July 17, 2021


Rejecting the Culture of Authenticity (DAVID C. BURRIS, 6/30/21, Public Discourse)

For Taylor, there is a "horizon" of meaningful choices, lifestyles, and virtues against which the self can be measured and deemed to be significant. We are born into a cosmos, which requires individuals to search out and understand their position in a broader order. All attempts at finding or creating the authentic self that reject this basic supposition are doomed to collapse into a naïve subjectivism that levels the moral status of all choices. Without an external, objective basis, even the assumption that the authentic is preferable is left utterly unsupported.

Furthermore, engagement with and reference to significant others are necessary conditions in the pursuit of self-definition. Taylor shows how the very tools of self-definition and discovery are "dialogical" in character. The articulation and innovation of self-identities require languages that allow the self to express or define its significance. Yet, he observes, "no one acquires the languages needed for self-definition on their own." Communication is learned through a process of exchanges with others. We may use these means of communication in solitary ways, but when it comes to working out the contours of our own identity, we often find ourselves engaged in "dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the identities our significant others want to recognize in us." These conversations are formative and constructive of who we regard ourselves to be. Promoters of authenticity underestimate the roles that others play in our personal enjoyment, pleasure, and aspirations. The identity of being an elite track star, for example, is only intelligible when it includes relationships with competitors, coaches, referees, fans, friends, and family members.

Sheehy suggests that unleashing the authentic self requires tentative and provisional ties and responsibilities. This, she predicts, will result in "an enlarged capacity to love ourselves and embrace others." Such an idea could only find purchase in a cultural context in which the discharging of duty and cultivation of virtue increasingly becomes regarded as instrumental, one that acknowledges no greater horizon of significance outside the self and actively ignores the dialogical role that others play in understanding our identities. A constructive conception of authenticity, by contrast, exhorts us to understand that meaning and fulfillment derive from internalizing one's own situatedness and answering the call to live for a world outside of the self.

To God's enduring chagrin, authentic Man turned out selfish and nothing like He had intended.  So, first, He tried curing our authenticity by banishing us, then by rewarding Abel and rejecting Cain, and by drowning everyone and starting over and issuing Commandments and on and on.  Finally, He became one of us to try to show us it wasn't that hard to reject the authenticity of our Created beings and to figure out why we hewed to it so hard.  But then He too succumbed to authenticity and had to forgive us, for we know not what we do.

What is left to us in our Fallen condition is to strive to love one another as He loved us, but to fail at this outward focus on others. 

Posted by at July 17, 2021 7:25 AM