Human beings are mimetic. Your identity is a result of your social positioning. This endless search for some primordial “authentic” self separate from your physical, rooted, social self is one of the most pernicious pathologies of modern liberalism
True, but, as a population, very few of us mime murderous thugs, compulsive adulterers or thieves (some do, and Tyrannies use it to great effect). There is a human nature that is best expressed in a healthy “Polis” – it is expressed a little differently here or there, but always seems to surface no matter what the biological and social milieu.
But I agree wholeheartedly that the obsession with APPEARING authentic (as Kay expressed it) is pathological and outside of human nature EXCEPT to the extent it is a distorted attempt to belong, to be welcomed (to be loved?).
Or, put another way, social media fulfils, to a certain extent, our herding instinct -ie: to mix with others, to be part of the herd.
When I first logged on to social media some years ago, I realised how many people there were who thought like I did; had opinions like mine.
The MSM had done little to reflect the social and political zeitgeist before then and I thought I was in a minority, but we all get a say these days on social media. ..for now.
Fine, but every single person who has matured has, at some point in their lives, been given cause to reflect and say, “this is not me.” That has certainly happened to me several times, particularly when I was young. Being in certain situations and with certain social groups, trying to “fit in,” but, in the end, throwing in the towel, because I knew deep down I was not adhering to some part of me on an honest level. A suggestion, perhaps, of an “authentic” self?
Certainly we all say, and have said, “That’s not me!” Even, in fact, as it obviously was ‘me’…otherwise ….
There’s a scene in 3Days of the Condor in which the Faye Dunaway character, Kathy, is showing Redford’s ‘Joe Turner’ some photographs she’s taken. She tells him, “Every once in a while I take a picture that isn’t like me. But I took it, so it is like me, it must be! (Then, quickly) I put those pictures away.” Redford/Joe replies, “I’d like to see those pictures.” She tells him, “We don’t know each other that well.”
Are those pictures emblematic of the more ‘authentic’ Kathy?
That, of course, is the presumption made by the audience as we sense a ‘connection’ between Redford/Dunaway. But really both Kathy’s (the one who takes advertising photographs and the one who takes the ‘put away’ photos) are ‘authentic’ Kathy’s.
The ‘me’ we’ve all denied from time to time is as much our authentic self as the other (who was, in that moment, silent). In truth we are many. And what we build, over a lifetime, is a ‘self’ which becomes, slowly, more ‘consistent’ as the jarring inconsistencies our younger self exhibited are eliminated or modified.
Does that mean we become more authentic?
Nah, I don’t think so. I think we simply become more unvarying in our presentation. And, if financially we’re more secure, then we can spend more time taking pictures that no one wants to buy.
The word itself is misleading. If I were to tell you here’s an authentic Van Gogh, then what you know is that this is truly a Van Gogh. That makes sense. But an authentic me? We’re always ‘me’ even if our me (as others see it) is different from the me we’d prefer to be…or the me we were yesterday. We are different ‘me’s’ with different people at different times. The me I am with my brothers is different from the me I am with my wife and with my neighbors. And the me when I am by myself is different yet again. Can we say any one of those me’s is more or less ‘authentic’ than another?
In the end, it’s a silly & essentially pointless question.
We are always ‘me’ even when that me is someone we don’t particularly care for. The question is what do we then do to change that recalcitrant & unlikable self. And the problem is when we refuse to change and insist, “Hey, I’m just being my authentic self!” That’s when people tell us to “Grow up!”….as well they should.
Thanks Kate for another excellent article and reflection. You live in a world I don’t frequent, so I appreciate the insightful commentary. Are the phenomena described in the article examples of the phenomenon where the presence of the observer (in this case, the Twitterverse) changes the nature of the observed (variously expressed more or less accurately as the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, or Schrodinger Cat phenomenon)
The real danger with authenticity is at the point where a self-appointed clerisy gets to decide what it authentic about the lives of others, not just themselves.
That way tyranny lies.
I just don’t know what to do with post-Moderns and their take that Personal Responsibility is a Right Wing value…
If I am not responsible for my actions then why should I pay taxes, give to the needy, refrain from assaulting people, recycle, the list goes on including every behavior the Left is pro-ported to value… Idiotic.
Kat, you need to get out more.
You are commendably polite in your reaction.
Or just put down the phone and pick up a book.
