The World Beyond Your Head: Part 6, An Age of Authenticity?

Continuing our reflections about the Ache (see Part 5), Matthew B. Crawford's The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction does a great job describing how the modern, inward-focused self becomes vulnerable to what Crawford calls "affective capitalism."

As I describe in Hunting Magic Eels, when the modern world turned inward and away from God we changed how we pursued meaning and purpose. Instead of looking outward and upward to align our lives with the will of God we turned inward to seek and find our "true selves." The idea was that our "true self" could serve as a North Star, a guiding compass. We find meaning and purpose by "staying true to ourselves." The ethic of the modern world is to live authentically.

But this quest for authenticity hasn't turned out very well.

Crawford's book is helpful in describing why. 

As I recount in Hunting Magic Eels, the self isn't fixed, stable, and steady. The self is, rather, a bundle of desires and insecurities. Consequently, when we turn inward we don't find a lot of solid direction. We just stare into a pit of neuroses. But as Crawford recounts, affective capitalism steps in here to rescue us. Affective capitalism bombards us with images to create, manipulate, and satisfy our desires. Lacking a sturdy ground of identity affective capitalism fills the vacuum by telling us what to like and what to think. We become consumers of what is trending, fashionable, and popular. Lacking an ability to know our own minds we become "followers" of "influencers."

And this situation, Crawford notes, leads to the great irony of the modern world. In seeking to become "authentic" we absorb the opinions and preferences of others. This age of "authenticity" is actually characterized by a massive amount of social conformity. 

And not just conformity, anxiety. We fear social censor and stigma. We have to perform our identities with the utmost care for fear of getting out of the mainstream consensus. We used to worry about pleasing God, now we worry about Twitter mobs and getting canceled.

Sad thing is, God would have forgiven you. Twitter never will.

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