updated June 29, 2020
Everyone has an opinion and many people don’t mind sharing their opinions from a normative standpoint. Namely, often we declare our views as if they hold authority over others’ opinions and validity for all. Within the group, the power of the consensus begins to grow in its influence upon the individual who may stand in opposition to that shared viewpoint. This is one of the fundamental dynamics of society with which the individual wrestles. The solitary voice amidst the crowd.
If we consider personal authenticity in terms outlined by Kierkegaard, for example, then the individual’s subjective experience is truth. Subjectivity, says Kierkegaard, is all we have, and we merely pretend to be able to stand outside of ourselves when we claim objective truths. One’s fidelity to truth as we experience it at the level of phenomena – ‘I feel this or that’, ‘I see, hear, taste this or that’ etc – is thus the ground upon which the individual stands when he or she is being faithful to his or her experience.
By contrast, the consensual view is often one that arises from adoption and repetition of other’s views rather than direct personal experience. Conformity and compliance with the prevailing agenda; the dominant opinion; the dictates and demands of authority; the cultural blindspots; the vested interests; the swaying power of rhetoric. The individual who differs can quickly be usurped by the sheer force, not of truth, but of consensual agreement that is self-reinforcing, the greater the number of individuals agreeing on the same matter. Add in our willingness to defer to positions of authority, and we have a recipe for accepting as truth stories, myths and fables that are commonly told around the village.
In this context, rather than our focus being respect for the subjective truth of the individual, we typically construct a game involving the discrediting or silencing of dissent, via for example, claims to ‘objectivity’ based on majority agreement, shared logic and ‘reason’, or the silencing power of shame. It is the familiar interpersonal tension and conflict we see eveywhere, from the bickering and armchair expertise voiced in the online forum; to the casual corner conversation; to the presumptuous political argument, to the struggle between so-called expert and so-called novice. Contemporary examples are seen in causal arguments about Global Warming/ Climate Change; the 5G microwave health impact argument; the mentally distressed individual versus the institutional-clinical perspective; and eternal arguments about the existence of God. The terms ‘conspiracy theory’, ‘fake news’ and the utility of scandal are socially constructed weapons created to silence and discredit any and all opposition to the establishment narrative by the individual. In this context of group force against lone voice, any commitment to personal authenticity must be informed by the resistance and obstacles the individual can always expect against her position as she makes her way in the world whilst trying to hold fast to the veracity of her genuine, embodied experience.
One further opposing force to individual subjective truth is, of course, the torrent of opinions and demands which we have taken in, or introjected, particularly from a young age when we were defenceless against them. When toxic, internalised messages from our environment are self-defeating, and typically demand our conformity to a false image of ourselves imposed upon us from those around us: ‘you’re stupid’, ‘you’re ugly’, you’re only lovable if you fit in’, ‘you’re unlovable’, ‘you’ll never amount to anything’ etc. The project of ejecting such introjected obstacles to provide clearer access to the ground of our direct personal experience is thus an essential step along the path of personal authenticity. It is enough, after all, that we have to deal with the external forces acting upon us, without our also having to push against the inertia and angst issuing internally from a false conscience.
What this means in practical terms is the importance for the individual of an open mind that gathers information and knowledge (a faculty that perhaps separates us from the solipsist or delusional), coupled with a singularity of will and belief in one’s particular, evolving vision in the face of isolation and its anxieties. This mindset may be best seen in people of integrity: the whistleblower; the dissident; the conscientious objector; the pure artist (as distinct from the hungry ego pursuing fame, for example); the genuinely creative individual who, like an explorer, must trust that his purpose in life, in daring to venture beyond the town’s limits, will often be opposed, criticised, mocked, punished and dismissed by the majority who warm themselves around the same, familiar fire. Similarly, the victim of child abuse, the family scapegoat, and those abused by the institution or the State, all stand alone against contradictions from the group. Naturally, as social beings, the individual can then begin to struggle against her own doubts and demurs, uncertainties and the isolation anxiety arising from the breach between her felt experience of what she knows to be the truth, and the opposing views of others that would convince her of her folly.
The open mind considers all possibilities. It is, after all, how we learn and how we test our assumptions and limits against a reality larger than our own domain. To have other authentic people around us can help us see ourselves more clearly, and test our assumptions and blindspots. But at some point we must also make a decision; a commitment. This is where our doubts can – rather than defeating our efforts – inform and strengthen our faith in self-affirmation; and where we come to terms with the particular anxieties attendant upon self-belief and self-reliance.
In short, doubt and anxiety, arising from the unsupported viewpoint; absence of approval; the failures that accompany trial and error; and the contrary, scathing opinions of the crowd and of the establishment view, are landmarks along the path of personal authenticity, not simply enemies of it. When we build the hazards of this arduous landscape into our understanding of the journey ahead of us: that the road less travelled is naturally never as comfortable, welcoming or easy as the path well-worn, then this understanding can bolster our faith in Being; our self-belief, our preparedness, commitment and singularity of purpose.
Our unique vision, when rooted in fidelity to experience, to a sincere love of the truth, and our resolve to make our expression of it manifest, is how the individual claims his unique, and often hard-won, space in the world.
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