Maybe you are unable to recognize that someone is capable of cultural analysis of the impact social media has on personal narratives that is undeniably an issue today, AND be someone who gets out more than enough.
And maybe someone who posts something as intentionally shitty as your comment is happens to be the one who could use more sunshine and socialization.
I guess the world will never know.
Kelly, you need to get a grip.
Kelly: (Your response was a bit harsh, but . . . ) I agree with you, that the cult of “authenticity” has a stranglehold on modern “western” culture, especially in social media, and that it is valuable to examine it.
I also agree that Kat’s article was a nice addition, especially her focus on the “presentation of self” that is rampant on social media – how it has become a weird a kind of impression management to please the crowd, and how the “crowd” seems to be more and more filled with bloodlust.
The question is, how has this impression-managing crown become obsessed with dead bodies and human failings and weaknesses, while being repelled by normal, decent acts of kindness and feelings of accomplishment and warmth. At any rate, I agree it is nice that this investigation continues here.
Absolutely, over thinking, and once you start doing it you’re trapped, you can’t be authentic because authenticity is spontaneous without self scrutiny or analysis.
That’s often how I feel about her pieces. She writes well, and is clearly intelligent, but her subjects are incredibly banal and trivial.
The worst boss I ever had used to say ‘Perception is reality’. I don’t think the phrase was anything other than a justification for lying and spin.
Humans have evolved as troop animals who spend a great deal of time watching and ruminating on the social status of others in the troop. This is especially true during the mating years, and philosophical exhortations to ‘Be Authentic’ or ‘Know Yourself’ are guaranteed to fail – fallible perception is not reality after all.
Another gem with this essay — I love this sentence: “The question, then, is what happens when we start thinking of our mess as something to be posted about instead of something we need to clean up.”
The cultural narrative of trauma posting and the engagement rate from doing so hits the dopamine receptors and disincentives the Extremely Online from journeying through the Dark Tunnel to get on the other side of it, because on the other side of the Dark Tunnel is healing from the pain — and today, that’s not relatable, and many feel that they’ll lose their ‘tribe’ if they are no longer bonding over shared pain.
By remaining in a mindset, though, something else is lost: the lesson that some friendships and connections are only meant to be a season, and moving on doesn’t take away from the memories of warmth from that season’s summer sunrises or the colors from its fall sunsets — but opens us up to the spring of the new friendships to be made from allowing ourselves to heal.
In the patient community, many before me have written about how once they go into remission, they are quietly shunned from the rest of the online community (“spoonies”). That does indeed happen — and while there can be a period of grief to lose certain connections we previously relied on, like I mention above, there’s also an opportunity to make new connections with others as well who may share something different with us — like a love of laughter, sharing stories, big comfy chairs, and going to lunch. 🙂
As we evolve in the coming years and (hopefully) learn how to become a society that can function with this level of connection via social media, that will have to include new cultural norms of how to exist online — and what we might find is that the only way to do so is to spend less time on it.
Either way — this era is a treasure trove for future historians and psychologists to mine!
Beautifully written, Kelly.
I certainly do not question anything in your comment or this article – both of which are outstanding.
What I do wonder though is whether we (meaning humanity at large) were guilty of some very old-fashioned naivety. Did we really think that big tech would have our interests at heart or that these social media platforms were ever for the hackneyed common good. After all I well-remember back in the early 2000s rather fevered talk about how Zuckerberg would monetise the platform. Surely we all knew then that what he was selling was not a platform but a user base. If you aren’t paying you aren’t the customer. Same online and offline.
I personally was very suspicious of social media at the time, but I never really had a compelling response to my peers who dived right in and encouraged me to do the same. To this day I know people who simply won’t acknowledge the downside and every credit they are happy with their social media use. True, some of that downside might be tech rather than platforms per se, but I think my point still stands that this tech was introduced with very little thought about how it would ever be used. Certainly I do feel that on some level my generation perhaps somewhat let down those who followed – I am very glad my daughter will grow up in a world rather more aware about big tech and social media than did the millennials.
Maybe the advent of social media will go down as the time we all wised up about easy answers where the world all neatly comes together in a diverse upland.
The only persona I’m interested in is the one in real life flesh-and-blood before me. Old-fashioned and short-sighted, maybe. But all of us need to make our peace with social media in different way.
