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The Authenticity Hoax

How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves

Andrew Potter

We live in a world increasingly dominated by the fake and the artificial. BS from advertisers and politicians. Industrialised fast food, scripted 'reality shows. We are surrounded by the shoddy and the unreal.

Pollsters find a desire for authenticity, defined by words such as ethical, natural, honest, simple, unspun, human.

Original intent of the word comes from art world, where authenticity refers to the provenance of a piece - is it what it purports to be?

This distinction between what something seems to be, and what it really is, acquired a moral dimension. So we refer to people as being 'shallow' or 'deep', relationships with others are 'sincere' or 'false'.

Once religion provided the gold standard of how to live a meaningful life, backed up by concepts such as aristocracy, community and nationalism. But these have all been washed away by science, technology, capitalism and liberal democracy.

So how do you replace God in a cosmopolitan, individualistic and egalitarian age? Where once religious rituals gave a sense of belonging, we have devolved into cultural tribes - the pop psychology of Oprah, obsession with organic food, exotic cultures, and a virulent hatred of the perceived shallowness of Western entertainment.

Old time gods were basically soap operas. Last night's thunderstorm was so intense because Hera caught Zeus cheating again and they started throwing thunderbolts. Problem that these didn't explain anything. They were ad hoc accounts invented to impose some sort of order on an unpredictable world. But they don't offer an explanation, and more importantly, they don't offer any predictions. What should you do to guard against a storm? More sacrifices? What sort?

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