Of Authenticity

A person who acts with integrity will also necessarily be authentic.

The authentic person’s lack of conformance to social norms may be abused by persons of lower integrity, as an ad hominem appeal inside an insincere argument or narrative.

I have a friend who painstakingly rebuilt a vintage 1950s Porsche from scratch. He is a meticulous engineer and a Duke University alumnus, dedicating over twelve years to reconstructing the vehicle in his home garage. During a visit I made years ago, he described to me the careful sourcing of each part, fabric, snap, rivet, and bolt from reputable and authorized vintage Porsche parts suppliers. In some cases, he even had to obtain specially manufactured and certified components from Porsche in Germany. His intention was not merely to acquire a rare and expensive vehicle, as that can be achieved through wealth and pretense. Instead, he desired to create a masterpiece through his own labor, ensuring the highest level of craftsmanship throughout.

There is a Zen-like quality to the unfolding of such mysteries. As he labored on the vehicle over the span of a decade, the car shaped his character in return. Both he and the vehicle exude authenticity.

The term integrity is derived from the same Latin root as the term integer, meaning ‘a whole number’. The term is actually a portmanteau of two Latin terms: in, meaning ‘not’, and tangere, meaning ‘touch/handle’. Placed into a more modern vernacular, this root meaning bears the context of an entity which is untouched, unmanipulated, or whole.1 The fundamental state of being unaltered or untouched is central to one’s inner strength and uniqueness at a spiritual level. It involves being “at one with or truly representing one’s self” in most all of life’s endeavors.2

As opposed to the human foibles of carrying water for an agency or succumbing to a known bias or social norm, integrity involves a series of behavioral habits which serve to compose authenticity. Put simply,

A person who acts with integrity will also necessarily be authentic.

The authentic person’s lack of conformance to social norms may be abused by persons of lower integrity, as an ad hominem appeal inside an insincere argument or narrative.

Plato, in his work “The Republic,” employs an allegorical dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon to present philosophical ideas regarding authenticity. One of the main topics discussed is the role of poetry and the ethical implications of imitation. Socrates raises a crucial question about the value and purpose of imitative poets who aim for popularity, suggesting that their intention is not to engage the rational aspect of the soul, but rather to appeal to the emotions and behaviors which are both most easily imitated, as well as being imitation themselves. An anachronistic form of pop music if you will.3

Then the imitative poet who aims at being popular is not by nature made, nor is his art intended, to please or to affect [stir] the rational principle in the soul; but he will prefer [instead] the passionate and fitful temper which is easily imitated.

~ Plato’s Republic : Socrates and Glaucon Dialogue

Through this allegory, Plato aims to define the characteristics of individuals who choose imitation as their form of life expression, as opposed to genuine life-artists who prioritize stimulating a key essence of the soul. Plato argues that the tendencies of those who seek public approval by adopting passionate and erratic behavior [pop fashion] are merely superficial and imitative. These tendencies can be seen as a form of virtue signaling or social pretense of Plato’s day, wherein individuals adorn themselves with familiar and stylistic conformance to appearances in anticipation of receiving public praise and recognition.

Such individuals can be identified by their strong inclination to impose academic clique-like imitative virtues on others, as they desperately strive for conformity within their social circle and all of humanity.

Moreover and in contrast, Plato continues his dialogue with Glaucon through alluding to several distinct qualities that stand out as manifestations of an authentic individual. Those qualities, as well as several I have learned throughout life, are outlined below.

