Contempt and Authenticity.
An ageing couple of some means have sent their only child off to the city from their rural estate so he could gain a profession and become something more in life than they. They fret and worry seeming endlessly about his arrival back home now that he's a doctor, and when he arrives-- snide, nasty, rude-- they dote on him. Son manages in short time to get into a duel, outrage the locals, and generally piss me off as I read Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons some many years ago.
Father, who does everything he can to be nice to his miserable kid, finally sits in a chair when the son goes out once more, sits and says to his silent and unhappy wife something like: "Mother, he hates us. We are old and boring."
There's more to the son than average youthful thoughtlessness; the son in Turgenev's novel has taken it into his head that he's a [Russian] nihilist. Son is "ultra moderne." He struggles toward an inner "authenticity" that is to my mind so phony I could choke him. He was the "Leftist" of his day, and nothing has changed since other than that the pose is so stiff and transparent that one cannot face it without retching. The pose, the true nature of the character himself, is a sign of our time. It's phony and it's rotten. It's never been any better. Our culture is turned to nihilism and pretence. It's a sham, and it's a dangerous phantasy life of pretend that's causing us to die. All of this in the pursuit of "Real Living."
If we abandon our own lives and cultures and values in favor of those of other we're not being multicultural and sensitive, modern and progressive: we are posing.
Once in Mexicio City I saw a young English woman with long bright red plaited hair and round-rimmed glasses dancing at a "Axtec Cermonial Rite." Her intensity was repellent, so focussed on the spirituality of her communion with the native spirits and so oblivious to her condition that she didn't notice that she is English. I asked my friend Juan about it next day at Walmart. "Los indios." he said, using the local term for stupid people. I was embarrassed. "Juan, you're an Indian. Why would you say that?" He grinned. "Not us, them. Look! We're buying our sacred dance costume junk from Walmart. We get these stupidos to dance around, and they give us lots of money." I remebered the red-haired girl so intense and I burst out laughing. She didn't recognise the junk from Walmart because she's never been to one, preferring to go to Native Markets to buy authentic things. Yes, things bought at Walmart, resold at the Native Market after the Native Dance. The girl obviously had no idea how ridiculous she is, and there's no reason to point it out to her. But when our whole culture is based on obvious stupidities such as this, then we are in trouble. When we despise our own culturres and efforts as harmful and hateful and pursue the falsities of Walmart Indians, then we have lost something we should have retained, if only our money.
We in the modern West are engulfed by a population of idiots who think the Walmart Indians are truer to real life than our parents. The joke is on them; but unfortunately, we have to live with these idiots. It's a serious and life-threatening problem that we might see more clearly by looking at it from a distance. We'll turn to a history of these people to see who and what they are so we can see our own more clearly. We are not facing naive young girls but the intellectuals of the 19th to mid 20th centuries.
Below we'll look at authenticity and contempt. This should shed more light on our themes of recent posts on multiculturalism, cultural relativism, and the general ruin of our time, philobarbarism. The primary source for this essay is John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939. London: Faber and Faber; 1992. First we'll look briefly at wikipedia's blurb on authenticity.
[T]hose concerned with living authentically have often led unusual lives that opposed cultural norms; the rise of the counter-culture in the 1960s in Europe and America was seen by many as a new opportunity to live an authentic existence. Many, however, have pointed out that just because one lives unusually, one is not necessarily in an authentic state of being. The connection of the violation of cultural norms to authenticity, however, is strong and real, and continues today: among artists who explicitly violate the conventions of their profession, for example. The connection of inauthenticity to capitalism is contained in the notion of "selling out," used to describe an artist whose work has become inauthentic after achieving commercial success and thus becoming to an extent integrated into an inauthentic system.
When we return we'll look at the view so common today of the suburbanite as trash. this inverted snobbery of the intelligentsia is a replay of the view of the suburbanite from the 19th century. Please join us when we return.