Sceptic or cynic?

If a sceptic can be seen as a liberal thinker, a challenging doubter and a seeker after truth, then the cynic is something else: a contemptuously abrasive, dismissive and pessimistic type – a wanton disrupter, even an extremist who poses a threat to civilised life – a troublesome pariah who would shun the very truth for the sake of it.  Not surprisingly, in our ‘enlightened times’, hardly anyone wants to regard themselves as a cynic or be characterised as such.  Even the label ‘mildly cynical’ carries pejorative overtones now that we have alienated the notion, debunked its respectability and popularised forms of post-cynicism through our modern brandings of virtue, truth, justice, authority, civility and tolerance.  However, the lip service paid to ‘the right thing to do’ may conceal a Freudianesque veneer of righteous indignation –‘noble’ prejudices against the incursion of ‘inferiorities’. In sum, scepticism is seen as acceptably productive, progressive and illuminating, whereas cynicism ‘is’ unacceptably morose, dogmatic and subversive; but there is a fallacy behind these stereotypes that is hidden away within the ‘dark horses’ of human nature.

Apparently it’s fitting to confront cynicism with cynicism, whereas being sceptical about scepticism smacks of a counter-productive contradiction.  Perhaps the inverted cynicism – the negative stereotyping and demonisation – serves to burnish our tarnished virtue.  Yet, historically, the cynics were seekers after truth and virtue – ‘God’s’ watchdogs who stood as vanguards against the hubris of human pretentiousness.  But now it’s valid to see ourselves as ‘OK alone’, complete in our self-appointed nature as ‘Homo sapiens’.  So reason, once ‘a slave of the passions’, is now a liberator, enabling us to test the truth with logic, even to bring the unconscious mind into line and raise us to the authority of ‘the Gods’ – because the intellect is supreme and logic is infallible.  But this gives rise to the fallacy that all is subject to the higher truths of logic, which defy contradiction – so rendering any dissent illogical and a futile throwback to more archaic now ‘displaced philosophies’ that are riddled with personal points of view, such as the uncivil cynic might indulge in for the sake of being noticed.

Mike Laidler

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