The Real Deal

Or a reasonable facsimile thereof

What does it mean to be authentic? We use the term authentic in many contexts to refer to people, places or things. How can they all be authentic? If one of us feels that a person, place or thing is authentic, does it follow that all of us agree on that authenticity?

The sense of authentic most closely related to its Greek origin is the sense of genuineness, the idea that the source or origin of something is indisputable. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is an authentic da Vinci painting, since the provenance can be used to indisputably trace it to the time of its creation. We should all agree that no one can question the authenticity.

The origins of the painting “Salvator Mundi,” a Renaissance-era depiction of Jesus Christ attributed to da Vinci, are far more disputable. The historical record of the painting, commissioned by the French king Louis XII, is a matter of record. But the painting disappeared from history in the late 1700’s. It did not reappear until 1958 when the “rediscovered” masterpiece was deemed a fake and sold for a mere $60.

Later acquired by a group of art dealers, it was restored, academically authenticated, and sold to a Russian businessman for $127.5 million. Is the Mona Lisa more authentic than Salvator Mundi? Is it possible to be less genuine and still be considered genuine? Does that mean authentic is subjective?

Another sense of authenticity is something that is created or performed in a traditional fashion, or that is a faithful rendition of an original. This almost seems to be the opposite of the original Greek meaning of authentic, since this meaning implies that the thing that is authentic is not in fact genuine.

Authentic Tuscan cuisine in Chicago is certainly not genuine, in the sense of food cooked by an Italian person in the Tuscan region of Italy. But because the ingredients or methods employed in preparing the cuisine closely follow those in Tuscany we consider it authentic. But unless you have had food prepared by a Tuscan in Tuscany, how can you tell if the Tuscan cuisine in Chicago is authentic?

And what of an authentic life? This sense of authentic, denoting an emotionally suitable, purposeful, significant existence, comes to us from existential philosophy. It’s when our actions and words stem from our values and beliefs. It’s being who we are, and not who we or others think we should be.

But this seems at odds with how humans develop. As young children, we develop our beliefs, values, and personas through imitation of those around us. And we tend to internalize and repeat those imitations that bring praise from the important people in our lives. Therefore, can any existence be authentic? I would argue that few of us would agree that we aren’t authentic in this sense, but are we really?

It seems to me that authenticity, as beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

WARNING! Do Not Heed This Warning!

Question authority, it may not know the answer

Warnings surround us in this modern life. We should follow many of them without question. Most of these unquestionable warnings are made through the sound judgment of trained professionals assessing indisputable facts.

For instance, the warning against consumption of alcohol during pregnancy due to the statistical likelihood of fetal alcohol syndrome is an unquestionable warning. It’s based on indisputable scientific fact. You may be the one-in-a-million whose developing child doesn’t succumb, but the warning is still unquestionable.

Another is the warning against operating heavy machinery while taking certain medications. We know as a fact how these medications affect the central nervous system.  You may think that your metabolism or your operating skills will save you from any bad outcome. But this warning is still unquestionable.

The warning to stay away from the third rail of the subway is also unquestionable. As is the warning to cook that piece of raw chicken thoroughly. These warnings may seem more anecdotal, but the scientific facts behind them still make them unquestionable.

But there are other warnings that surround us in this modern life that we would do well to question. Most of these warnings are made through the flawed judgment of mere conjecture by pseudoscientists. And many of these warnings come to us through our social media and online sources. Your FaceBook or Twitter feed needs questioning.

One that springs to mind quickly is the warning about vaccines and autism. The science behind vaccines and the efficacy of vaccination is indisputable. But in 2008 the medical journal Lancet published an article, later retracted, about a flawed study that purported to find a link between vaccination and autism, a mere conjecture that internet pseudoscientists judged as indisputable fact. Vaccination rates plummeted as the pseudoscience spread through social media and the internet. Naturally, rates of childhood diseases once relegated to the dustbin of history went up commensurately. This is a warning that should have been questioned.

