Does being authentic just mean expressing our appetites?

Strength is Lust

Fara just told me about her dream. When she dreams, she lets herself feel deeply and discovers things that her daytime censor edits or hides.

For example: in real life, she is short on sexual experience, including kissing, because she is uncomfortable with physical and emotional closeness. But in her dream last night, she let herself go—and she learned something:

I thought that the lust that arises during kissing is just my posturing myself as an object to impress or get a reaction out of the other person. But in the dream I realized that lust is a third thing that arises externally to my will, on its own. It has its own inner propulsion. It is not called. It is not created.

Attraction is deepest when it arises by itself. It arises on its own, under its own power, without your consent. You (The Voice) enter its stream, not vice versa. You are just a witness until it overwhelms and possesses you.

It must be physically tiring and painful to fake genuine interest in people you want to impress. Trying to impress makes connection impossible. The real self is busy configuring a mask. The mask interfaces with people, but the real self (the center of concernment) is safely backstage monitoring the interaction. The problem is that the feelings belong to the engineer. So while the mask is getting, say, more and more excited, the engineer could be getting more and more depressed. Feeling, like appetite, cannot be contrived.

Contriving the style of your interaction separates us from the world of perception and meaning. We feel alienated. Why do it? There are two claimed benefits:

  1. We know what we ought to do, and make the mask do that. The mask is pliable. Manufacturing or contriving behavior in line with rules makes successful outcome more likely.
  2. If our interaction then fails, we can just say that the performance failed, not that we failed. Judgment of failure of judgment of the mask, and it stops at the mask. The true self thus avoids the pain of embarrassment.

Both of these claims are popular fictions. The first one contains a false premise—i.e., that the true self is blind and impulsive like the Freudian id. Does such a disorderly and myopic being even exist? I find it implausible that there could be a sub-self so compartmentalized that it is only aware of its present-time appetites and feelings. If you know that behavior X is inappropriate for a job interview, so does the id.

The second claim also contains a bad argument: If behavior X is not a direct expression of the id, then judging it as wrong or bad does not pass judgment on the true self. It assumes that authorship only holds for agent and its immediate effect. If doing X is wrong or bad but it was performed by intentional rule-following (i.e., contrived), my true (appetitive) self escapes the insult.

What a crock. Of course the engineer who moves the mask is judged a failure when the mask fails. Judgment of the mask can only be judgment of its controller—not matter how far-removed.

Which brings us to the issue of authenticity. It looks like the true self is just the sum of your perceptions and appetites at any given moment of time. And it looks like being your true self means running with your appetites, as they arise, in that moment. When appetites cannot be exercised and satisfied in reality, they manipulate the imagination and make fake substitutes. Dreams and free play of imagination is the way to gain epistemic access to the true self.

Why identify the true self with the appetites? What makes the appetites most real, or closest to self? They are, after all, heteronomous. The answer is: The ultimate causative agent must be the agent that causes. By true self we ought to mean agent—the prime mover of all action we take to be intentional or self-caused. Examples of inner action include thinking, imagining, asserting, believing, moving, and planning. These actions, we believe, are authored in a special way by a special being. The special way is their being authored ex nihilo, and the special being that authors them is free. Both contain the notion of being uncaused, undetermined, and empty of essence. There is a core that is a mover from nothing. And this, we say, is the true self.

But when talk about authenticity, we forget all this and lapse into appetite talk. When we say that someone is being inauthentic, we mean that she is not revealing or acting out her appetites. But how is uncomfortably doing the right thing less authentic than running with your impulses? If the rule of right is a cherished principle, then it is surely authentic.