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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Philosophy of History; Part 2: The Mythology of Authenticity

The Fairy Ring by Alan Lee

This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.

In the light of the two movements of time (history) – the destructive backmovement (the past) and the creative outgoing movement (the Future) - is also the question of the two commonest alternatives in the philosophy of history: traditionalism or radicalism, conservatism or progressivism (not to confuse with progressive karma) – to focus primary attention on learning from the past or planning for the future. 

Both are paradoxically enough included in the Mythology of Authenticity, but the Mythology of Authenticity is a postmodern mythology, which is even worse than modernity, since its basic thesis is that there isn´t any planned history at all, and that it is up to humans alone to supply the world with values. The one face of this paradoxical Janus head is the empowerment culture (progressivism), the other face is the victimization culture (and the connected recovery movement - conservatism). The Self-help industry is characterized by two specific methods: psychotherapy and coaching. This interest in the authentic human life is not a, for example, NLP invention, but a trait of the age of authenticity, and the two methods refer after all also to the most spread psychological world-images of our age: the humanistic psychological world-image, and the constructivistic world-image.

In a secularized culture of material growth, where religion plays a constant lesser role in everyday life, psychologizing theories about the fall of the self, its regeneration and realization, apparently get a constant larger spread. Yes, my claim is that we in fact have to do with a new ideology, which danger can be seen in that secularization here has been removed. The pseudoscientific psycho-religiousness, which characterizes the self-help industry and its promises about personal development, is directly written in EU´s project on education and lifelong learning, and therefore it becomes systematically introduced in schools, further and higher educations, companies and management theory: The Matrix Conspiracy.

Today we do not need to open many weekly magazines, bestseller books about personal development, or newspapers, in order to discover, that the two methods are recurring everywhere, where modern people are concerned with telling and interpreting their life into a superior connection. The psychotherapeutic method especially appears through a long line of self-help books and books about spirituality, which are selling extremely well these years, and it also exists in countless versions of women´s magazines, and their many articles about women who have found their own true self again, and thereafter have taken the leadership in their own lives.

The constructivistic method is on the other hand more outspread in books about personal development (empowerment) self-improvement based management and coaching.

A bit caricatured you could say, that the prototype on the psychotherapy-oriented method is a spiritual seeking woman, who often is going in psychotherapy, while the prototype on a constructivist is a former soldier from the special forces, who is interested in personal development and works with coaching.

But as mentioned, they can´t altogether be separated; often they are mixed together, and under one you can say that they both are a part of the self-help industry. And both are rooted in psychology.

Humanistic psychology

Humanistic Psychology (Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Rollo May) is a fundamental inspiration for the management theories and therefore for the whole of the self-help industry.

The humanistic psychology is based on a biological view of human nature; or said in another way: it believes that humans entirely are desirous beings. Carl Rogers is therefore in his self-actualization theory focusing on the emotional experience of the individual. Abraham Maslow is in his self-actualization theory focusing on different levels of needs in the individual. Rollo May is in his existential psychology focusing on the will and wishes in the individual. All is rooted in subjectivism.

If you focus on these aspects of the human nature you will find your true authentic self, they claim. Like the wisdomtraditions Humanistic Psychology namely have an idea about, that Man has a sovereign (or even spiritual/divine) core. So, it is from here we have the concepts of the self-actualizing and personal developing human being, and, as a result: the authentic, sovereign, autonomous, competent, resource-filled human being; concepts, that are central in the whole of the self-help industry. An extreme focus on perfectionism, which therefore is closely followed by the opposite pole: failure.

What is common in humanistic psychology is that the individual actualizes his full resources or potentials; that is: that he finds his authentic self. This thesis has been developed in many various forms, for example it is also this thesis that is lying behind the concept of positive psychology. Positive psychology has its roots in the New Thought movement, and is claiming that if you focus on your positive thoughts, feelings, needs, wishes and will, and are ignoring the negative oppositions, then you can attract anything you want (the “positive” is in New Thought understood as material glory, money, success, personal power, sex, health, beauty). 

It is, according to the Humanistic Psychology, therefore only the individual´s own subjective evaluation, which can provide something with value. There neither exist valid values, which come from the community, or objective values, which come from nature, the universe, or life itself. Nothing has value in itself, unless it comes from the individual´s subjective experiences, needs, will and wishes. It is one big solipsism: “I alone set my values for everything in the world”.

