The Tyranny of Authenticity

There is much talk of authenticity today. Like all of neoliberalism’s advertisements, it appears in an emancipatory guise. To be authentic means to be free of pre-formed expressive and behavioural patterns dictated from the outside. It prescribes that one must equal only oneself and define oneself only through oneself – indeed, that one must be the author and creator of oneself. The imperative of authenticity develops a self-directed compulsion, a compulsion to constantly question oneself, eavesdrop on oneself, stalk and besiege oneself. It thus intensifies narcissistic self-reference. . .

The striving for authenticity, the striving to equal only oneself, leads to a constant comparison with others. The logic of comparison transforms otherness into sameness, and thus the authenticity of otherness consolidates social conformity: it only permits system-compatible differences, namely diversity. ‘Diversity’ as a neoliberal term is a resource that can be exploited. Hence it contrasts with alterity, which eludes any economic utilization.

Byung-Chul Han. The Expulsion of the Other: Society, Perception and Communication Today


14 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Authenticity

  1. Weirdly, authenticity in the “be yourself, you’re great!” self-esteem cult that was popular when I was growing up… if you take it to its logical conclusion, it precludes changing oneself for the better. Like, if I’m a shy, neurotic, emotionally immature wreck, then that’s who I am and I should just learn to love that, embrace it, because it would be wrong to want to change it, to become someone else. Wanting to change is a form of self-hatred, in the religion of self-esteem.

    I think if there was a single moment, back when I was a catechumen, that sealed the deal for me on Orthodoxy, it was learning the definition of “vainglory”… and that it’s a sin. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but hoy! It was a little overnight revolution inside my head. Crippling social anxiety was not only not part of who I am, indulging it is a sin. And just like that, the demon was banished. Poof. I mean, it still tries, but I know its name, now, it doesn’t live in my head, and I can laugh at it. I had to learn to see it as an evil, and not part of me, to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s exactly it. “Accept yourself the way you are” always bothered me. How come you are already so perfect to begin with? Why learn anything at all under this logic? Why learn to read, for example? Or use the toilet? Let’s accept ourselves as the animals we ultimately are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! It’s so important to learning. The attitude most helpful to learning, for me at least, is “There are always going to be people better at this than me… but I could be better at it than I am now.” It short-circuits the perfectionist/pride thing that says if I can’t be the very best, it’s not worth doing, and also the “this is boring, let’s move on to the next shiny thing…”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m very bothered by how often students say, “I’m just not good at languages” or “I’m just not good at writing” like it’s a physical trait that can’t be changed. I mean, of course you aren’t good at languages yet. This is why you are taking Spanish 101. You are here to get good. Often, “I’m not good at it” stands for “I’m not enjoying the slow and painful slog of learning” as if there were people who somehow managed to avoid the slog and just woke up one day knowing how to do it.


    2. “it precludes changing oneself for the better”

      It’s a fine line. For the question is whether a personality trait is working for you or against you.

      For some people being introverted is a character flaw but I really like being introverted. I’ve learned how to override those instincts when called upon (for limited periods of time) but I absolutely don’t wanna give up on my alone time.

      On the other hand, having an overactive multi-directional brain can be a major pain since I end up going down all kinds of irrelavant spider holes and start to resent productive income generating work…
      On the other hand sometimes it takes me to some very weird places…. I’ve spent the last few days obsessively reading gender critical twitter and watching (more listening) to religious videos on youtube (a split between reanlysis of the Bible in light of historical/archeological knowledge on the one hand and modern NAmerican evangelical types on the other).
      Now, earlier this evening I realize I have a new theory of some stuff going on which may or may not be obvious and may or may not be wrong… (not ready to share yet) We’ll see tomorrow if I’m ready to start moving on…
      An undisciplined branching brain does not make life easier but on the other…. I’m afraid that training it to be more productive would make a very fun ride a lot more boring…

      Liked by 1 person

        1. “reanalysis of Bible”

          “Reanlysis” is maybe the wrong word, maybe “looking at the Bible in light of the current state of historical, archeological and other knowledge regarding the time and place of events in the Bible and its creation”

          The two best sites (that I found) are probably:

          One of the founders of this site was an enthusiastic evangelical when he began his doctoral studies in Assyriology. Unfortunately his faith was inextricably tied up with the idea of Biblical inerrancy and then he was confronted with (at present) irrefutable evidence of historical inaccuracy in the old testament….

