Euthanasia did make my day go a little bit easier. My shelter ran very
smoothly and efficiently. And then, after the fact just to resolve the cognitive
dissonance in your head, you would say, well, it’s infinitely better to kill them
then to have them confined in cages for months. But if you do this you are
needlessly killing animals that could be rehomed. That doesn’t feel right to
me. We didn’t go into this business to be cruel. A shelter worker is not a killer.
—Former “euthanasia technician”
HOW DOES ONE BECOME an authentic person? “We would all like to know,” the sociologist Edwin Schur wrote in 1976. “Getting in touch” with one’s “true” or “inner” self preoccupied many people in the 1970s era of personal growth and the awareness movement. The standard litany assumed that a real self or true identity exists and can be discovered if only we “take charge of ourselves” and “learn to be real.” Pursuing one’s inner self offered people excitement and hope of personal change and renewal, leading to a cultlike enthusiasm for authenticity. Yet according to Schur (1976), this hope was illusory because no true self existed; in the end we are but a collection of social roles.
Whether illusory or not, the notion of authenticity survived this age of analysis and became more than simply a cult word. In recent decades, many groups experienced authenticity controversies, believing that their behaviors betrayed how they wanted to see themselves. Racial and ethnic groups have sought to express their “true” selves, aiming to cast off unwanted identities attributed by more powerful groups to those with less power. Nor have questions of authenticity been limited to ethnicity and race. Those asking what it means to be a man, a Christian, or a disabled person also have challenged traditional views of who they are supposed to be. All of these challenges reflect the construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction of identity and community, and the search for “false faces” that preoccupies postmodern society (Nagel 2000).