Let us consider cynicism - John Samuel Tieman

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12 Punto 14 Punto 16 Punto 18 Punto presents the article "Let us consider cynicism" by John Samuel Tieman.

“All politicians are corrupt.” I just googled that. I got 37,000,000 hits in .65 of a second. Then there's this, “All news is fake news”. I googled that and got 1,220,000,000 results just over half of a second. That is how common these sentiments are.

There are plenty of politicians who take bribes, sure. But every single politician is corrupt? Arlene Violet was Attorney General Of Rhode Island. I doubt if she was a thief. Why? She's a nun, a Religious Sister Of Mercy. As for “fake news”, does fake news include last night's baseball scores? If you believe both propositions, then, put simply, you believe that no one is to be trusted with public office and that no news service brings any truth. Therefore, let us consider cynicism.

In ancient Greece, the cynic was a philosopher who thought, among other things, that mental clarity is life's goal, that such clarity is attained through self-control, rigorous training, independence. They were ascetic. Today, the word connotes someone with automatic contempt, pessimism, doubt, distrust. It's no longer a philosophical discipline. It's more like a cry of petulant desperation. Today's cynic lacks faith in altruism, progress, optimism. Behind the notion that “all politicians are corrupt” is the conviction that people engage in politics merely because of greed, ambition, vanity, materialism. Such cynicism renders politics meaningless, worthy of little more than ridicule. It leaves no possibility for progress. When combined with “all news is fake”, the community is rendered both blind and hopeless.

Contemporary cynicism is corrosive on many levels. It can affect physical and mental health. It also can affect the health of a nation. Our constitution is grounded in an ideal of the Enlightenment, the informed citizen who is civically engaged. That engagement may be as sweeping as running for office. It may be a minimal as reading a newspaper, creating an informed opinion, then voting.

But civic engagement is always a narcissistic challenge. Anyone, who has participated in public discourse, has had their ideas challenged and even rejected. It's inevitable. Sometimes your ideas are simply unpopular. Sometimes your ideas are simply wrong. It's the price you pay for having your brain on display. Being in a community is also a narcissistic blow because at some point your individuality is sacrificed to the greater good. One defence against such challenges is cynicism. Cynicism leads to inaction. Sometimes inaction feels better than the pain of engagement. It's also problematic. In the “National Review”, William Bennett, the Education Secretary under Pres. Reagan warned that because of cynicism, the U. S. could become withdrawn and "crumble from within".

The passivity of cynicism is a kind of political suicide worthy of Hamlet. “And enterprises of great pith and moment / With this regard their currents turn awry, / And lose the name of action.” There are three dangers here. One danger is that widespread cynicism relieves citizens of any sense of civic duty. What's the point if the body politic is animated by no more than lies and corruption? This in turn leads to a political vacuum. But politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Thus the third danger, fascism. Into that vacuum goes The Great Leader. If all politicians are corrupt, then “drain the swamp”, and trust The Great Leader. If “all-new is fake”, then trust The Great Leader, the source of all that is true.

Contemporary cynicism deadens political imagination. We become caught in an endless cycle of “all politicians are corrupt”, “fake news”, trust The Great Leader. My wife, Phoebe, once said, “When we come to the end of imagination, all that's left is repetition.”

2021.10.11 / 11:14
John Samuel Tieman
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