Another such warning that comes to mind is the purported link between Wi-Fi and cancer. Your smartphone is giving you cancer. Oddly, there is a grain of truth in this. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiation from Wi-Fi devices as a Class 2B carcinogen, right up there with cancer factories like styrofoam, aloe vera, coffee, and your Aunt Sally’s pickled cucumbers. I think life, in general, is also in this classification. The warning that Wi-Fi causes cancer should be questioned.

So what should you do when we’re confronted with warnings from people on your FaceBook feed, or when that Twitter god you follow tweets some dire warning about some heretofore unknown danger? Well, you could do what I do. Think. Read. And most importantly of all: Do Not Heed This Warning!

Oh, but you should heed my warning, to never heed those questionable warnings. That just makes sense.

Just Another Day in Paradise

Back on the chain gang

It was my anniversary today. No, not my blog anniversary. My anniversary at work. I’ve been with the Soul-Sucking Mega-Corporation, Inc. for 12 years now. I didn’t realize it had been that long. It seemed much longer.

When I got to the office this morning there was an email from the receptionist. It was sent to everybody in our little sphere of the organization. No sense bothering corporate, they wouldn’t know me from Adam. It said I started working there 12 years ago today. Hmm, news to me.

This anniversary email thing is a new bit. It came in with the last reorganization. When I started you would get some actual verbal recognition from an officer of the company at a quarterly employee meeting. Now you get an email. This was the first work anniversary that I remember since the new email anniversary recognition scheme was enacted.

Apparently, the drill is for everyone to forward the anniversary email to the person who is being recognized so that their inbox overflows with emails the have the same subject line, each with a little impersonal message that needs answering. There was the barrage of forwards to me, some from people I work with and know well, some from people I don’t know and have never seen, except in those little Lync avatars. The corporate level avatars look like professional glamour shots. Mine looks like a mug shot. I spent the first hour this morning digging out.

In my 12 years with Soul-Sucking Mega-Corporation, Inc. there has been three reorganizations. You can read about one here. We’re about to embark on the 4th, or so it seems. The Head Mahout just announced he’s not going to reenlist after his contract expires. This announcement should make the business press happy, so the stock price should bounce up, and he can cash out his stock options on the upside and float happily away on his golden parachute.

I, on the other hand, will dig in for my next 12 years. That should come sometime around the 8th reorganization, give or take. That’s two quartets of reorganizations. I guess that’s actually an octet, right? Woohoo!

A Most Inefficient System

Explaining the 2016 U.S. elections to Commander Data

USS ENTERPRISE BRIDGE – STAR DATE 2938.73 – DARK

COMMANDER DATA stands next to the empty Captain’s chair observing stars whizzing by on the forward viewing screen. The bridge is alive with the usual Star Trek bustle. RUDYBLUES materializes, transporter style, on the other side of the Captain’s chair.

DATA

data2Hello, Mr. rudyblues. Thank you for responding to our request signal once again.

RUDYBLUES

Yeah, hey, no problem Commander Data. I saw the episode of you writing cat poetry again and I figured you needed to see me, so I zipped right over.

DATA

Thank you for using your WordPress time travel powers again to join me here to discuss the 2016 elections in the United States. We find your society’s system of governance most fascinating.

RUDYBLUES

You’re welcome, Commander Data. Man, I can never get over this. I’m on the bridge of the USS Enterprise! Woohoo! Imagine if they could see me now back at C2E2!

RUDYBLUES reaches for a multi-colored touchpad on the arm of the Captain’s chair.

RUDYBLUES

(Curiously)

Man, I can never get over all these gadgets. What’s this one do?

DATA

(Reaching to keep RUDYBLUES from the touchpad)

Please, Mr. rudyblues, I must ask you to remember to refrain from touching any of the gadgets, as you call them. Your curiosity is understandable, but it is also most inadvisable. That controls the forward weapons banks. I do not think you wish to launch a photon torpedo at this time.

Read more ruminating