Moderns need cynicism

"Let’s talk about cynicism. No, I mean it. I’m not trying to lure you into a column about something else.

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"The Webster’s Dictionary defines a cynic as someone who "believes human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest." In other words, cynics think people do things only for themselves. That makes cynicism sound like a bad thing right? No, it’s not really a good or a bad thing to look at the world cynically. In our society, it’s just unavoidable.

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"Personally, I think I’m pretty cynical about a few things, but I wouldn’t call the way I look at the world cynical. I’d call it realistic. It’s not necessarily by choice; it’s just hard not to be. If you still believe everyone on earth doesn’t have an ulterior motive for doing something, you’re just not paying close enough attention. For example, look at politicians. Ever since Watergate, America has had some amount of distrust for just about every politician or agency. It has intensified in recent years because of the rise of the Internet. We can find out anything about anyone.

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"Another great example of how cynical we have become is the O.J. Simpson trial. This summer, when ESPN was running their "30 for 30" sports documentary series, one of them was about the day Simpson was arrested for his wife’s murder, trying to get away in the white Bronco. The documentary showed news footage of reporters and regular people who were reeling in shock at the fact that O.J. Simpson, who at the time was one of the most beloved athletes and personalities in America, was accused of murder. Because the Internet was in its infancy at the time, no one knew about Simpson outside of his public persona. If something like this happened today, then it might not be as shocking because every aspect of a celebrity’s private life is on display for everyone to see. Also, due to the Simpson event people were ready to believe anyone was capable of anything. It was that shocking. There wasn’t an element of surprise anymore.

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"Is this true of everybody? Probably not. Personally, whenever anyone does something shocking, at first I’m a little surprised. But then, as I think about it, it becomes less surprising. Each new let down raised the bar that future bad acts must hurdle over in order to be considered shocking. Take the Tiger Woods fiasco. It was surprising at first, but it became less and less so as I thought about it. It’s not a shock that the most popular athlete on Earth would cheat on his wife.

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"Woods ties into another element of our increased cynicism, which is the fact that we have expected behavior for certain people. I personally believe that when people in similar walks of life as a certain person do bad things, it’s not a surprise when that person does it. For example, I’m sure President Obama has lied to the American people on several occasions. That’s not a big deal to me because every other politician in the history of the world has lied to his or her constituents at least once. It’s not surprising when someone famous cheats on their spouse because so many before them have done it. Some things never change about people in certain walks of life. There’s no point getting all up in arms about it anymore. That doesn’t mean we have to accept them, we just have to learn to expect them.

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"Modern cynicism will be very difficult to wash away because we know too much. And the more we know, the more we are disappointed. We can’t undo everything we’ve ever learned about people as a result of our mammoth information flow. I’m not trying to defend being cynical. I’m not even sure if I like being cynical. But you can’t go back to a more idealistic perception of society; it is impossible.

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"Some truths cannot be unknown. This doesn’t mean our society is doomed. Our increased cynicism can help us develop a more accurate perception of ourselves. Cynicism, if you think about it, can help us learn from our mistakes. Do I think that will happen? Maybe not, but I can appreciate it if it does. Which is exactly the point.