The fact that we let our social context (partially) define our identity, our self-narratives and our clothes for instance, is a lack of autonomy. We do not try to create the puzzle of our identity anymore with the identity elements that were handed out to us in hand but we reconfigure our identities permanently, depending on the demands of our surroundings, writes Zygmunt Bauman (Identity, 2004).
Peter Bieri, pseud. Pascar Mercier, sees this lack of autonomy as a problem. To him it signals a lack of worthiness. Worthiness is an attempt to restore the lost authority over one’s life. Bieri tells us that we should observe our unconscious self. This, he explains, is a relatively stable set of emotions, thoughts and attitudes. According to Bieri this is our authentic voice.
Authenticity and consistency as the cornerstone of worthiness is exactly the paradigm that current youngsters struggle with. It is the paradigm of their parents’ generation, made big by sociologists like Anthony Giddens – but the paradigm does not fit our current, ever-changing, times (Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid life”).
Bieri’s call to observe our unconscious self, rather than to rely on old-fashioned introspection, is a modern version of the old paradigm. It is in line with the ideas of modern neuro-scientists like Timothy Wilson. But, it is highly questionable whether this unconscious self is our authentic voice. Rather, it seems to be the result of everything we learned by experience in life – see Kahneman, for instance. This hardly qualifies as “autonomy”.
This is the challenge we are facing nowadays. We long for autonomy and consistency but we are shaped by our surroundings, both consciously and unconsciously. One can even question whether such a concept as a “self” exists. How can one have a “worthiness” in such a state? Bieri’s answer is no more than of an upgrade to a no longer fitting paradigm. I think we need a new paradigm.