I think it’s pretty funny to use an image of Beyonce in all her fake hair/nails/lashes truth for an article about authenticity. What? No more praise for Michele Obama’s “real” braids? It’s stunning to me that people get their “news” from Twitter, but then again, that’s where all the media people go to bully and whine, so it stands to reason. Still, I can’t and won’t get used to people vomiting up their personal problems for attention and likes on the socials. Really, no matter what they post, it’s a form of bragging, and d*mn unseemly.
This excellent article really begs the deeper human question, that is, who are we, really? It is a spiritual question, incredibly challenging in our current secular society. Our Divine Creator knows who we are, but it is initially frightening to most of us. In our hearts we often have a glimpse of who we are but we fairly quickly cover it with layers of false personas which bring us justification and comfort. Many of which are inventions that we project on social media. They may be somewhere close to who we are, or they may be totally different from who we are. But they are usually protective in nature.
I believe that if we courageously pursue our relationship with our Divine Creator, our true selves will be revealed to us over time. And those selves will be qualitatively better than anything we try to construct on our own.
All is performance, all is fake, all is twitter.
Are you somehow implying that my profile that includes my VC, Grand National win, time at Arsenal, partnership at Goldman, seat in The Lords and victory in the Wimbledon singles championship whilst reading for my post Oxford double first, for a doctorate at Harvard is somehow suspect?
There are quite a few questions inside this. Some have been with us always the notion of “presenting.” for instance is not necessarily about searching. It’s about using the right visual language for the task at hand. It simply means we know which game we are involved with.
The question of presenting on social media is entirely different. It mobilizes the herd instinct through non-advertising, advertising and encourages us to believe if we go somewhere, look like something, say something, AND then play it back at everybody we have achieved. It’s the playing it back which is the really important transaction. Why do we feel the need to do it? Why can we not just have the experience with our immediate environment?
Yes, people are intimidated and become angry and resentful (I quote from the article”check your privilege”) because of what they are presented with. But the real question is why did the woman feel the need to tell complete strangers that she was enjoying tea in the garden. Is it because we are not sanctified in our belonging ‘in the moment’, that we need to ‘belong’ with a whole load of others?
Until we find the answer to that question the two generations that actually bend their life into the narrative they have been offered will be mere conduits rather than vessels of real experience. Indeed I would say the real pandemic is Smart Phone addiction.
PS After ten years on Facebook, sharing my travels with 15 people I personally know who want the feedback, and being increasingly bombarded with selling attempts in favor of dear friends and family I closed my account. I now share through whats app and Instagram (where the selling is at the bottom and beyond the “You’re all caught up.” trigger).
There does seem to be a lot of crying on tv these days.
What is authentic?
To be true to one’s truest self?
And what is that self, exactly? Who is he? Where did he come from, where is he going….and, more importantly….will ‘he’ (that Truest Self still be that Truest Self when he gets there?)
Nah. Probably not. Rather he’ll (Today’s Truest Self) be left behind and abandoned by the Newest Truest Self who there arrived, happily, in Today’s place. Say goodbye now!
So what is authentic? Do we believe authentic to be static? To be stable? And if not static, if instead a Flux of Fluidity, moving, shifting — how can it be known?
We are constantly Becoming.
But even in that act of becoming we are legion. Married, happy, sitting in my garden, wife beside me, sipping coffee and munching on homemade cinnamon rolls…complaining about that days ration of Stupid Stuff highlighted in the Digital News. That’s authentically me all right. And not …for also, sitting in that same chair, same coffee cup in hand there is the Self that would like to be fishing, line snaking out onto the mirrorlike stillness of the cove waiting for a bass to rise. That’s me, too. He sits here with a sigh of regret for the fishing unhad. And him, too, the one thinking, just now in passing of one of the million roads not taken (far, far, far more than those traveled), the Self that thinks of Suzie, or that job in LA, or the words unsaid back in 1973 when Janelle asked. That self’s authentic too. And equally the self that would with joy toss our coffee cups to the ground and find something much, much better to do:
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
The one that yells, that pouts, that loves, that sacrifices, that yields, that presses, that rises, that falls — all the self authentic to some particular time or moment. Which do I highlight? Which do I forget, ignore, despise, or try to leaven? Which do I envy? Which my Richard Cory, God forbid!? Which my master? Which my soul?
Nothing but a question without an answer beyond the truest observation: ‘Yabbut, it’s more than that.”