The above quote is from this book's seventh chapter. Not only are we all multiculturalists now, but the idea of being 'authentic' is simply part of our every day vocabulary. Bestsellers like The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Dilbert and The Office lampoon the inauthentic desk job, and a robust consumer market of 'authentic' everything (from jeans to organic produce) grows by the year.
So, why challenge it? Andrew Potter gives us several good reasons. First, he suggests that seeking for authenticity is as self-defeating as it is phony. It is self-defeating because when one quests for the authentic, one tends to get lost in the search (which is the opposite of focusing on any 'true self'). It is phony because, all too often, seeking the authentic - buying organic food, appreciating different cultural artifacts, etc - is every bit as much about appearing to be authentic to others as it is achieving authenticity for the self. The first several chapters (minus the first, which explores the emergence of authenticity as an ideal, explore these themes).
Next we come to some chapters that question the very distinction between authentic and inauthentic, on epistemic and ontological grounds. Ontologically, it is simply arbitrary to call x natural and y authentic when, in reality, they may be both made from the same stuff. What makes, say, an original painting authentic and a reproduction inauthentic? Now we get to the shaky epistemology. The original painting is real, says Potter, not because of anything about the painting, but EVERYTHING about our expectations of the painting. Several studies reviewed by Potter, for instance, show that one's appraisal of a thing is often wholly dependent on the background story it is presented with. (Tell everyone a wine is one of a kind, and the bottle of Yellow Tail just tastes better.)
In this sense, Potter suggests that authenticity is somewhat of a sham game. If the search for authenticity was REALLY about authenticity, after all, it would not matter for our enjoyment whether the painting is an original or a reproduction, or the wine is rare and old or common and new. Any search for authenticity that seeks eclecticism, uniqueness, non-conformity, for its own sake isn't a search for authenticity at all, but a drive to feel different, even if it means FORCING oneself to be what one isn't. Ironic, huh?
My favorite chapters are six (Vote for Me, I'm Authentic) and seven (Culture is for Tourists). In chapter six, Potter is skeptical about whether, despite the lip service, we really desire authenticity in politics. After all, while we like to talk about our desire for straight talk, we still devour the sound bites (especially the gaffes). We could say the media is responsible for this, but Potter reminds us that the only reason the media collects sound bites is because we watch 'em. Chapter seven points out the irony that while progressives used to be cosmopolitan, the age of globalization - a cosmopolitan's dream - has now turned many of them into communitarians. Similar to arguments made in Fish's article "Boutique Multiculturalism" (The Trouble with Principle, Potter makes the point that multiculturalism has somewhat become a caricature of itself: when culture is, as he puts it, treated as a museum piece rather than a way of life that one does rather than watches, it becomes a thin replica of itself. Once again, the quest for authenticity is more about appearances than realities.
Put simply, this is an interesting piece of contrarian writing. I am inclined to agree with most of it and despite minor flaws (I think his interpretation of Rousseau in chapter 1 is a bit off), would recommend it to anyone who wishes to see a dominant cultural assumption challenged a bit.