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Memories of the 28th Century

Political Cynicism

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1. An inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism.
"Public cynicism about politics"
Synonyms: skepticism, doubt, distrust, mistrust, suspicion, disbelief.
pessimism, negativity, world-weariness, disenchantment

2. A school of ancient Greek philosophers, the Cynics.

I will confess that I am generally cynical in the modern sense; I believe that all sane people are out for themselves. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because humans have a strong urge toward self-preservation. While for most people that is spread over a large number of people, family and such, the essence of self-preservation is the self.

Even when we recognize the urge for self-preservation as legitimate, we try to reserve the right of self-preservation for ourselves. When we see other people acting to have their own selves preserved we regard that as self-serving, greed, cynicism, and so on.

I was thinking about writing a blog on cynicism as applied to U.S. politics (The terse version is: don't believe anything from a politician). When I started to look for information on cynicism I started finding things about the ancient philosophy, and that seemed more interesting than distrusting everything.

Apparently the philosophy can be summarized as follows:
"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."

Those ideas were widely known and practiced from about 500 BCE until 500 CE. Early Christians were familiar with Cynics, and it appears that Christianity was certainly influenced by Cynicism. I studied the Albigensian Crusade recently, and both the Albignesians and the Waldensians were committed to poverty as in non-attachment to material possessions. Giving away all of one's possessions was a very important event in the religious career of a Waldensian, and the whole movement is dated from when Peter Waldo gave away his possessions in 1176 in an imitation of Jesus and his Apostles. For that he was declared a heretic, and the whole movement was condemned. Within the last few months I read that the present pope visited the Waldensian institution and tried to apologize. I am sure that he was treated humanely, unlike how Waldensians were treated during the Albigensian Crusade.

Perhaps I should look for a for detailed description of the philosophy, because the sentence I quoted seems to be rather bare of reasoning, and I think that a natural life for humans includes a great deal of self-aggrandizement, sexual activity, and so on, because wealth is a means for living, and self-preservation is central to the lives of all animals.

I wonder how the word cynicism was applied to the distrust and skepticism type of cynicism. The article mentions that the negative aspects of the philosophy were taken to their extremes in the 19th century and that led to cynicism as distrust, but that little story doesn't satisfying to me; although it may be true.

Cynicism in the more recent definition is more fitting to U. S. Politics, and distrust of the people in government is a good idea. There may be some who are honest and sincere, but I doubt that there are many. The political institutions of the U.S. discourage people who would be anything even near to a Cynic. Virtue is not pursued by many people, and the idea of abandoning material possessions is quite contrary to American thought; although it has been considered in the past by people like H. D. Thoreau and more recently by Hippies, but it never went mainstream. Cynicism by its very nature could never become mainstream, at least not in a society that has the means to produce goods of some value.

It might be nice to have some Cynics or other off-the-grid people around, but they can't be the norm, and after the Great Pandemic there will be even less use for them. These days it is good to have both cynics and Cynics around. There is plenty of room for people to point out falsity in politics and other fields. It might even be a good idea to have a real cynic as President and a fair number of cynics in congress; although there may already be a few of them there. There can't be many, because there is so much to be distrustful about in congress. Having Cynics, the philosopher type, in politics would be interesting, because they would refuse to accept the ordinary. Just picture Diogenes of Sinope making a speech in the House. He would slash at the self-serving nature of most in Congress and in the administration. He probably would clamor for the negative income tax that Nixon proposed, but everyone was too cynical to support.

Yes, a few outspoken Cynics in the House and a few more in the Senate would do the world a world of good and save the taxpayers a huge amount.


I write like Isaac Asimov according to


  1. Kemijost's Avatar
    Question everything. That's a self-preserving position, and it's good for the community also.

    Most people don't question, it's easier for them to be spoon fed, and this have mental room to enjoy their favorite distraction more fully.

    I know of one great cynic who is in the U.S. residential race; he is learned, and has a record that verifies his cynicism against the corruption. A fair amount of research into the dynamics of our current situation is called for to see the wisdom of his position.
  2. PeterL's Avatar
    I don't think there are any "great cynics" running for pres now; although Rand Paul's daddy was a fair cynic, but he isn't running.

    It is true that most people do not question, at least not much. Self-preservation dictates that they take what is provided, because failure to do so can lead to less life.