SurrealPolitiksRealpolitik in an Unreal World

SurrealPolitiks S01E023 – Authenticity

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SurrealPolitiks S01E023 - Authenticity

With some merit, it has become something of a cliche to say that “change is hard”.

Of course, one could as easily say the opposite. For things to remain stable actually requires a great deal of effort. Chaos is the default setting, and in chaos, things change uncontrollably, often at an overwhelming pace. In the hysterical debates over “climate change” it is often said that the only thing constant about the climate is change. This being but one of the reasons people need to stop freaking out about the weather.

But, to be fair to the cliche, it is more often applied to people trying to change themselves. It is often said that “people don’t change” or “once a so and so always a so and so”. I suspect there exists scant data to support this, but it may be and has been said that “the best predictor of future behavior is prior behavior” and this is about as close as we can get to an accurate axiom on the subject.

People tend to do what they have done before. Our capacity to survive and to succeed is in no small part dependent on our ability to make reasonable predictions about the future, and so we have a certain inertia to repeat behaviors, since we know what the results are most likely to be.

Then again, a still more notorious cliche is that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”. I checked the dictionary. This is fake. Moreover, it would indicate that the whole world had gone insane, and plausible though that theory may be to you, this is not how we tend to define insanity. What everyone does is by default considered sane, whatever the merits. Insane people are different from the rest of us, otherwise we would not pathologize their behavior.

But perhaps the best explanation for the difficulty of changing oneself is their own perception that they are being inauthentic. No less frequently, the fear that they will be perceived as inauthentic by others. One can be forgiven a near infinite number of sins by both God and Man so long as they are honest. But a deceiver is not trusted. His repentance is unbelieved. Better perhaps an authentic sinner than to be perceived inauthentic with all the trappings of righteousness.

If you have always dressed a certain way, and all of a sudden you adopt a certain new style, are you wearing a costume? There are those who would say yes. And as surely as one is what they eat, they are no less certainly what they do. So, if you change your behavior, are you someone else? Or more to the point, are you pretending to be someone else?

As one who has changed his behavior, and his clothes, a few times, I understand this thought process quite well.

Let us begin with something uncontroversial. I once earned a name for myself as a drunk. Many times, actually. I had so fully embodied the lifestyle of a drunkard that I used to peruse the pages of a rather amusing publication known as Modern Drunkard Magazine. Who wants to be stuck in the past, after all? Especially when it is so hard to recall.

And, during these years, if somebody said “Chris Cantwell is a drunk” – which was known to happen from time to time – I could only disagree if I had forgotten my name that day, and this was by no means the most frequent of occurrences.

And so I considered this a rather plain statement of fact. Chris Cantwell is a drunk. That is part of his identity. A rather central feature, in fact. To try and stop drinking would be inauthentic, and of course, as a drunkard, I found the inauthentic quite difficult to manage because I was constantly drunk and could not remember enough to keep track of lies.

Imagine how sick a mind must be to think that one’s reputation depends on being a drunk. That to stop drinking would be to risk perception as a liar. Hopefully you realize that this could charitably be described as silly. Less charitably, it could be described as complete BS. This is more accurately described as what those in the so called recovery business call “rationalizing”.  It is, in a word, inauthentic.

Today I do not drink so much. I should not say that I have not had a drink since I have been home, because I would not want to be inauthentic. I can say that, despite the fact that I am prohibited by the conditions of my supervised release, that I admitted to my PO that I visited a bar on my first night out of the halfway house. I can say that I really liked it. I can also say that I did not much like the next morning, and that making a habit of this would not have been conducive to my fitness goals. So I have been better behaved since then.

And from this we may say something about the recovery business. It is largely inauthentic. The sheer amount of nonsense peddled by these people is a staggering thing indeed.

Most of all that they too, seek to become central to one’s identity. Identity is such a powerful motivator, that making someone a “recovering addict” – a lifelong distinction which involves a new social circle, meetings, confessions, a higher power, and all the trappings of a religion – that a February 2020 article at estimated the drug and alcohol recovery business a $42 billion industry, in the United States alone, an entire month before COVID became the top story and liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries were deemed more important than churches.

One imagines this number has gone up a bit since then, unless of course, people just stopped trying to recover or their clients switched to fentanyl and died, either of which is plausible. I have not researched this, and such will be beyond the scope of what I mean to address.

There was a time when one could say “Chris Cantwell is fat”. Today, only liars and people dumb enough to read Wikipedia repeat such lies.

