11.24.2010

Trading One Hoax For Another

I find this quote from The Authenticity Hoax to be an accurate description of the current cultural trends: 
This is everyone’s problem. Eventually, each of us has to look in the mirror and ask, “What is worth doing?” or “What is meaningful?” or “What is sacred?” These are all versions of the same question, and what they amount to is, “Who am I?” Islam, like all religions or ideologies, gives a ready-made answer to that question. But modernity sweeps away all previous answers, undermines any notion of the sacred. And so the liberal answer to these questions is, “Nothing” — or, slightly better, “It’s up to you.” This can be terrifying, and while we can — indeed must — condemn those who turn their backs on modernity and seek refuge in nostalgia and violence, we must also recognize that our own solution, the confused and self-defeating search for something called authenticity, is itself nothing more than a hoax.
The purpose of the book was to detail how people, because of a lost sense of meaning, have attempted to embrace authenticity as a source of meaning and something to live for but, Potter argues, authenticity is all smoke and mirrors, in the end there is nothing to hold on to.

However, Potter's answer (partly revealed in the quote) only exasperates the problem further, instead of looking out to the transcendent, he suggests we turn inwards to find meaning within ourselves - even if it means nothing more than becoming consumerists.  He suggests that we should do what is already happening around us, create meaning within ourselves because it does not lie in the world not outside it.
It may on occasion happen that things we find personally meaningful are also socially beneficial, but there is no necessary connection between the two.
Potter describes (although he never uses such language) the bitter end of modernism, and the slide into post-modernity where individualism is king and meaning is something that can only be found within yourself.  It may not be ideal, but to Potter it's all we have left.  He has substituted one 'hoax' for another, he has thrown out authenticity because of the allurement of another hoax, one far more dangerous, narcissism.