November 23, 2006
A few days ago, The Anchoress wrote Searching For Authenticity In A Baloney-ish World. In her post, The Anchoress looks at an article and the implied messages of CBS journalist Dick Meyer. The article, she says,
…touches on some themes that have been rolling about in Meyer’s head for a while – the dissolution of real “community” and the fakery of invented community (the “plus-sized community,” the “survivor community” the “world community”), the transient lifestyle that replaces nuclear family with bare acquaintances and forces us to find other means of personal interconnection; how those other means (political identity, food fanaticism) become not just social connections but replacements for the sort of stable and reassuring role religion used to play in most lives.
The Anchoress goes on to make some remarkable- and poignant observations.
Why are we so willing to endure fakery that has become so commonplace it is predictable? Why do we reward politicians for it?…Why do we embrace it within ourselves, body and soul? What is the root cause of our willingness to surround ourselves with it? Some will say “it began with the first cult which became the first religion – that fakery doomed us to this day.” Others might suggest that the “damn the truth, print this headline” Pravda mindset that has impacted the whole world in one way or another has set the stage for our current acquiescence into the land of make-believe and spin. Some, of course, will blame the Clinton’s. Everyone else will blame Bush…
All of the observations made by The Anchoress are true, of course. On their own and individually, each observation is clearly and easily discernible as contrived. Taken together, however, the various managed, contrived and manipulated events and phenomena, come together as recipe for a cultural veneer, a puddle masquerading as a deep ocean. After generations of such pseudo-cultural manipulation, many Americans have no idea what ‘authentic’ really means.
Of course, we have a kind of collective ‘values memory.’ We understand that values are not and cannot be derived from the momentary breezes of pop culture or pop politics, no matter how hard those with the agendas try- and no matter how badly the mindless drones want their beliefs to be real (there are still those that insist George Bush has set up ‘concentration camps’).
That said, it is clear that even these mindless cultural ‘agendistas’ are tapping into that collective memory and are searching for meaning. Having grown up in an environment devoid of meaning (and respect for those who do have meaning) in their lives, it is no surprise that there are hordes of blind mice looking for cheese. Ill equipped, it is also no surprise that they are left to founder against the rocks, incapable of finding what ot is they so desperately seek- a real home and real meaning.
Shrinkwrapped, in Despair Of Abundance, notes that
The course focuses on the psychological aspects of a fulfilling and flourishing life. Topics include happiness, self-esteem, empathy, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, music, spirituality, and humor.
According to the account of the course in the Boston Globe on-line, Harvard’s crowded course to happiness, the course seems to attempt to combine some scholarly research (although there are no links to any peer reviewed research articles and a cursory search did not bring any such articles through Google) and personal exploration by the students. One student is quoted as saying:
”Positive Psych may be the one class at Harvard that every student needs to take,” said Nancy Cheng, a junior majoring in biology. ”In this fast-paced, competitive environment, it is especially crucial that people take time to stop and breathe. A self-help class? Maybe. . . . But from what I’ve seen and experienced at Harvard, I think we could all use a little self-help like this.”
In the same article, a Professor at the University of Kansas adds:
In the last several years, positive psychology classes have cropped up on more than 100 campuses around the country, said Shane Lopez, an associate professor at the University of Kansas, who recently co-wrote a positive psychology textbook. But with such an enormous course enrollment, Tal D. Ben-Shahar, the lecturer who teaches Harvard’s course, ”is the leader of the pack right now,” Lopez said.
The courses can change how you see yourself and your life, Lopez says. ”A lot of people are just not accustomed to asking, ‘What do I have going for me?’ and ‘What did I do right today?’ “
Courses on finding happiness and meaning are the symptoms of a rudderless society and the desperate desire to find happiness- and authenticity. As Shrinkwrapped points out,
…the suggestion that our luxurious abundance will allow us the time and space for happiness is implicitly accepted and misses the point in the most fundamental of ways. So many Harvard students, children of abundance, wealth and leisure, are flocking to a course on happiness precisely because they do not know what they are missing and how to obtain it… simply curing poverty and disease and injustice will never stop people from being disaffected, unless there is a commensurate internal change in the people who are angry and disaffected.
Finding happiness and meaning cannot be acquired from without- voting and supporting the ‘right’ candidate or the ‘right’ party, or supporting the ‘right’ causes or ideologies du jour, will not bring about inner peace. Inner peace is derived from within, from the values and meaning that we are willing to defend- and fight for. The willingness to fight for those values that we hold dear are the true measure of our character.
There are the character and values of those who fight for instability and religious strife in Iraq and there are the character and values of those who fight to bring freedom and democracy to that nation.
Authentic values do not negate authentic disagreement. It is only when fake values are presented as authentic and meaningful, that we see the failures, hollowness and meaninglessness The Anchoress and others speak about.
The Anchoress, in speaking of values vs political ideology, makes a point:
…Why are some so certain that giving amnesty to illegals who have lived here productively for many years, is a greater travesty than a man telling his wife he is leaving her while she lies in bed fighting cancer?
Maybe there are no right answers. Maybe all of those theories are right to varying degrees. But the need for authenticity in our lives is basic and real, and urgent, and increasingly we look outside of ourselves and our families and our “nuclear” worlds to find it. And we seem to be coming up empty.
May this Thanksgiving Day be full of meaning and authenticity for all.