Sure, it’s easy to be disenchanted with society: its corporate lies, political impotence, and information overload. The hunt for authenticity “has become the spiritual quest of our time,” Andrew Potter, famed co-author of The Rebel Sell, writes in his new book, The Authenticity Hoax. A way to escape all we believe to be fake and wrong is to seek the opposite, something authentic—which somehow leads to the Slumdog Millionaire-inspired fad amongst the rich: poverty tourism.
Potter’s new book explores how we’ve come to perceive what’s real. Knowing we can only look back for a greater understanding of the present, and maybe the future, Potter starts with Socrates and works up to now. Though it sprawls and meanders sometimes, this book is an effort to explain why we’re looking for what we want.
Potter weaves Descartes and Marx with Paris Hilton and Seinfeld, touching on personal identity, art, environmentalism, and consumer culture. He’s aware of the corruptions and costs of modern life, but rejecting society and all her comforts is not the answer, he concludes. Benedictine monk Dom Deschamps is quoted on his vision of “authentic” commune living without intellectuals: “no books, no writing, no art: all that would be burned.” Potter shoots back with a pop culture riposte: two cavemen in a New Yorker cartoon enjoy clean air, water, exercise, and organic food, “yet nobody lives past thirty.” Authenticity, it turns out, has its discontents.