Guest Post: On Naive Cynicism

This guest post comes from a friend of mine – someone I’ve only met once (In Philadelphia, we argued and ate burgers, to the best of my recollection) – and engages with something I think is going to be (if it isn’t already) very important. Take it away, Dan:

Naive Cynicism

I’ve been thinking about naive cynicism a lot lately.

Here are some examples of common statements that I’d consider naively cynical:

“We all know that government is incompetent and does nothing right.”

“We all know that it’s all just about money.”

“We all know that you can’t change things.”

“We all know that it’s all just about power.”

“We all know that businesses are, and should be, motivated by nothing but profit.”

And so on.

One thing that these kinds of claims have in common is that they seem worldly and wise. They show that you’ve seen the dark underbelly of the world. You understand the fundamental cruelty and brutality of all social systems, and of humanity in its irredeemable corruption. You get it.

Plenty of things suck, but I’m convinced that this kind of ‘wisdom’ is just an affectation, and generally betrays a lack of attention to the object of cynicism.

If you want to be cynical, I’d be happy to try to out-cynic you. (I’m also game if you’d like to get into an optimism-off.) But my point isn’t really about being optimistic vs cynical. This is closer to the point: the naive kind of cynicism, it seems to me, is almost always about making you into somebody else’s sucker. Specifically, the person or political entity peddling the naive cynicism is usually keeping you from taking a good hard look at them. They probably haven’t taken a good hard look at themselves, either.

That’s understandable. It’s hard to take a good look at yourself. It’s hard to see what’s wrong with yourself, with the intention of addressing it. Often, it’s even harder to really see and appreciate what’s right, and celebrate it … in yourself, in other people, and in the world at large.


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