was that it does not suggest alternate ways of living/finding meaning from the ones it discounts, and does not acknowledge/address some of the obvious critiques of his perspective.

But it certainly challenged me to consider how much of my own quest for “authentic” living is motivated by status-seeking and the desire to place myself in a specific social/class context. Mea culpa, I am guilty of posturing. There are more thoughts here that I'm still sorting out - thoughts on when "authentic living" is a goal, and when it's a result. Thoughts on recognizing the competing values of our culture, and the impossibility of living 100% "rightly" and how privileged I am that my life even has space for such contemplation. Most people in the world do not.

Has anyone else read this book? What do you make of Potter's thoughts on how/why "authenticity" has become such a high value in our culture? 

*I should say, I fundamentally disagree with this premise, but reading the book knowing his foundation is helpful in understanding the mindset of those who agree with the rejection of all religious & spiritual beliefs.


Anonymous said…
Sounds like an interesting book. And you're right, we are very lucky to have the time to think about these things. I'm looking forward to reading more about what you are thinking! I like that you write about things that make me think...I find myself more aware of certain things around me related to things you've written. That is all very unspecific, I know. I'm sorry. Oh, an example - there was a news item recently about changes to human smuggling laws. Normally it would have gone in one ear and out the other, but I paid much more attention and actually thought about it because of what I had read on your blog. So I thank you.
Beth said…
Thank YOU! Thanks for reading along and thinking. It's encouraging to hear this.
Anonymous said…
The next step will be for me to actually DO something based on what I've been reading and thinking. I'm currently thinking about what I can do to support the rights of Canada's Native people. I'm starting by trying to learn about the issue. It's at least a start, I suppose, to listen, care, and learn, but I feel I should do more.
Beth said…
I think listening/caring/learning is a HUGE start! It's out of these things that sustainable & heartfelt action will come. :)

(I've also been feeling the desire to learn & understand more about First Nations issues. I just read this blog entry from a woman out west called "A Christian Response to Idle No More" that I found insightful:
Jackie said…
Just started reading last night, will let you know how it goes.
Lisa said…
That was really interesting, thank you! ~Lisa

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