"Empires live by numbness. Empires, in their militarism, expect numbness about the human cost of war. Corporate economies expect blindness to the cost in terms of poverty and exploitation. Governments and societies of domination go to great lengths to keep the numbness in tact". - Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination
In my recent piece On Death Awareness and the Holy Moment- Fragments, I mentioned the philosopher Martin Heidegger's view that our inability to confront our inevitable death was a key source of inauthenticty in our time. After I wrote that piece I came across John David Ebert's new video series on Heidegger's Being and Time, and in Part 8 Ebert unpacks Heidegger's discussion of the many modes of inauthenticity in the modern period. As usual Ebert makes a very difficult text quite accessible, and I thought it was worth an extended meditation on here, both as an addition to the Death Awareness post and as a topic worthy on its own.
When I read Heidegger on the topic of inauthenticity huge parts of the society around me, parts that I previously took for granted as "the way it is", were revealed as anything but. Inauthentic living, with which our post/modern culture overflows, is the proverbial ostrich head in the sand. But we live in a time of profound transition, and in a civilization that some say is dying but in denial about it, and the turning away won't be possible much longer. To confront and understand our inauthenticity is to start thawing the numbness, to break the spell of business as usual, and to open possibilities for a new future.
Before turning to the video I want to offer two more layers of context that I think help to understand why inauthenticity is so rampant in our time. The first is this death denial that permeates our culture, as outlined in the post on death awareness. The second closely related and intertwined context is a lack of metanarratives or overarching cultural meaning in the postmodern period. I wrote about this in a post called Fear and Trembling Under the Open Sky- Sloterdijk on the Postmodern Condition, which also drew off a video by John David Ebert. Those two posts aren't necessary to engage the video here on inauthencitity, but if the three are put together I believe the loose contours of an active cultural matrix begin to appear.
A quick note for those new to Heidegger- the word Dasein, which Ebert will be using repeatedly, is Heidegger's term for a human being. It's a German word that literally means "being there", and it's an attempt by Heidegger to evoke a certain existential 'being-in-the-world' that is central to the experience of humans. Much more could be said about that, but since the word in not defined in this particular video, I thought I should point that out.
"We are caged by our cultural programming. Culture is a mass hallucination, and when you step outside the mass hallucination you see it for what it's worth". - Terence McKenna
There's lots that could be said about the contents of Heidegger's analysis of inauthenticity, but I want to pick up on one point in particular, that of spectacle, which is not a word Heidegger specifically uses but I think Ebert is spot on in evoking it. It's worth considering how our popular culture- represented in all those celebrity filled magazines at the check-out counter- might act as a massive space of diversion, a place where we can displace and dispel so much of our nervous fear and anxiety, and fill the void of our underlying meaninglessness. One of the most famous investigations/critiques of this dimension of modern mass society is Guy Debord's 1967 text The Society of the Spectacle. (There's a decent 15 min. Big Ideas podcast on the Debord's book here). I want to quickly look at two theses that appear early on in the book:
 The spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is the sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges. Being isolated- and precisely for that reason- this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness; the unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation.
 The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.
According to Debord, we think that when we're talking about Tom and Katie, or the Kardashians, or the latest movie, that we're creating connection and community, but what we're really doing is interacting via an external and mediated sphere not of our own making. As much as it feels like a village of old, it's really "generalized separation", a culture not engaged in its own world making but simply making commentary on a constructed world for us to consume from afar. Our social relationships with others are mediated via this mass spectacle, that is, we do not interact with others directly through creating a world of our own, but interact only through the spectacle as we gossip and chatter with one another about pop culture, sports, passing fads, fabricated political theater and other glitzy productions of the phantasmagoric Other.
Now let's recap bringing in some of the other threads in this post. Generally speaking we're racked by death fear in our cultures that lack meaning, but because this is massively uncomfortable to confront we push it away into shadow and retreat into modes of inauthenticity. The mass produced society of the spectacle gives us an enormous but shallow playground within which to divert ourselves and our anxious energy, and as a result, as Debord says in thesis 1, "all that was directly lived has become mere representation".
We can add one more key axis to this story- consumer society and the manipulation of desire. The society of the spectacle has also developed ever more sophisticated ways to stoke our desires, our fears and our anxieties, and to sell us products that will temporarily relieve us of all this internal tension. There's a great BBC documentary film on this subject called The Century of the Self, which I really recommend watching if you haven't seen it already. Part 1 (of 3) covers this particular territory and draws attention to Edward Bernays, a historically very interesting figure who was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and who applied Freud's theories of desire and the unconscious to mass marketing and public relations (1). Not only was modern mass society full of fear and inauthenticity, this was being both stoked and preyed upon via new sophisticated understandings of the human mind. Here's a short 2 minute introduction to that series, but the whole first part can be watched here.
Lastly for this post, I want to offer the voice of Chris Hedges on the topic of the spectacle, as Hedges wrote an excellent (and punishing) book in 2010 called Empire of Illusion- The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Here's a ten minute interview with Hedges talking about the book. The interview ends on a moment of hope, and I want to offer one here too, as taking in all the information in this post can send us off into a sea of despair if we're not careful. The thing is, what breaks the spell of all this illusion and inauthenticity and numbness is simply our willingness to face into the wind and do so. There are so many movements today that have broken through this barrier and are actively trying to create a new society and a new future. Despite the dark material in this post it's also part of that exodus out of exile, and this site is largely dedicated to that project too. What Charles Eisenstein has called "the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible" awaits, and in my view is inbreaking ever so slowly but gaining speed. May the great thaw continue.
"Consciousness of desire and the desire for consciousness together and indissolubly constitute that project which in its negative form has as its goal the abolition of classes and the direct possession by the workers of every aspect of their activity. The opposite of this project is the society of the spectacle, where the commodity contemplates itself in a world of its own making". Society of the Spectacle, Thesis 53
(1) “Much as Freud had revolutionized the way the world thought about individual behavior, so Bernays was able to transform attitudes toward group action. He used his uncle’s ideas in the commercial realm to predict, then adjust, the way people believed and behaved. Never mind that they didn’t realize it. In fact, all the better. And just as Freud was rewarded with the title Father of Psychoanalysis, so Bernays became known around the world as the Father of Public Relations. The techniques he developed fast became staples of political campaigns and of image-making in general”. Tye, Larry. The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998. p.ix.
Also Debord, Society of the Spectacle, thesis 51- "Replacing that [economic necessity of earlier societies] by the necessity of boundless economic development can only mean replacing the satisfaction of primary human needs, now met in the most summary manner, by a ceaseless manufacture of pseudo-needs, all of which comes down to one- namely, the pseudo-need for the reign of an autonomous economy to continue".