Whether one internalizes that they “are a drunk” or they “are a recovering addict” or they “are fat’ or they “are a Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Atheist” these are all identitarian components associated with beliefs, behaviors, and other characteristics, that ought to be subject to change. If you “are a Democrat” and your Party decides to start drugging and mutilating children because that former clump of cells now knows it is transgender in the womb, you ought to be able to change this part of your identity without fearing being inauthentic, because your Party has gone completely insane. If you are a drunk, you ought to be able to quit drinking. If you “are a recovering addict” you ought to be able to declare yourself recovered at some point and move on with your goddamn life instead of slavishly devoting your life to fear of some disease for which there is no firm means of diagnosis.

In the state of New Hampshire, one may legally change their name for the bargain price of $150. Just pay the fee, walk into a Courtroom, swear you are not doing this for any nefarious purpose, and boom, you are a new man, so to speak. I know many who have done precisely this. I know more Freemans than Smiths as a consequence, and not a one has a blood tie to the other. I even know a man named Nobody. An activist and radio personality who is, by any meaningful definition, somebody.

All of which is to say, my dear friend, that you can change. There is nothing inauthentic about it. Whatever it is you think you are, simply determine today if that is what you wish to be, and if you conclude it is not, then by all means, pay the $150, be a Nobody, be a somebody, be a Freeman, or keep your name and change your clothes, your diet, your words, your behavior.

In an excellent book titled “Self Reliance” the great Ralph Waldo Emerson once said;

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”


Are you great? Is that part of your identity? Would you like it to be?

I was once a libertarian. I was very good at being a libertarian, no matter what they other libertarians may have said, because I understood all the characteristics of this political identity and I repeated them with remarkable consistency. The only justifiable use of force is in defense of person and property, thus the State is illegitimate because it relies on coercion for all its means. And since the State is defined by this, since a State which did not so act would not be recognizable as a State, and since force is justified against the behaviors a State embodies, one is justified in using force against the State.

For stating this obvious conclusion aloud, I was deemed a very dangerous man, with some merit… Less meritorious was the claim that I was a violent man, or an agent of that very State. Such claims were inauthentic.

And part of the reason you know my name today is because I used the obviousness of this to my advantage. The people who attacked me were inconsistent, of course. They were purported adherents to the non-aggression principle who lacked the courage or the consistency or the logical coherence to say what that meant. I confronted more noteworthy men than I with the obviousness of this, and whether sincerely deluded about their own beliefs or simply fearing the consequences, they demonstrated the correctness of my position with their responses and lack thereof.

And since libertarianism is nonsense we may learn something from this. One may short circuit the mind’s truth detection systems with an illusion of consistency. Consistency is but one of the ways we determine the authenticity of a person or a thing. If it remains constant and not subject to change it is perceived as being more likely to be true than something which changes with great frequency.

A man who changes his opinion is suspect. He requires an explanation. When that change of opinion has comforts and conveniences attached to it, say in the case of a politician who adopts a new position on an issue, if that position is more popular, or if it appeals to the interests of a target demographic, he may be said to be pandering. God forbid he simply better informs himself, and attempts to conform his views to reality, he must find a more plausible explanation than this if he hopes to win reelection. It matters little if his new view is more accurate than his prior view. Inconsistency is its own sin.

But, if he weathers the storm, and comes out the other side, he now has a new position, and this is the view to which he must now remain consistent. So, we may say from this that inconsistency is a temporary condition.

Similarly, a man who ceases to begin his days with a hangover is eventually remembered not as a recovering alcoholic, but as a man whose conspicuous traits do not include a drinking habit. A man who loses 50lbs in six months is fat only to those who look at old photos on Antifa blogs which inauthentically purport to be the sum of human knowledge.

As some of you know, I have a bit of a reputation for foul language. Producing this show was seen as inauthentic to some. A grift, a sellout, a cowering. Inauthentic statements one and all, thanks in no small part to all of you. In a mere 22 weeks, I am indeed the host of a show that does not curse or centralize themes of race. That show is a legitimate business with customers and a mailing address and a phone number and a website and an SSL certificate and all the trust required to accept credit card numbers and cryptocurrency.

Let us imagine an alternative reality, wherein I so feared being perceived as inauthentic, that I refused to change my behavior and my manner of speaking.

Is this behavior of an honest man?

No. It is the behavior of a man who is afraid of being caught. It is an attempt to short circuit the mind’s truth detection systems by giving an air of consistency.

And though I have changed my clothes, my speech, my opinions, my behavior, the name of my company, my address, my phone number, my diet, my weight, my muscle mass, my credit score, my criminal record, and near everything but my name, race, sex, and height, I am proud to say that when I read your comments, and rest assured I do, that one of the most consistent themes I notice is people complimenting me on my… authenticity.

And do you know when I see this most often?