          Not only about Christianity but also other religions from a generally respectful viewpoint (some guests also appear at the first link as well).

          Links that show up when you look at those sites will keep you busy.

          I’m too ignorant of the Bible to offer any feedback/counterpoints or even thoughtful support of the things they talk about so when one guy makes the claim that the Gospel of Mark (overlooked by many?) was probably the first and the others were mostly copies/expansions of it…. I’m incapable of judging how accurate that may or may not be….


      1. There’s a huge difference between being introverted, and being so anxious about other people judging you, liking you, not-liking you… that you spend hours after the fact analyzing, re-analyzing, and fretting over, even the most trivial social interactions.

        This sort of behavior (and it’s a behavior, not a part of the self), puts the self, the ego, at the center of your perceptual universe, and imagines that it is the center of everyone else’s universe too! It takes only a wee bit of humility to get past that: that no matter what other people think of you (good, bad, neutral) there is simply no way everyone you meet thinks of you that much. And getting over it was a vast quality-of-life improvement.


        1. “huge difference between being introverted, and being so anxious ”

          Exactly. Figure out what’s hurting you vs what’s making you… you.

          To me being ‘authentic’ means trying to be a better (at least better functioning) version of yourself and not trying to fit into some narrow schematic created by someone else.

          By nature I tend to be non-confrontational and agreeable but in Poland I had to learn how to be a lot more assertive (if you don’t learn to assert yourself here you end up with footprints all over your forehead). I’m still basically non-confrontational and agreeable but I know how to put that aside when needed.

          “imagines that it is the center of everyone else’s universe too!”

          Years ago, a colleague (we’ll call her Linda) was talking about a conversation with her father and said (paraphrasing)
          Linda: “He doesn’t accept my Linda-centric theory of the universe….”
          Me: “Of course not, he probably ascribes to the much more plausible Cliff-centric theory of the universe…”

          Relative normal people can recognize and laugh at their subjective delusions, the really toxic people don’t even understand that it is a delusion…

          Liked by 2 people

  2. To me, being “authentic” means to be my best self, to fulfill my creator’s wish for me. Something along the lines, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Lk 1:38) Being authentic actually requires one to strive to be better. Of course this line of thinking only works if one believes in the Creator who loves his creatures. Perhaps some people would be less confused with some religion in their life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I still dunno what neoliberalism is supposed to be. In SA liberalism refers to British classical liberalism which replaced slavery.

    Being self-directed is an extremely important development rather than blindly doing what you master tells you.


  4. Authenticity is a surveillance state in which the hipster informant on the inside makes sure the hipster persona on the outside doesn’t do anything incongruous with its core deception story.

    That core deception story usually consists of some memetic agent that’s taken root around a fundamental idea in such a way where it diverts attention away from the pursuit of ancillary goals that have little to do with the fundamentals.

    For example: the idea that someone wants to be a “good person” supplants anything they would do to create good actions and good results, diverting attention away from what is essentially a poisonous aspirational goal in which Nietzsche’s “slave morality” replaces independence, allowing that “good person” to be positioned and moved around by others as part of a peer group.

    Byung-Chul Han reaches too far by claiming it’s inherently narcissistic.

    It’s more likely that ordinary people when confronted by openly narcissistic people may choose to avoid such an outcome for themselves, and it’s in that way the “good person” memetic agent gets planted around a fundamental idea, which is to be a vector for good outcomes in the world.

    That there’s any “logic of comparison” really comes from the sort of community-mindedness that gets people to overdo their personal interactions for the sake of their neighbours.

    America’s suburbs are full of these people: they have minor infatuations with appropriate holiday decorations and an abiding fear that their lawn care activities aren’t enough to placate the Karens at the HOA.

    Of course, they’ve accurately identified some of the narcissists.


    1. That’s pretty much my life but add to all this a kid with all the related activities, household stuff, and reading 16 books at the same time.

      Often it goes like this: “It will take me 3 minutes to walk upstairs to the Dean’s Office. That’s the time I’ll use to replenish the tea supplies. And on the way back, I’ll do today’s Wordles.”

      Plus, my diaries are prettier. 🙂


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