Thursday, June 30, 2005

Authentic Argo

A friend sends the draft of a paper on authenticity. It relates to something that’s been preoccupying me for a while; let’s call it Separation Anxiety. I’ve been noticing that increasingly in the last few months; I suppose it’s an inevitable part of aging.

Equanimity is better than anxiety, don’t you think? But maintaining equanimity in the face of approaching death is a difficult matter. (Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think my own death is right around the corner. But all around me there are friends and acquaintances brushing up against it, and it can’t help but be on my mind.)

The human preoccupation with Death — or, more often in our culture, evasion of it — is a logical result of the preoccupation with Individuality. I think this may be a key factor in our puzzlement at the willingness of religious fanatics to die for their various causes. We Americans cannot really comprehend the minds of suicide bombers, as I imagine the ancient Romans must have been perplexed at the complacency of many early Christians as they went to martyrdom (though self-death in battle was, I’m told, part of The Roman Way).

But I digress, as blogs so often do. What I’m thinking about this morning is Authenticity, which has always seemed to me a function of Place. Separation anxiety has to do with losing our place, because we identify with our place — our extended Place, which includes our family and friends, our home and things, our ideas and opinions.

Authenticity has to do with our objectification of Place, our hope, probably sentimental, that an expression of Place can continue even from one generation to the next.

This brings us to Sustainability, which is the gathering of attention and use toward the realization of that hope.

On the social level, now famously global, Sustainability requires heroic political measures. I’ve argued that these measures must begin locally and ripple outward.

And I think the social and political drive toward Sustainability is an outward counterpart to an equally desirable inward drive: toward Equanimity.

Authenticity and sustainability and equanimity are three faces of a single thing, and have to do with equilibrium. There are two constants whose tension defines the public or political neurosis of our time, and the individual separation anxieties bedeviling so many of us. One is the apparently universal human desire for Individuality and with it security. The other is Heraklitus’s famous statement: The only constant is change.

Equanimity, on a personal scale, must have something to do with willingness to modify individuality to accept the inevitability of change. Sustainability, on a political scale, requires a similar discipline when dealing with environmental factors.

The result is authenticity, a human expression of Place as it responds to Change. It occurs to me that the ancient expession of this riddle is Jason’s boat, the Argo, which remains always the same boat though over the years every one of its parts has been replaced.

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