It goes like this: all people make a bet on God’s existence. You either wager on “he’s real” (How could he not be? Boobs! Nutella! Sweatpants!) or “he’s not real” (how could he be–your girlfriend is pregnant). The chips on the table are your eternal soul. Doesn’t it make practical sense, then, to believe in God? If, for example, you shirk God’s holy existence, then sure, it could end up that you’re right, and you die, and it never mattered. But the possible penalty for believing in God is ALSO nothing–if there is no God, there is no afterlife. Then there will be no regret and you will simply cease. In that scenario, we all end up in the same thoughtless infinity. Yet, should God actually exist, the potential reward is a perpetuity of peace and joy, and maybe even a bunch of virgins. The penalty if you’re wrong is your naked, dickless body burning while waiting in line behind a woman searching for exact change for eternity. Therefore, logically, you would be stupid to identify yourself as an atheist. It’s just a bad bet.
That is Pascal’s Wager, an idea published in the seventeenth century by a dude named Blaise Pascal in what I can only assume was that century’s Total Frat Move. It’s a tidy rationale for believing in God, but there is one question that haunts it: what good is belief if it’s not authentic? Underlying that, though, is something that’s been bothering me for months: does authenticity even matter?
A few days ago, a concert review of Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line popped up and a lot of people started sharing it. The author claimed that the bands “gleefully danced on the grave of one of the most purely American forms of art.” He criticized the audience’s taste in beer (Michelob Ultra) and their “fashionista” cowboy boots. He questioned if they knew that the members of Florida Georgia Line were not farmers, and he had a problem with a guy in the audience owning a pickup truck. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a Jason Aldean or FGL “fan,” and, if given a choice in beer when not mountain biking, Michelob Ultra is not it. But shit, man, that concert sounds fun. Read past the author’s snide vitriol and enter a dream world where babes wear cutoff jean shorts, folks tailgate like it’s an SEC rivalry, and everyone sings his or her heart out. That sounds fucking awesome, and if people are drinking Mick Ultra…well, sign me up. I could stand to lose a few elbows, too. But, ultimately, what offended this guy so much (which was also the fundamental thrust of his article) was his idea of “authenticity.” He didn’t believe these bands were “real” country singers, and he didn’t accept their fans as self-aware enough to understand the difference.
It’s popular to complain about hipsters, pointing out their tight jeans and glasses without lenses. Yet, what’s lost in that glib assessment is a much more offensive cultural development that oozes from this dude and the rest of the young, privileged, and hip: dismissal. It’s just so damn lazy to tear something down. I’d be more forgiving if the writer pointed out that the bass was fuzzy, or the sound didn’t reach the back of the room, or that Aldean kept muting strings. Those are objective, tangible criticisms. But, to attack a group of people for wearing cowboy boots–as if the flannel shirt the author probably wears is left over from his lumberjacking career–is offensive. Authenticity in this sense doesn’t matter. People like what they like, and his opinion of it is worthless because he doesn’t make it a discussion. Thank you, oh great purveyor of fine culture.
No one in this world springs from the womb in a Smiths shirt holding a glass of single malt. Any semblance of “fine” culture I’ve come to enjoy in this world has been a journey that started not with ingrained taste, but with social pressure. I just watched a documentary where they asked the subject what got him interested in art, and he responded, “I read ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ because I was pretending.” It struck me that that’s where we all start. In the same way, no one likes scotch the first time they try it, and no one picks up a classic novel and instantly assesses its literary importance without a frame of reference. The only way to understand something’s greatness is to try and learn its place in the world and always through the influence of others. You didn’t stop wearing cargos because of a higher understanding of fashion. You stopped because, as my great-grandmother always said, “Chicks fuck dudes in chinos.” In other words, it’s a game of relativity. I believe that the hip, dismissive types of the world pretend their appreciation of culture gives them depth–but that depth is a fabrication of influence. Their “authenticity” is only an illusion.
In the question of Pascal’s Wager, you can only “defeat” its logic with passion or outside influences. If you’re fighting objective reality with subjective evidence, then you just haven’t fully accepted the objective reality. In that case, there is no question of authenticity; you’re either in or you’re out. Some people really like Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia line and Michelob Ultra. There is no problem with struggling to understand that–it’s noble and real. But to dismiss it? That’s just humanity at its worst–it’s a humanity without girls wearing cutoff jean shorts and cowboy boots..