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The Call for Authenticity

04 Jun 2013

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Edifying Elucidations By Okey Ikechukwu, Email:  okey.ikechukwu@thisdaylive.com

We often hear the question “What is man?” But we rarely stop to note that the very entity asking the question is the one the question is about. But we can dismiss the question as plain mischief, knowing that many departments of learning can tell us about ourselves, after all, these departments of learning understand something about the human person. The only problem is that none of them can tell us about man as a whole – with no unfinished, or unclarified, aspects. This only raises another question, namely, ‘Can an entity that does not know itself consciously resist what is not good for it? Consciously, that is? There are also these further questions: (1) Is it possible for a man or a woman not to be himself or herself in everything? (2) Is it possible for one not to know much about oneself and therefore, for one to operate without strong values and standards; even when one believes the contrary?

Of course you are who you are. But how much of what you think you are is true? How much of what people say about you, and which you lap up and celebrate, are truly strong components of your true and innermost make-up? This brings us to the question of authenticity and inauthenticity, because we are all either authentic or inauthentic, depending on whether our words, actions and thoughts harmonise with our souls.

To say that someone is living an inauthentic life is to say that the values, goals and ideals of the person in question are determined for him by popular public opinion, etc. If such a person makes any claims about knowledge and understanding you can be sure that it will be grounded on what he grew up with or what is generally accepted, rather than personal conviction. He will accept things without a moment’s reflection and will say “I know” without stopping to ask himself what it really means to know. Where one person says ‘I know’ and means ‘I was told by my mother’, another says ‘I know’ and means ‘it is plausible that …’ still another will say ‘I know’ and mean ‘it is generally believed that…’

This is all well and good if they were all to be joking, but they are not! The real danger here is that victims of an inauthentic life are rarely conscious of their predicament. None of them asks who am I, or what am I? They simply sit around and feel quite indispensable in their purely routine life. Meanwhile, they may be very dispensable, without the word being the worse for it. Oh yes, they consider themselves necessary, but they do not bother to find out whether, in truth, they are really ‘necessary’ where they insist on their relevance. Poor fellows!

What the inauthentic person calls himself is nothing more than the opinions, conjectures and perceptions of others about him. “I am Mr. X, married with three children, working hard to earn money and maintain the family, member of my social club or town union, committed humanist, etc.” But is this really his true self, or is he just sitting with cheerful thoughtlessness in the conventional boat of his environment, his class, and what is generally called ‘public opinion’? The very idea of questioning certain things around him is anathema. How could he: when such deviance will only make him not to conform to what is generally accepted. “Whatever people will think of me”, he would mutter – or at least think in silence. But who is fooled? His nakedness is there beneath the clothing of artifice!

But let us pay close attention to the fact that the inauthentic person is really not under any visible force of compulsion. Yet you get the unmistakable feeling that he is under some kind of tyranny. If not so, why is he always afraid of what people would say? Why is he so desperately afraid that ‘they’ will consider him foolish, insane, etc., if he did this or failed to do that? And who, or what, is this ‘people’ he is afraid of? On closer observation, you discover to your surprise that ‘people’ do not refer to this person or to that. It does not even refer to all of them put together. ‘People’ is simply the name for a homogenous group, the self-enclosed mob caught in tradition and its unthinking rhetoric that acts a restraint on the individual’s inner freedom. It ensures that the values, aspirations and ideals of the inauthentic man do not stem from his personal being, but is dispensed by the group that holds sway over him. That is why he unconsciously depends on the group and takes constant care to see how he differs from others. He also takes every step to find out whether any observed differences are such as should be quickly evened out; and whether he is lagging and should try to catch up. He would also want to know if he is ahead and needs to slow down; or that he has some advantages over others and must therefore do everything possible to keep them suppressed.

It is through this subterranean dictatorship of ‘people’ that the individual is unobtrusively divested of his individuality. ‘People’ determine his choices of pleasure, clothing, displeasure, games, etc. and he cannot be personally responsible for anything he does or says. It just happens to be “the done thing”. This undermines true knowledge and self-respect, because during conversations, he imagines that he knows what is being talked about once he understands, or imagines he understands, the meaning of the words used. In the affairs of state he considers himself quite knowledgeable either because he has read a few books and talked a lot or because he listens to news and some handy gossip besides. This eliminates any impetus for independent thinking.

Since it is ‘people’ that articulate the referential context of intelligibility, all new ideas and thoughts must be dragged into a situation of social involvement with which everyone is familiar. This means that meaning is limited within the limits established by the understanding of ‘people’. Thus the self-certainty of ‘people’ creates the impression that there is no need for authenticity or deeper understanding in anything. Evasion of self and ignorant presumption compel people to drift along rather than make a nuisance of themselves by raking up new and disturbing truths.

As the individual loses his individuality to ‘people’ and public opinion, the person in the human being (and in humanity) is forced to live an underground, invalid and hidden existence. This is what gives rise to a world of glitter, beneath which you find only veiled ignorance. Thus everyone mistakes the ability to converse wittily on many subjects for true knowledge. It is also thus that idle prattle and superficiality then join forces to nurture a humanity that is truly confused.

This brings us to an aspect of the inauthentic life that has to do with gossip and a general propensity for making many words and talking extensively so that the subject matter is brought to ’sham’ clarity. This happens when “what is said in conversation” is memorised and probably understood, while “what the talk is about” is distorted. Thus idle chatter can sabotage true knowledge, insight and conviction, since it never goes back to the root of what is being talked about.All claims to knowledge by an inauthentic person are verbosity that is uprooted and dispersed in empty sounds.

Once a few people fortify a brazen claim with their prestige, the claim will be repeated endlessly as a self-evident truth. Yes, everyone hustles to know the latest, but with no underlying desire to remember it, or to even learn anything from it. That is why the inauthentic person is always hurrying from one distraction to another. His restlessness, as well as the excitement provided by continual novelty and changing (but essentially meaningless) encounters, ensures that he has no time whatsoever for any form of quiet self-communion. That is also why it will not occur to him to raise any questions regarding the meaning of his existence. After all, what he needs in order to win an argument is line up some illustrious names – and possibly compares them with some lousy examples.

Thus, rather than pay close attention to anything, the inauthentic person is driven to be everywhere and nowhere in particular by superficiality. He pursues indiscriminately facts, events, persons, monument, ideas, etc. without any underlying volition to appraise and understand them. He does not read in order to understand, but reads in order to be excited in an empty sort of way: to contradict and confute, rather than to hear, reflect and understand. He will rather hear and take for granted, just in order to find talk and discussion, since everything is taken as ‘a matter of course.’

The inauthentic life wills no new or original possibilities. No! Such a life ensures that the simple activities of everyday life are embellished in such a way that there is a semblance of something happening, when in fact nothing of the sort is in the horizon. And ‘people’ can never be in short supply of distractions for the weak willed. This may take the form of social gatherings, humanitarian events or even the disseminations of the mass media. The apparent anonymity of ‘news items’, as well as the ease with which they are so readily forgotten (to make room for the next thing) is something for superficiality to revel in. That is why such things come in droves and are also discarded with no great sense of loss.

The inauthentic person’s quest for knowledge is not genuine, but may come from an acquisitive appetite, a desire to entertain an idle mind, or even from the desire to have a reputation for knowledge. It rarely comes from the desire to use the knowledge for the betterment of humanity. That is why it does not seek to augment or preserve what is of lasting benefit and value, but seeks vanity and pleasure like a courtesan. This neither lasts nor leads to any form of upbuilding. Only authenticity in all things leads upwards. That is what we need. We all have so much to content with that none really has time for another.

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