2/3/2005

Authenticity

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:06 pm

I’m ambivalent about the whole concept of ‘authenticity’.

On the one hand, it seems like an unequivocally Good Thing. None of us likes a fake or a phony, someone who’s trying to be something they’re not. We want people to be open and honest with us – in a tactful and thoughtful way. We want communicative action (open, with our interests and aims on the table), not strategic action (intended to serve our interests by (intentionally or otherwise) obscuring our intentions), in Jurgen Habermas’ terms.

On the other hand, ideas about authenticity can lock us into ghettos of ‘culturally authentic’ behaviours and norms that limit us from fulfilling our full human potential. I don’t just mean the ethnic cultures of immigrants or other groups – being trapped in authenticity can happen to anyone. Part of what I like about Metal Express is that it doesn’t feel locked in to some vision of ‘authentic metal’ – if it sounds good, they’ll play it, and leave others to argue about it.

Paul Feyerabend‘s last book, published posthumously, is called ‘The Conquest of Abundance‘. It talks about the idea that all theory is an attempt to make the incredibly rich, cacophonous abundance of the world simple enough for us to cope with. But it takes confidence and security and strength to engage with complexity, and when the times seem scary it can be awfully tempting to pull the blankets over our heads.

An authentic experience that breaks down some of our cultural boundaries and puts us back in touch with more of the abundance of life, experience and other people is something to be treasured, but an authenticity ghetto we retreat into to protect ourselves from complexity quickly turns into a grave.

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