Cynicism

On a blog post a blogging friend of mine, Muse, mentioned the two forms of cynicism, classic and modern.

Let’s use our old favourite, Wikipedia:

Classical Cynicism

The Cynics (Greek: Κυνικοί, Latin: Cynici) were an influential group of philosophers from the ancient school of Cynicism. Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and fame, and by living a life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone, and that suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable and by the worthless customs and conventions which surrounded society. Many of these thoughts were later absorbed into Stoicism.

The first philosopher to outline these themes was Antisthenes, who had been a pupil of Socrates in the late 5th century BCE. He was followed by Diogenes of Sinope, who lived in a tub on the streets of Athens, took Cynicism to its logical extremes, and came to be seen as the archetypal Cynic philosopher. He was followed by Crates of Thebes who gave away a large fortune so he could live a life of Cynic poverty in Athens. Cynicism spread with the rise of Imperial Rome in the 1st century, and Cynics could be found begging and preaching throughout the cities of the Empire. It finally disappeared in the late 5th century, although many of its ascetic and rhetorical ideas were adopted by early Christians.

Although I live in a world of riches – the western world, one thing I look for and beg for – it the truth and freedom I feel we all should have – as a matter of course.

Philosophy

Cynicism is one of the most striking of all the Hellenistic philosophies. It offered people the possibility of happiness and freedom from suffering in an age of uncertainty. Although there was never an official Cynic doctrine, the fundamental principles of Cynicism can be summarised as follows

1. The goal of life is happiness which is to live in agreement with Nature.
2. Happiness depends on being self-sufficient, and a master of mental attitude.
3. Self-sufficiency is achieved by living a life of Virtue.
4. The road to virtue is to free oneself from any influence such as wealth, fame, or power, which have no value in Nature.
5. Suffering is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions and a vicious character.

A Cynic, then, has no property and rejects all conventional values of money, fame, power or reputation. A life lived according to nature requires only the bare necessities required for existence, and one can become free by unshackling oneself from any needs which are the result of convention. The Cynics adopted Hercules as their hero, as epitomizing the ideal Cynic.

Modern Cynicism

Nearly 2000 years after certain Greek philosophers first embraced classical cynicism, 17th and 18th century writers such as Shakespeare, Swift, and Voltaire, following in the traditions of Geoffrey Chaucer and François Rabelais, used irony, sarcasm, and satire (which had never gone out of fashion) to ridicule human conduct and revive cynicism. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary and cinema figures such as Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, H.L. Mencken, and W.C. Fields used cynicism as way of communicating their low opinions of certain manifestations of human nature. Oscar Wilde described a cynic as “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. George Orwell defined cynicism as the direct opposite of fanaticism, thus also implying agnosticism as its integral part. By 1930, Bertrand Russell — in the essay On Youthful Cynicism — could describe the extent to which (in his view) cynicism had penetrated parts of Western mass consciousness, and could note particular areas partially deserving of cynicism: religion, country (patriotism), progress, beauty, truth. The first half of the 20th century, with its two World Wars, offered little hope to people wishing to embrace an idealism diametrically opposed to cynicism: seeing fellow-humans as trustworthy, well-intentioned, caring, decent, and honourable.

Modern cynicism is an attitude of distrust toward ethical and social values and a rejection of the need to be socially involved. It is a product of mass society, but one where political engagement has no option but to be cynical. Cynics can be self-righteous about the need to expose hypocrisy: to point out yawning gaps between our ideals and our practice. According to Peter Sloterdijk, modern cynics can be understood as borderline melancholics, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and yet retain the ability to work, whatever might happen. Alfie Kohn argued that a person’s cynicism stems from escaping responsibility, another belief sees cynicism as following sophistication in human psychological development.

In 2005, researchers at Yale University found that children as young as eight years old could discount the statements of others as tarnished with “self-interest”

Types of cynicism

Cynicism in the sense of “animosity”

Accusations of “cynicism” may originate in the negative perceptions and hostile attitudes of individuals concerning others. People who obtain high values on the hostility scale, have low confidence in their fellow humans, and regard them as dishonest, antisocial, immoral and bad.

Social cynicism

Social cynicism results from excessively high expectations concerning society, institutions and authorities. Unfulfilled expectations lead to disappointment, which releases feelings of disillusionment and betrayal.

Occupational cynicism

Occupational cynicism consists of cynical attitudes in relation to aspects of one’s own work, leading to a loss of pride and respect concerning oneself in relation to one’s own work.

Organizational cynicism

Organizational cynicism manifests itself as a general or specific attitude, characterized by frustration, hopelessness, disillusionment and distrust in regard to economic organizations, managers and/or other aspects of work.

Cynicism with organisational changes

Pessimism concerning the success of future organisational changes can result from (among other things) negative experiences of previous changes. The organisational-change cynic views people responsible for organisational changes as incompetent or unwilling.

So there you have it – I am sure that list is not complete – but

Various Philosophies of Cynicism is alive and well.