On Unique Souls
Among my wife’s many laudable attributes (patience, longsuffering, etc.) is her keen sense of style. She has a unique sense of fashion and will routinely emerge out of long and laborious hours spent excavating thrift store racks with some quite striking ensembles. Where I see “ugly old crap” my wife sees boundless potential. There’s probably a metaphor or a theological lesson lurking around in that previous sentence, but I don’t think it would be convenient or flattering for me to pursue it. So I won’t.
One thing that my wife occasionally doesn’t buy second-hand is shoes. She loves her shoes. On a recent trip through Calgary, she insisted that we stop at a place called John Fluevog Shoes. Unsurprisingly, I knew virtually nothing about Mr. Fluevog or his shoes. What I learned in my short visit was that Fluevogs are Canadian, colourful and creative. Even outlandish, you might say. There were a few pairs where I honestly wondered how a human being would stay upright. Oh, and they are very expensive, naturally. Fluevogs are indeed, as their slogan proclaims, “unique soles for unique souls.”
While my wife was trying on shoes, I meandered around the store, examining the artifacts, the branding, the marketing, the moralizing (the line between these last two is, of course, growing increasingly blurry, if not indistinguishable). Aside from the shoes, my attention was also caught by the mantra on their bags.
Now, this slogan is clearly intended to be at least a little tongue-in-cheek and it’s probably not entirely fair to subject an ad hoc assemblage of aphorisms curated by some marketing department in Vancouver to anything like philosophical analysis. But I was bored. And I couldn’t afford any of Mr. Fluevog’s men’s shoes. So I made a few mental notes and decided to spend a bit of time parsing this proclamation of cultural orthodoxy.
Always hold on to the truth. Don’t let others sway your heart.
Sounds great. Laudable, even. It evokes images of the courageous individual bracing themselves against the winds of inferior, less unique opinions, refusing to relinquish their moral convictions. But what about when my heart isn’t true? Are others supposed to sway me then? What if what I’m holding on to is the conviction that it is morally impermissible to spend $500 on a pair of shoes? Especially if they are lime green. Would Mr. Fluevog want my heart to be swayed at least a little, for me to have a bit of a lighter grip on my “truth?” I wonder.
Don’t compromise yourself for the sake of temporal groovyness (sic).
Well, yes, I suppose we should all be striving for eternal groovyness as opposed to the merely temporal. Some of us might also strive for proper spelling, but probably only the more irritating among our species. Certainly not the unique souls Mr. Fluevog has in mind for his soles. At any rate, I’m still a little confused about what I’m supposed to do if my unique self ever happened to be wrong about something. I suppose it would depend on how groovy (or not) my wrongness was?
Be separate from the crowd that’s awash with normality by standing on a firm foundation.
Hmm. Groovyness does not, evidently, care much for spelling or syntax. Is it standing on a firm foundation that separates me from the crowd awash with normality? Or is standing on a firm foundation evidence that I am already awash with normality? This is a rather important point to get clear. One obviously (and desperately) wants to avoid being numbered among the unwashed normal masses. Perhaps I’ll send a note to Mr. Fluevog.
Never waver in your love or faith.
Got it. Although, presumably the object of said love and faith might matter? I don’t imagine one should expect much adulation for expressing their love of their fatherland or their race. I doubt a fundamentalist religious zealot with the wrong views on social issue x would be praised for their unwavering faith. Perhaps it is love of shoes that is being commended? Faith in uniqueness? I’ll have to add this query to my Fluevog correspondence.
And in all you do, please wear my shoes.
Obviously. How else would we demonstrate our uniqueness? How else would we shout our love, faith, and groovyness from the proverbial rooftops?
As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent part of last week at a conference where ideas from Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age were front and center. Taylor is famous for his diagnosis of the secular age as an age of “disenchantment.” He’s also well known for his descriptions of the secular age as the “age of authenticity.” In the absence of God and amidst the crumbling of religious institutions, the ethic that rushes in to fill the void is authenticity. You do you, as my kids say. Be true to yourself. No human being should ever be allowed to tell another human being how to be human. This is our cultural imperative, one of our few remaining moral maxims.
It seems to matter not that this imperative collapses easily and inconveniently into incoherence. What do we do when white nationalist Trump supporters decide to be “true to themselves?” How do we sort out which indigenous voices to heed in the protests dominating the news in Canada these days? What do we do when people whose views of the world are profoundly different all lay claim to the same language of “authenticity” and “refusing to compromise for the sake of public opinion” and “holding on to their truth?” These are increasingly intractable problems in the age of authenticity.
And what about the catastrophic effects upon mental health that this felt imperative to be unqiue, and to project your uniqueness out there to a watching, mercilessly, judging world is having? What about those who try and fail to diligently stand out from the crowd? What about the loneliness and anxiety and depression that our orthodoxies are fueling? No matter, it seems. This is our story, and we’re sticking to it.
The John Fluevog shoe bag is meant to be a bit funny, probably. But I think you could hardly ask for a more succinct advertisement for our age of authenticity. Be yourself! Be unique! Be true to your truth! Broadcast your piety to the world through conspicuous spending! Never waver in your uniqueness. Except when your uniqueness is bad or wrong. Then don’t. We’re only looking for one kind of unique souls.
My wife rocks her Fluevog soles, incidentally. Lest I be accused of being an uncultured Philistine incapable of appreciating art or fashion. Also, I don’t want to get into trouble.