The Feature Characteristics of An Authentic Person

  • May sometimes fail to regard social conformance norms as highest priority
  • If asked, will courteously let you know what they think (even if they perceive you are not going to like the answer)
  • While enjoyable as an aspect of human interaction, they do not necessarily seek or need your approval
  • Annoying or charming, their public, club, and private selves are all essentially one in the same
  • May appear relatively unskilled at de rigueur humility and cultural pretense
  • They generally choose to innovate, not imitate – however may choose to imitate when leveraging a familiar concept inside a new domain of context
  • They are not only able to self-govern well, but they find fulfillment in it
  • When left to their own devices and without guidance, will innately express their true calling
  • They rarely explain or complain, choosing instead to describe
  • They describe harmful conduct inside a schema of spiritual ethics, in preference over cultural norms
  • Unless they ask, they don’t need anything from you
  • Their ‘yes’ means yes, their ‘no’ means no, and their ‘maybe’ means maybe
  • Is not afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I am not qualified to answer that”
  • Often will maintain a perceptive knowledge of self, risk, and value
  • Innately grasps that the creator is much more valuable than the critic
  • They are cautious when sensing agency or cynicism in others – are ‘cult-proof’
  • They are not afraid to fail or be perceived (even widely) as ‘wrong’
  • They are innately curious – not afraid to consider or investigate the possibilities
  • Will often be tolerant of uncertainty, asymmetry, complexity, and novelty
  • Maintain awareness of their own bias, and will offer it up, often without prompting
  • Unless value, risk, or love demands it, will innately eschew the desire to control others
  • Is the same person whether or not money is on the table
  • Often will love reflexively (love others as an outflow of loving themself)
  • They may often perceive the critical nature of seemingly small things
  • Will innately eschew time-wasting or insincere academics, activities, thoughts, or discussions
  • Will apologize and stand accountable for harms conducted
  • They do not hold enemies, seek revenge, or deliver justice – but are often despised by the inauthentic who value these very things
  • Will typically not possess the instinctual habit of seeking to please everyone
  • Wealth does not serve to change them, nor change how they choose to treat others
  • They are often innately compassionate and merciful

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, partly through the work of University of Alabama philosopher Linda A. Bell, outlines authenticity in the following existential manner.4

What is suggested here is that a correlate of authenticity can be found in the idea of being true to the inescapable tension at the core of the human self. This would be attained if one clear-sightedly acknowledged the fundamental ambiguity of the human condition. Authenticity would then be what Sartre calls a “self-recovery of being which was previously corrupted [lost]”.

Authenticity would be “the awareness and acceptance of this basic ambiguity of situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks it involves, [and] in accepting it … sometimes in horror and hate.”

Perhaps, one of my favorite music artists, Kansas, put this astutely in their masterpiece work, The Wall.5

I’m woven in a fantasy, I can’t believe the things I see
The path that I have chosen now has led me to a wall
And with each passing day I feel a little more like something dear was lost
It rises now before me, a dark and silent barrier between
All I am and all that I would ever want to be
It’s just a travesty, towering, marking off the boundaries
My spirit would erase

To pass beyond is what I seek, I fear that I may be too weak
For those are few who’ve seen it through to glimpse the other side
The promised land is waiting like a maiden that is soon to be a bride
The moment is a masterpiece, the weight of indecision’s in the air
Standing there, the symbol and the sum of all that’s me
It’s just a travesty, towering, blocking out the light and blinding me
I want to see

Gold and diamonds cast a spell, it’s not for me, I know it well
The riches that I seek are waiting on the other side
There’s more that I can measure in the treasure of the love that I can find
And though it’s always been with me
I must tear down the wall and let it be
All I am, and all that I was ever meant to be, in harmony
Shining true and smiling back at all who wait to cross
There is no loss

Indeed, it is this principle of the recapture of something dear which was lost, which resides at the heart of integrity. Just as in the case of my friend who rebuilt a fine car from scratch, the process is one of a reassembly into the original or untouched integral whole. An achievement of authenticity does not rely in any way upon correctness, membership, nor cultural imitation or normative, as such irony would not go unnoticed by even those fuming in the darkest corners of irrationality.

Salvation as it turns out, is not metered by one’s compliance nor fanaticism.

Those who possess the wisdom and fortitude required to rediscover this, also demonstrate the genuine humility to recognize that every person they encounter carries a similar burden. As a result, they show compassion and mercy as an innate aspect of their person.

It is however, this very present nature of innateness which qualifies individuals as being trustworthy – an authentic component to be assembled into the fine machinery of even grander realms of import and Light.

The Ethical Skeptic, “Of Authenticity”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 9 Jul 2023; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=74647