Martin Heidegger was obsessed with authenticity. He viewed ontological anxiety as the impetus for authenticity — a way to move us through our conformity. For Heidegger, we were born into a world of quiet conformity. Initially, everything we do, say, think and believe has been done before.
The activities we regard as worthy of our time and effort (learning, work, play), the ultimate values and meanings we pursue (achievement, love, children), and the particular styles and forms through which we pursue these goals have all been provided by our various human cultures. He states that unless we find ways to wrest control of our own lives from society, all of our decisions will continue to be made for us by the unnoticed forces of the cultures in which we live.
That statement, naturally, leads him to question how we can extract ourselves from our conformity, rise above our enculturation. He asks, specifically, how is it possible to become more whole, centered, and integrated in a world that prevents precisely these qualities from emerging?
Yet, for all of Heidegger’s existential zeal, he couldn’t attain his own ideal of authenticity. Evidence of his not “wresting control of his own life from society” is his having joined the Nazi Party on May 1, 1933, ten days after being elected Rector of the University of Freiburg. Although a year later, in April 1934, he resigned the Rectorship and stopped taking part in Nazi Party meetings, he remained a member of the Party until its dismantling at the end of World War II.
So, the quest for authenticity — or, in more contemporary-speak, “walking the talk” — is not to be under-estimated. It’s real work. It requires showing up, taking responsibility and making some hard choices.
I don’t see enough of it, frankly, in the transition movement. It’s easier to “talk than walk.”
Theories are bounced around, facts cited, statistics quoted and pundits referenced. Doom sells newspapers, so to speak.
In Greek mythology, Thanatos was the demon of death who was associated with a variety of other Greek personifications, like doom, deception and suffering. In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the Todestrieb or thanatos is the drive towards death, self-destruction and the return to the inorganic. This drive opposes eros, the tendency toward survival, propagation, and other creative, life-producing forces.
So, if we really believe that doom is a viable expression of the endgame, wouldn’t we try to resolve some of this thanatos by“wresting control of our lives” from an inherently sick society? Wouldn’t we want to resolve remnants of cognitive dissonance by making our day-to-day behaviors more congruent with our “talk”?
In that case, we would wrest ourselves away from:
- Clothing made in sweatshops
- Factory farmed, commercial food
- Flying in airplanes
- Big box stores that don’t pay living wages
- Eating and drinking items that come from thousands of miles away
- Using credit cards
- Driving our cars within bicycling/walking distance
- Watching television
- Using cell phones that have tracking capabilities
- Taking long, hot, daily showers
- Flushing the toilet every time we urinated
- Leaving lights on when we leave the room
- Accruing debt
- Buying things packaged in plastic
- Buying electronics that were made by out-sourced labor
- Being addicted to convenience and comfort
There’s more, but the above list gives you the idea. Because, as Heidegger reminded us, “unless we find ways to wrest control of our own lives from society, all of our decisions will continue to be made for us by the unnoticed forces of the cultures in which we live.”
– Sherry Ackerman, Transition Voice