The Humanistic Psychology´s view of morals is namely not only a subjectifying, which attributes the source of morals to the subjective itself, but also an emotionalizing, since it is the individual´s feelings, which decides the moral quality of something. What it is about, is to do what ”feels” right.

This might sound like what we already have examined in connection with feeling good in the Hara, but no. Subjectivism not only denies the existence of the body, and therefore Hara, but it also replaces the Navigator (the philosopher) with a Sophist (an ideologist). It might well be that humanistic psychologists will disagree, but they have a philosophy that implies this. Therefore they end in self-contradiction if they object to what I say.

In humanistic psychology it is the individual´s emotional experience of something, which defines values, not conversely. And this is fully in thread with the ideology of Consumer Capitalism, where the customer (and his or her´s experiences, wishes, will and needs) always is right. The consumer society, the therapeutic self-actualization and the subjectifying of the moral, go hand in hand. The moral – the individual´s relation to himself – is therapized, and the moral is subjectified. In short: moral relativism, which we will return in the chapter on Ethics.

Religion has in humanistic psychology been reduced to psychology (feelings, will and wishes, – Carl Rogers and Rollo May), spirituality has been reduced to biology (needs – Abraham Maslow), and philosophy has been reduced to ideology (consumer capitalism). So, traditional religious and philosophical practices have in Human Psychology, and in the self-help industry as such, been reduced to psychology and psychotherapy. Spirituality has this way been turned upside down


There both exist a social and an individual version of constructivism. The social constructivism is outspread on universities and therefore in much degree on all educations. The individual constructivism is more outspread in the coaching environment on for instance work places. However they are both included in modelling the concept about what constructivism is.

The latest craze in reductionism is social constructivism. Actually we ought to speak about a sociologism, but the dance was opened in 1967 with Berger and Luckmann´s work The Social Construction of Reality. A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. And the term ”social constructivism” has been stuck and is used with much pleasure by the followers of the movement.

In today´s literature social constructivism occurs in a weak and in a strong version. Both the weak and the strong version somehow claim that reality is socially constructed from our language, or linguistic mappings.

The weak version is about, that a line of institutions in society have been produced, and have to be explained, only from social/sociological causes. Examples on such institutions are legislation, for instance about traffic, monetary matters with everything that this include of banks, credit institutions, stock markets etc., standards of behaviour, ethical systems, religion and much more, but not scientific results such as the explanation of the periodic system of the elements, of the chemical connections, or of the laws of gestalt psychology, for just to mention some examples.

The strong version - which among others are framed by the Edinburgh sociologists David Bloor, Barry Barnes and Steven Shapin, and since followed up by a long line of others, among these Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar - is about, that not just the mentioned institutions, but also all scientific results and discoveries, are social constructions.

The individual constructivism has the same ideas. According to Nietzsche there neither exists a sensuous, a material, or a spiritual world given in advance. Everything is created by being interpretated. With this Nietzsche introduced a quite central concept: perspectivism. Through our interpretations (language) we directly construct the world. And you must therefore have the will and power to create new values, and you must have the power to give them name in a new way, because namegiving is the same as an unfolding of power. Or else you end up as a slave. To live is to will, to will is to create values. The will to power is becoming through us, and in that way we get control over the things through a perspective.

Nietzsche believed that the will - that is to say: the defeating, the remodeling, the striving - is something creative. As told, then the will to power, according to Nietzsche, is a creating power. That this power is the basic power in Man means, according to Nietzsche, that all expressions of the human life must be understood as forms of will to power; intake of food, arrangement of the everyday life with home and clothes, cultivation of nature, as well as sensation, feelings, thinking and will in usual sense - are expressions of the will to power. Nietzsche is thinking about the will to power in the image of art. All human unfolding is actually a creative process where a content, or a material, is formed. Life is seen as a work of art.

A similar thought exists in the so-called self-production thesis, which is the thought about, that Man is the being, who creates himself through his history, and thereby controls his own freedom. The thought exists in the German idealism, for instance in Fichte, Schelling, Hegel. Both Existentialism, as well as Marxism, also builds on the understanding of the freedom of Man to form his own life, and that this is an unconditional value. Freedom is a good thing, a demand and a responsibility. What it is about, is the freedom to be the creative power in your own history. In the Existentialists it is the life-story of the individual, in the Marxists it is the world-history of the community.

