Friday, December 20, 2013

Dishonesty V

Scott Bradley

I am an advocate for the exploration of one's motivations as a means to greater self-awareness for the purpose of self-cultivation. When we begin to understand why we say, think and do what we do, we begin to get a sense of the seemingly autonomous powers that control us. One of my personal ironic mantras, for example, is the exclamation, "I just want to be somebody!" This follows upon finding myself propping up my ego with any of a vast number of scenarios in which I am 'right', 'appreciated' or especially 'worthy'. These are pure fantasy as often as not. Write a comment to this post, either positive or negative, and you will provide me an opportunity to self-examine my responses.

It is through such self-examination that I conclude that this endless and futile effort to establish and fix a real and palpable self is the most basic of human self-deceptive projects. It's not enough to simply exist — we require that our existence have some eternal meaning and this we seek to establish by every means possible, even if by things as ludicrous as believing we have an exceptionally cute ass. (Or naturally curly hair, as with one "Peanuts" character.)

This kind of self-examination is invited by the Zhuangzian description of those motivations which reveal a dependence on things external. The sage has no name (no attachment to reputation), no merit (no dependence upon the affirmation of others), no fixed identity (no need to be 'somebody'). The pursuit of such things (name, merit, fixed-identity) is essentially self-deceptive in that to do so is to believe that they can achieve their purpose. They cannot. To believe they have is to enter self-deception of another order.

Is it similarly self-deceptive to believe we can overcome all self-deception? Probably. Can we become the above described sage? Probably not. But this need not put us off the attempt; only awareness of this moderates the nature of that attempt and keeps us honest, that is authentic. Authenticity is not the realization of some ideal, but the honest and conscious acceptance that we have not.

Thus, though the exploration of one's motivations is an important tool for the understanding of what makes one tick, that exploration reveals that we can never really get to the bottom of it all. What motivates our examination of our motives is but another of the questions that must necessarily end in an infinite regress. Honesty, then, is thus in part an acknowledgement of the messiness of the human experience, and that, Zhuangzi might say, is in itself liberating. We are liberated, not from the mess, but within it.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. Your discussion of authenticity in these posts is very clear, and once again I marvel at how you've managed to keep metaphysics out of it. I'm reminded of such things as Alan Watts' "How to Be a Genuine Fake" (, though he approaches more from a Buddhist perspective. Or even one of my favorite films, Orson Welles' F for Fake (


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