It is when I display that most undesirable of features in a man. Namely, emotion. When I have on no shortage of occasions found myself brought to tears by the emotional weight of a given moment, none dare compare me to Glenn Beck. I am not complimented on my talent for acting, or the quality of my special effects. I am not (by anyone worth listening to) called a weakling or a woman or a homosexual, or anything of the sort. Some consider it positively brave that I would allow you to see it.

Imagine that? Bravery for crying. Now I’ve really seen it all.

Now, crying is a difficult thing for most to fake. I am glad to say I lack the talent. Fake tears will have one branded a liar more quickly than bragging about one’s endowment in the nude.

But in addition to this, the perception of authenticity here is in the behavior being counter to expectations. It is contrary to the perception of consistency. It is so unexpected that it must be real.

Perhaps in my case today tears are less unexpected, but hopefully you get the idea. I am the shock jock, the hardened criminal, the warrior. My archetype does not cry, and so, if I do it, I must be sincere.

But this on its own actually tells us quite little.

On Telegram a man recently used the term “Hot Takism” which I became quite fond of and vowed to steal the phrase. Being a man of my word, here we are.

Hot takism is a means by which to short circuit the mind’s truth detection systems. A view is so shocking, that one who voices this opinion must be speaking his mind without the filters of politeness, and so he is deemed authentic.

That is, until we figure out that hot takism is its own subculture. Once we know that hot takism is its own form of virtue signaling, a means of signifying oneness with the group, it becomes performative, and we must also discount it as a means of truth detection.

Not long ago I entered a Telegram group, and as a means of screening out infiltrators, it was demanded I say the N word. Without much hesitation, I complied. Not because I am particularly inclined to do this, but because that was the means of access. One would be a fool to think that anti-moral anti-God criminals who tell you they can change their gender would not do the same for the sake of obtaining what they want. A hot take these days tells us little other than that the person making the statement wants to be perceived as belonging to a group known for hot takes.

At some point, the brave thing to do, is defy the group. If you are immersed in a subculture, and your subculture is going off the rails, it is neither brave nor authentic to follow lemmings off a cliff. It is just the desire to fit in, run amok.

But then there is another subculture. In fact, it is so popular it might be mainstream. That of contrarianism. One who just has to find himself in perpetual disagreement is no more authentic he is unique, and no more courageous than the lemming. He is following a script all the same and his behavior is performative as it is predictable.

And we might go on about this all night, but we all have things to do and I might cut to the chase.

There is no axiomatic formula for human authenticity. All attempts to find one as a means of screening out the bad actors will be subverted by those very actors. The nature of deception is to mimic authenticity, and if there is a formula they will mimic that and then it will cease to be such.

Attempts to make oneself appear authentic by way of a formula, will tend toward that very subversion, since the exercise at some point becomes a performance and not a sincere expression.

We began by talking about change, and though I’ve bloviated more than a little today this is what I really mean to get at. I am not telling you to change, I am not telling you not to change. I am not saying that if you change it will be for the better. Change is unspecific and I know too little of you to say.

The line above from Ralph Waldo Emerson is a great one. Say what you think is true. If you think otherwise later, say so. Do what you think is right, and if this proves ill advised, do something else. Like the climate, the only constant about human beings is change.

I have some audio cued up from National Public Radio, about “Imposter Syndrome” which I heard as it aired in 2021 and found quite amusing. It was most amusing for what it lacked, and we’ll get into that when I play the audio, but of course to show you what it did not contain would involve playing the whole thing and that is not a viable form of entertainment here.

I have had to think about this some in recent months. I made a very conspicuous change in my behavior. It met mixed reactions. I adjusted my behavior accordingly. Sometimes I have to ask myself, is it all performative? Am I a fake?

I can avoid some responsibility for this in a way that you cannot. I am a performer. I am putting on a show. In fact, I am putting two shows, under different brand names, with different subject matter. Yes, of course I am performing. You likely lack this luxury.

Since I have read books about detecting deception, and they warn that one who says you should trust them likely ought not be trusted, I’ll decline to state what you should think of me, but I can say that I trust myself. Not because I have the best track record of wise decision making, or even because I am particularly reliable, but because I ruthlessly question myself all the time. Of all the performative things I do for your entertainment, confidence is the most preposterous of them all.

It is precisely this that causes me to behave decently, to whatever extent I manage to so behave, and it is this that causes me to try so hard to be good at this job. I am almost never satisfied with my performance in either realm and so I always try to improve, and though some of the abuse I put myself through could probably be described as pathological, this tends to have positive effects on my output.

This stands in some contrast to the NPR piece which we’ll begin presently. The black female host believes she suffers from something called imposter syndrome, and she seeking a cure.

Let us see if she finds one.


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SurrealPolitiks PodcastEpisode 24