A recent post at the Bicyclism Blog (Jan. 1, 2009: Authenticity) got me going today. The author takes a lead-out from "Futurist" Richard Watson's discussion of the increasing importance of authenticity, perhaps in the context of increasingly transparent universal interdependence (I'm not sure about that, I haven't read Watson's book). Bicyclism articulated Watson's focus on authenticity:
...with the increasing uncertainties of our times, people will seek authenticity (rather than pretence and ambiguity) as a refuge for sanity and safety. Showing off, he said, is dead. Like the predilection to imbibe exotically labeled bottled water that comes out of the tap anyway. And like the predilection to wear your fantasies to youth and virility by driving a Lamborghini or souped-up V8 muscle car. Cracked leather is good. Like the wrinkles on a face. Plastic faces are out.and later waxed poetic (a practice I support entirely):
We are the pedlars of authenticity in an age of swelling demand. So, to weave my own futurist vision, can the raw authenticity of cyclists become a societal template to replace that to which bankers and CEO’s once laid siege? In my vision the bicycle becomes an instrument of authentic expression; an instrument of societal progress and integrity. Of course, to we cyclists, this is already the case. But wider recognition would surely catalyse some interesting reconfiguration of a civilisation that is still over entranced with the devilry of manufactured image and misplaced values. It’s time for the age of the peloton of authenticity. We cyclists are, naturally, the ideal lead-out men for a ride such as that.
Aside: There is an essay by Charles Taylor entitled The Ethics of Authenticity. I haven't read it recently, and undoubtedly it's not exactly what I remember it to be. Nevertheless, my fondness for the title has remained. This is important to mention because the title of this post is a reference to Taylor's essay, and becuase I want to generally acknowledge that the value of authenticity is not a new discovery.
As I was writing and thinking about critical mass yesterday I felt uneasy--my thinking wasn’t clear. Now I've found at least one of the missing pieces: the artiface of anarchy. Perhaps that phrasing is too sing-song for serious consideration, but I think the idea is there. It is the antithesis of authenticity.
So, critical mass:
- Unplanned? Hardly.
- Transportation? Hardly.
- Leaderless? Hmm, a suspect claim.
- A big F-U to auto-domination? You-betcha.
- A celebration of bicycle culture? OK.
- Presenting bicycling as outsider or liminal culture? Jah.
Lets bring it on home. The ethos of authenticity is, ahem, critical. Normalize. I'm looking for The Solution, and I believe, as much as I believe anything, that it will be a Bicycle Solution. No,
The Bicycle Solution.
The Bicycle Solution is where the god of What Is meets the god of What Must Be. I'm less clear about how it will come to pass, but I suspect that compassion and softness will be important.
I'm sure that if anyone bothers to read this I'll get shot down as a critical mass nay-sayer, but let me assure you, I love bicycle culture, I love nonsense, costume dress, and irreverent behavior. I like liminal spaces. I like outside-inside tension, sort of. But we can't afford to leave bicycles in the liminal space. Again: we can't afford to leave bicycles outside mainstream culture.
It's the great paradox of liberty, diversity, and tolerance: humans can aspire to be more than human. Go figure. I'll keep working on it. For now, my only advice regarding critical mass is this: don't let yourself become part of a mob. Mobs are what happens when we let go of our aspirations.
- Bicyclism, on authenticity: http://blog.bicyclism.net/?p=271
- Richard Watson, on authenticity: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24866627-28737,00.html, and http://www.scribepublications.com.au/book/futurefiles
- Charles Taylor, on authenticity: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/TAYETH.html