Saturday, February 13, 2010

what is the value of authenticity?

My wife and I spent the night in Russellville, Arkansas, while visiting friends. The hotel where we stayed had patterned concrete at the entryway intended to look like the European fan pattern shown here.

I wish I could say that the artificial pattern done in concrete is as beautiful as what I saw on every street and sidewalk in downtown Helsinki. It isn't, but the patterned concrete looks OK and it's cheaper. If you don't know the real thing or don't care about such things, the fake is just fine, right? It is prettier than plain old concrete and besides, you'll find very few craftsmen in Arkansas who could accomplish the installation of real cobblestones without extensive training.

So, is there any value in authenticity? Is patterned concrete made to look like cobblestones as valuable as the real thing? Is an object printed out from an ink-jet-like-manufacturing-device of the same value as something crafted by skilled hands? Perhaps it depends on what your values are.

In Helsinki I saw craftsmen at work throughout the city doing the same cobblestone pattern on streets and sidewalks you see here on the Helsinki waterfront. Some would regard it as menial labor, lowly and degrading. But from another angle we might witness a process involving skill and pride. For those in the US, without meaningful employment, craftsmanship might be starting to look like a more meaningful choice.

There are practical reasons for authentic cobblestone. Helsinki winters are harsh and the cobblestone streets are infinitely repairable. You pull up the stones, reset them in sand. Not so with patterned concrete. With concrete, you break it up, and haul it away for disposal. The patterned concrete at the hotel, though only a few years old is beginning to show major cracks and deterioration and will at some point become an embarrassment to the owners. It will be broken up, hauled away and replaced. Real cobblestone streets and walks can be fixed, with the stone being reused for centuries.

So, please tell me. Are there values in authenticity? What are those values? One is skilled craftsmanship. It fosters growth in the individual. It fosters pride. And I believe it's the foundation of human culture. We often choose between the growth of culture and the bottom line by settling on cheap.


  1. Anonymous5:52 AM

    So in the long run real cobblestones would be cheaper, look better, and give more satisfaction. But who's going to listen to us?


  2. It would take a cultural change. We are set on cheap, and short term gain... not on imparting cultural values. In our cities, we were perfectly at home having high unemployment and underemployment, particularly among blacks even before the recession. Few would imagine setting cobbles as being meaningful work. Few would sense dignity in it. And few would see the potential for societal growth.

    In my last trip to New York, I walked along Riverside Park and they have the asphalt pavers that are supposed to look more decorative than plain asphalt. They look like crap, but were no doubt cheap to lay. And they would rather get by on cheap than put people to work, even though there would have been people needing work. Go figure. We are fighting a battle with conservatives who have no notion of conservation of human spirit, or the planet either for that matter.

  3. Anonymous4:44 PM

    If God gave the soul his whole creation she would not be filled thereby but only with himself.
    – Meister Eckhart

    Today, even modern industrial societies are not always able to provide food and shelter for all of their people. These are very real and important needs. But there are other needs that sometimes are not so easily identified. Even when the most pressing requirements for food or clothing or shelter have been satisfied, that is not enough for the human being. There remains a hunger for something more. We want to be somebody. We want to feel secure. We want to love. Without any better way to satisfy these inner needs, we end up depending on possessions and profit – not just for our physical well-being but as a substitute for the dignity, fulfillment, and security we want so much.

    Only by living for something that lasts, something real – rather than for passing pleasure and profit – can we achieve the lasting fulfillment, the limitless capacity to love, that is our birthright.

    From Words to Live By by Eknath Easwaran |

    Scrap Wood