The self-production thesis builds on the thought, that Man is in a continual state of becoming. The concept formation also often becomes used in connection with the concept of becoming.

To live is to will, to will is to create values. The will to power is becoming through us, and in that way we get control over the things through a perspective.

It is now easy to see how much the modern management theory and coaching industry is inspired by Nietzsche: the relativistic and subjectivistic ideas about that it only is the individual himself who, through his interpretations, or stories, can supply the world with values – or rather, not supply, but directly create it like a God; the denial of the past, and the orientation towards future; the superman idea about being a winner, a succes, a person standing on the top of the mountain; the preaching about that it is not facts, but the best story, which wins.

Also existentialism can be used to justify these thoughts. The act-oriented ideas of existentialism match as hand in glove with a capitalistic-liberalistic ideology about being the architect of your own fortune, the right for each individual person to seek his own idea of happiness – the philosophical point of view, that there isn´t any objective value-goals for the human life, only individual subjective choices. That is: value-subjectivism.

For instance they use Sartre´s scriptures as a request for uninhibited and egoistic self-expression, where the individual person is letting his choices decide everything. The existentialists say that Man has the freedom, through his choices, to be the creative power in his own history. As management theorists and coaches say: ”It is not facts, but the best story, which wins!”

In the existentialists the choice gives reasons for all meaning, but can´t in itself be given reasons for in anything. The viewpoint is called decisionism, because values at base are founded on a choice, or a decision.

This is humanism in a nutshell.

So, psychotherapy (humanistic psychology) and coaching (constructivism) can be seen as new, large, meaning-carrying world-images in a psychologized and therapized age. Even though they, in their sources of inspiration, at first specify two quite different views of Man and his possibilities and purposes in the world, they are common in explaining humans from a conception about, that humans have lost (or all the time are in risk of loosing) himself and therefore constantly have to work with personal development in order to find himself (psychotherapy and the dream of a lost past) or to become himself (coaching and the hope of a richer future). You can say that the two world-images both are based on the claim, that a human being not is himself, before he becomes himself, and that both world-images see lifelong therapeutic self-improvement as a presumption for, that a human being can become and live authentic. They both focus on becoming and are neglecting being.

The two world-images can in other words be seen as two versions of the same superior psychologizing understanding of life, which the Danish researcher of religion Iben Krogsdal calls the mythology of authenticity. This mythology is so to speak a compilation of the two world-images into one. According to the mythology of authenticity the course of a human life is as follows (here inspired by Krogsdal´s examination (Krogsdal 191-192, 2011):

1) Man comes to the world as himself: as untouched core (humanistic psychology/psychotherapy) or unlimited possibility (constructivism/coaching).

2) During childhood other humans, or the culture, takes over the management of Man. Thereby he loses himself (his self-possession) and becomes another.

3) Human beings live unconscious without awareness about, that they don´t possess themselves. They live non-authentic as a ”we” (instead of an ”I”), and out of what they ”ought” and ”must”, (instead of what they ”can” and ”will”).

4) Humans experience problems (life crises, sickness, divorce, low selfesteem etc.), or they experience a need of changing in connection with challenges on for instance the workingplace.

5) Through psychotherapy or coaching Man discovers, that he has lived non-authentic; that is to say: controlled by others and without contact with himself (with his own core – psychotherapy and the dream of a lost past - or with his own potentials – coaching and the hope of a richer future). He discovers, that his problems or wishes of change are due to, that he not so far has been in possession of himself.

6) Through psychotherapy or coaching Man begins to disentangle from the leadership of others and takes himself in possession. The other humans exist in the subconcious mind and therefore have to be segregated through therapeutic self-cultivation. When this has happened, Man can himself decide, how he will react to reality. At the same time he gets in contact with his hidden resources (to either becoming himself as he was once – psychotherapy and the dream of a lost past – or to become the other, he wants to become – coaching and the hope of a richer future).

7) When the individual human being through the subconcious mind has taken over the control of his own life, he can place life-goals, which is in accordance with the one he is or chooses to be. The authentic human being lives with inner accordance – and he expresses himself by creating accordance between his inner and the external world.

8) Because he has realized, that the explanation of problems has to be seeked in his relationship with himself, and because this relationship all the time is under influence from outside and can´t be expressed once and for all, Man is in need of regularly repeating a therapeutic journey towards himself. He has to work with himself continuously in order to remain loyal towards himself as ”greater than” his conscious self.

