Skip to main content

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

Popular posts from this blog

What About Travis!?

I just watched Hope Floats, the second movie in my I-really-need-to-vegetate night. Now that we have more than three channels, there are so many quality programs on TV! Like movies in the middle of the week. I enjoyed many of the lines in this movie, including:

"I went home and told my mama you had a seizure in my mouth."
(referring to her first french-kissing experience)

"Dancing's just a conversation between two people. Talk to me."
(the conversation in our living room then went,
Girl 1: Only Harry Connick Jr. could say that line without it being incredibly cheezy.
Boy: Without it being cheezy? That's all I heard. Cheez, cheez, cheez.
Girl 2: Yeah, but it was sexy, sexy cheez...sigh.)
"Better do what she says, Travis. Grandma stuffs little dogs."

Bernice: At home we had a pet skunk. Mama used to call it Justin Matisse. Do you think that's just a coincidence? All day long she would scream, "You stink Justin Matisse!" Then one day she just…

Fostering FAQ: What's Her (Mom's) Story?

This is probably the second most common question I hear about the baby currently in our care, right after, "Will you keep her?"

It comes in many forms:

"So, what's her story?"
"Is her mom in the picture?"
"How did she end up in your home?
"Is her mom a drug addict?"
"How could a mom not love such a cute baby!"

I get it. It's natural curiousity, and I know I've asked similar questions of my friends who are adoptive parents.

But here's what I'm learning: a child's story is their own. And equally as important, the parent's story is their own.

Imagine how it might feel to hear that for the foreseeable future, you are not allowed to care for your child. On top of whatever difficult circumstances you are already in - perhaps poverty, social isolation, lack of adequate housing, domestic violence, intergenerational trauma, drug or alcohol dependency, low cognitive functioning, or a myriad of other complex strug…

Simone Weil: On "Forms of the Implicit Love of God"

Simone Weil time again! One of the essays in Waiting for God is entitled "Forms of the Implicit Love of God." Her main argument is that before a soul has "direct contact" with God, there are three types of love that are implicitly the love of God, though they seem to have a different explicit object. That is, in loving X, you are really loving Y. (in this case, Y = God). As for the X of the equation, she lists:

Love of neighbor Love of the beauty of the world Love of religious practices and a special sidebar to Friendship
“Each has the virtue of a sacrament,” she writes. Each of these loves is something to be respected, honoured, and understood both symbolically and concretely. On each page of this essay, I found myself underlining profound, challenging, and thought-provoking words. There's so much to consider that I've gone back several times, mulling it over and wondering how my life would look if I truly believed even half of these things...

Here are a few …