Friday, September 9, 2022


Bo Winegard at Quillette argues "Against Authenticity." "[T]he most authentic thing we can do is strive to transcend ourselves and become what we are not."
.... Humans are complicated and multifaceted; they are capable of suppressing impulses and of outright lying. And society often encourages such suppressions and deceptions, rewarding those who politely respond to “How are you today?” with, “Great, how about you?” while punishing those who honestly respond, “Metaphysical despair is eating a hole in my heart, my dog is dying, I am lonely, and I get no joy from life.” ....

Because we are both cooperative and highly competitive, our thoughts and impulses can be prosocial or antisocial. Some of those antisocial thoughts and impulses are relatively benign, though potentially offensive. Most of us have unflattering opinions about those with whom we interact, which we wisely suppress. This is one of the reasons children are both exasperating and effortlessly funny: They do not restrain their thoughts. If they think your eyes are too bulgy, your nose is too big, or your hair is too thin, they will say so. ....

The celebration of authenticity is premised, often only half-knowingly, on a quasi-Rousseauist belief that humans are naturally good and only corrupted by society. But this belief is patently wrong. Humans are not naturally good or evil. Rather, they are flawed, limited, and contradictory creatures, capable of envisioning a peaceful, cooperative society of abundance, but unable to achieve it because their efforts are undermined by selfishness and rivalry. Although they cannot fully achieve their moral goals, they can, with the guidance of wise norms and institutions, create a lively and flourishing civilization. And the function of these wise norms and institutions is to suppress, discipline, and reshape our natural inclinations. It is, in other words, to produce a cultured and civilized—that is, an artificial—human.

But to be human is to be artificial. And to contend that it is inauthentic to conform to one’s culture and to strive to suppress and overcome one’s natural tendencies is like contending that it is inauthentic for a mockingbird to imitate the song of another species. Paradoxically, the most authentic thing we can do is strive to transcend ourselves and become what we are not. (more)
Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote that original sin is "the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith."

Bo Winegard, "Against Authenticity," Quillette, Sept 8, 2022.

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