Cynicism

“I think we too often make choices based on the safety of cynicism, and what we’re led to is a life not fully lived. Cynicism is fear, and it’s worse than fear – it’s active disengagement.” – Ken Burns

Standing on the sidelines and making witty commentary is much easier than full-throated engagement in the fray. It’s easy to ridicule what has not worked, it’s much harder to dream up the solutions. So, for many, cynicism has become the default mode.

Cynicism is created when hope meets experience and experience shows hope up. We leave high school or college with grand ideas of how the world can be a better place. We wonder why our parents seemed jaded. We embark on careers full of hope, believing a little inspiration and perspiration go a long way, until many of us hit the walls of organizational politics, bureaucracy, or most depressing of all, people who can’t or don’t want to be helped. Eventually, most of us settle for making a living and doing good where we can. We smile a little at those who still think they can make a difference, but mostly we entertain ourselves with witty, cynical comments.

It’s embarrassing to admit that our dreams of bettering humanity have failed. It’s not the right thing to admit that society is still plagued with poverty, crime, illiteracy, and poor health. Indeed, it seems these problems are likely getting worse. While we lock our doors at night and look for the best schools for our children, there is still a part of us that resents ourselves for fleeing instead of engaging the problems. So what do we do?

We laugh at ourselves rejecting vigorous engagement as uncool. We feel we have a part to play in making the world a better, fairer place but have no idea where to start. In fact, it seems the more we try the worse things become. But we can’t come right out and say it.

If we humans were perfectly fair, just creatures there would be no problems in the world. There are enough resources. We would delegate to those most suited to organizing the sharing of resources and everyone would be happy with their allocation. No one would demand more. No one would seek to profit. We would care just as much about the loved ones of others as we do our own. I don’t think it takes much reflection to realize that this is not and will never be the case for the human race. It should be possible to make things better – this is where the hope comes from – but we find that it isn’t.

We can’t easily dismiss the evidence that something is rotten with us – individually and as a whole.  But this leaves us with a problem. We still care. Our frustration with our efforts to create a better world leads to cynicism.

The Bible describes this frustration as groaning for a better world. It states that creation is groaning for regeneration that God promised. (1)

One might reject the Bible but one cannot argue that it doesn’t provide an accurate description of the human predicament. We are yearning for a perfection we don’t find on earth and no witty remark can obscure this fact for long.

(1) Romans 8:19-22. New International Version.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Stephen McAndrew

Stephen McAndrew was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and now lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children, where he runs his law practice. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the Law School at the University of Buffalo (SUNY), Stephen is starting a Ph.D. in Philosophy in Fall 2013. Stephen is also the author of Why It Doesn't Matter What You Believe If It's Not True, a book that examines the tensions between post-modernism and international human rights law. Stephen blogs at Songs of a Semi-Free Man or you can follow him on twitter @StephenMcAndrew.