If I ask Google to define:Cynicism my results start with this web definition:
“a cynical feeling of distrust”
That’s rather unsatisfying. So I ask Google to define:cynical and I get this:
- Believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
- Doubtful as to whether something will happen or is worthwhile
First let’s take a quiet moment to appreciate how pissed off Ayn Rand would be that belief in self-interest as a motive is right alongside a lack of belief in sincerity or integrity…
…thank you. Second let’s agree that this is the time to consult an encyclopedia not a lexicon. No encyclopedias are nearby so I’ll consult Wikipedia instead; go go wiki:cynicism gives me a link to a fork in the road. Do I want to look into the post-19th century use of the word or the ancient Greek philosophy? I’ll look at both and quote their introductions at length. [a blog post cannot do justice to how much time I lost immediately opening a new tab to explore each interesting link; surely a post on the Cynic epistles must soon follow]
From the ancient philosophy page:
Cynicism (Greek: κυνισμός) is a school of ancient Greek philosophy as practiced by the Cynics (Greek: Κυνικοί, Latin: Cynici). For the Cynics, the purpose of life was to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions.
From the contemporary usage page:
Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ apparent motives or ambitions, or a general lack of faith or hope in the human race or in individuals with desires, hopes, opinions, or personal tastes that a cynic perceives as unrealistic or inappropriate, therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It is a form of jaded negativity, and other times, realisticcriticism or skepticism. The term originally derives from the ancient Greek philosophers called the Cynics who rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in accordance with a simple and idealistic way of life.
By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean a disposition of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions. Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions, and authorities that are unfulfilled. It can manifest itself as a result of frustration, disillusionment, and distrust perceived as owing to organizations, authorities, and other aspects of society.
It seems to me that, almost like horoscopes, I can read either one of those as a good description of me. And it makes sense – anybody trying to live Cynically in modern times would have reason to be cynical. To wit: In my lifetime I have watched capitalism defeat both communism and democracy in favor of an informal, yet well entrenched, global oligarchy – and at the same time somehow “capitalism” has achieved synonymity with freedom during this same time. Well played! But I digress…
Back to the question: Cynicism, why bother?
Here is the answer: As a philosopher, I have an agenda. I’m not the “let’s ask questions all day” type; I mean to live well, joyfully participate in the mystery of life, and do something to contribute to the betterment of humanity [this is an inevitable byproduct of having watched a lot of Star Trek series growing up]. While an admirable number of westerners are receptive to, or even hungry for, eastern wisdom my belief is that white people really want live by a philosophy developed by white people. Changing our collective behavior is a higher priority that challenging our collective ego. The name of the philosophy and its advocates will need to be obviously Greco-Roman and/or Judeo-Christian. Cynicism is the only philosophy white people have come up with that offers us a chance to culturally change course and still claim to be the fount of all culture.
The purpose of this blog is to explore what Cynicism is and how it can be applied to culture, politics, and human development in the present day [also I really need to do some writing].