So the Mythology of Authenticity defines Man as a being, who continuously need to cultivate himself therapeutical. The mythology does so by making Man into a problem to himself.

In the constructivistic world-image (coaching and the hope for a richer future = the empowerment culture) the problem becomes formulated very positive as a promise: ”You have not yet actualized what you have the potential for”. In the humanistic psychological world-image (psychotherapy and the dream of a lost past = the victimization culture and the connected recovery movement) the problem rather becomes formulated as a threat: ”You are all the time in danger of that others draw you away from yourself”.

The Mythology of Authenticity, as Krogsdal here has described it, very much reminds about what the American psychology professor Frank Furedi has called ”The Therapeutic Manuscript” (Furedi 2004, 91). This manuscript is a kind of un-written and very outspread script about how life typically forms itself to a human being, and how a human being through therapy all the time is in need of becoming healed. In accordance with this manuscript every single plane in a human being´s life represents a kind of risk: human relations are the source of repeated emotional damages, and these damages have to be healed again and again through therapeutic intervention. Frank Furedi therefore sees the therapization of the late modern society as a kind of cultivation of fragility.

It can sound paradoxical in a time which praises the autonomous and self-responsible human being, but the spread of the therapeutic manuscript through psychology and therapy is precisely participating in educating people in believing, that they are irresponsible, helpless and therewith dependent of treatment (Furedi 2004, 119). People quite simply learn to see themselves as vulnerable victims, who all the time become exposed for assaults and therefore constantly have to be helped, supported, healed.

With the industrial modernization Man has cultivated a mind, which can solve almost any technological problem; that, which the German philosopher Habermas called the instrumental reason. We have looked at this. But apparently human problems have never been solved. On the contrary mankind are about to be drowned in its problems: problems concerning communication, the relationship with others, heaven and hell. The whole of the human existence has become one extremely complex problem. And apparently it has been like that through the whole of history. Despite the knowledge of Man, despite his millenniums of evolution, Man has never been free from such problems.

The solutions to such problems require a communicative (philosophical/spiritual) reason, a reason, which understands the human community. But as Habermas says, then we are not using such a reason, on the contrary we are using an instrumental reason on human problems, where it only should be used on technical problems. We seek to solve human problems technically, where they should be solved in a philosophical way. The systems (the market, the economy, the bureaucracy, the systems) have colonized the lifeworld.

An aspect of, that the instrumental reason has conquered territory from the communicative reason consists in, that we in connection with human problems treat each other as means or as items, which have come on the wrong course (the treatment society). It is interesting, that the New Age movement, which actually should be a spiritual alternative to this, and be an advocate for a communicative reason, on the contrary is one of the most aggressive advocates for the instrumental reason. This is due to its psychologizing of philosophy. New Age is possessed with all kind of self-invented forms of treatment, and with pseudoscientifical attempts to justify them as science. Often they manipulative use instrumental/scientifical inspired terms about their methods, but which are without any scientifical meaning at all. It is just a rhetorical trick to persuade people to pay the fee.

So, in the Mythology of Authenticity people are seen as a kind of victims. Through childhood and the influence of others they have lost themselves or their original self-feeling. In therapy – as Krogsdal understands broadly as all personality developing work, whether it takes place at a therapist, in courses, in in-service training, or at home alone –people once again get the possibility for letting go of their roles of victims. At the same time they also, in accordance with the Mythology of Authenticity, get the possibility for actualizing their subconcious potentials.

In this way the Mythology of Authenticity keeps its own practice – that will say therapy in broad sense – alive through the assertion about the chronical lack of authenticity. This lack comes to expression in the myths about Man as a victim of others´ assaults, or as victim of the who-do-you-think-you-are attitude and other cultural limitations. Krogsdal says, that just like the Christian church (especially formerly and in its Catholic form) roughly said determines Man as a sinner, which regularly has to get absolution, and just like the church through this ritual´s revival of faith keeps the faith ”alive”, in the same way the Mythology of Authenticity defines Man as a lost or not yet gained self, who regularly has to heal (humanistic psychology) or form (constructivism) himself in the therapeutic practice. In this fundamental way the myth-rite-system maintains itself: the mythology refers to the therapeutic practice, and the practice revives and revitalizes the mythology. All in a continuous, circular movement.

So, as Krogsdal says, on the one hand the authenticity-mythology paradoxically enough confesses Man as independently, while it on the other hand makes Man dependent of therapeutic help (broadly understood as both therapy, dialogues or self-therapeutic work) by defining him as a damaged or not-yet-genuine individual, which is in need of constant personal development. Therefore both worldimages are paradoxically enough expressions of progressivism. This is further reinforced by New Age´s spiritual interpretations of evolutionism. I will return to that.

Humanity entails learning from others. Learning from others entails respect for tradition, for tradition is simply learning from dead others. As Chesterton famously said, tradition is “the democracy of the dead”. In a context of spiritual practice the importance of this is seen in the original wisdom traditions, and their spiritual practices which has been adjusted and corrected through hundreds of years of experiential practice.

The Mythology of Authenticity, and ego-inflation combined with it, removes all this experience with a handshake. In my booklet The Psychedelic Experience versus the Mystical Experience I investigate the concept of plastic shamanism (New Age Shamanism), and conclude with the claim that we with the psychedelic renaissance are witnessing an exploitative form of colonialism and one step in the destruction of Indigenous cultures, and eventually all the original wisdom traditions.

The main thesis put forward by users of psychedelics in connection with spiritual practice is that we with psychedelics are able to skip all preliminary work with spiritual practice. Psychedelics are a fast track to enlightenment. If not psychedelics, it is all kind of easy-solution-to-everything therapies.

Tolkien is a conservative. All pre-modern societies were, says Kreeft. Perhaps most of the masses in many modern societies still are. Their common sense will not let them believe that it is more important to invent new things than to use and enjoy the ones we already have. Most people are bourgeois, most people are Hobbits, most people are conservatives. But the teachers, the intellectuals, are massively progressives. As Kreeft says, then that is part of the reason for Tolkien´s great unpopularity among the critics and his great popularity among their pupils, the masses, who have been deprived of this gospel of the goodness of tradition by their teachers.

There are many meanings to the concept “modern”, but common to all of them is the opposition to tradition, the sense that the wisdom of the past has dissipated like a rainbow, the sense that (as Karl Marx put it) “all that is solid melts into air.” Tolkien refuses this with a book that makes even its critics marvel at the solidity of Middle-earth and of its history and traditions.

The basic argument for tradition is simple that it works. It works in The Lord of the Rings, over and over again. There are many close calls and dangerous turns in the plot, and most of them would not have been negotiated successfully if the protagonists had not known and followed tradition. They remember something their enemies forget.

There are more than five hundred references in The Lord of the Rings to the past two ages of Middle-earth. Tolkien´s heroes are humble and therefore look to the past, to the wisdom they had been given. His villains and fools are proud and therefore scorn tradition and look only within themselves for their wisdom.

Tolkien is implicitly asking his readers, his culture, to remember their links with their own ancient wisdoms – pagan, Jewish, and Christian (I would also suggest all other original wisdom traditions). Few lessons however, indirectly taught, could be more socially relevant than this one, for tradition means linking, unifying over time; and no community can exist without common unity over time as well as place. A generation gap destroys a community more surely than a war.

C.S. Lewis too was a conservative and called progressivism “the vulgarest of all vulgar errors, that of idolizing as the goddess History what manlier ages belaboured as the strumpet Fortune”.

Progressivism is “chronological snobbery”, he wrote,

The uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashion do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood (Surprised by Joy, pp. 207-8).

Progressivism is arrogant, for we know the past far better than we know the future: “we have no notion what stage in the journey we have reached. Are we in Act I or Act V? Are our present diseases those of childhood or senility?...A story is precisely the sort of thing that cannot be understood until you have heard the whole of it” (Christian Reflections, p. 106).

But! The mythologist Joseph Campbell´s theory of the monomyth (The Hero´s Journey) is in the same way exceedingly conservative and founded on a deep nostalgia: for him, the cure for modern problems is found by returning to earlier notions of spirituality and moral virtue. In promoting a “living mythology,” Campbell harkens back to a lost “golden age” from which we have fallen, but to which we can return with effort and guidance of a “sage.” This might have to do with the inspiration from Jung. It is a reductionism, a psychologism. And herewith there is the danger of ending in idealism, and the same psychologizing, emotionalizing and therapeutizing ideology of our society, which The Mythology of Authenticity stands for.

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