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Cynicism: Philosophic? Or just Archie Bunker with a thesaurus?

I've been pegged as a cynic too many times lately - an appellation met with skepticism and scorn, followed by sneering.

But before invective, I have noted that in each case the remark was meant as almost complimentary, as though cynicism were a unique ability, like telling a good joke, or drinking 40 ounces of malt liquor in five minutes.

Unfortunately, I am failing in my self-assumed role as creative champion of all that is positive. I have deluded myself into thinking that I am, deep down, an optimist.

I would be a well-showered Whitman, but am I nothing more than a discount Diogenes, undermining himself at Old Country Buffet? Archie Bunker with a thesaurus? Fred Sanford with a bad case of gas?

Bertrand Russell, British physicist-philosopher-nerd, considered the nature of cynicism in Western Universities (English, French and American, not just the PAC-10) in his essay "On Youthful Cynicism." As a leaping off point, he invites, "Let us first take some of the old ideals one by one and see why they no longer inspire the old loyalties."

Ah, the "old ideals" - I'm already skeptical. Religion, Country, Progress, Beauty and Truth. What do these concepts, which he contends once inspired youthful Occidental intellectuals, mean today to this privileged class?

If one is religious, it is simple. If one is patriotic, he is a sucker to the master narrative. Progess is measured in dollars and bandwidth. Beauty and Truth have been collapsed horizontally, whereby everything is relative and equal. "Good" and "bad" no longer exist - art is just a vehicle for telling us how low-down beat the MAN's got us.

No wonder, this cynicism. There is no acceptable place to stand, and the best defense is a good offense. It's like rootless hyperspace in Asteroids. You can't be wrong if: a) you never truly enter the fray, or b) you fashion yourself the victim. If vultures spoke English, they would probably say some pretty cynical things. They don't actually risk the hunt - they just swoop and chow on something dead and defenseless.

Russell says the main cause of cynicism is "comfort without power," and finds solution

in intellectuals who find careers that match their creativity and talent. Scientists, he says, aren't cynical because their intellectual activity is approved by their communities.

What he has in mind for you other worthless nerds is ruling the world, while requiring stockbrokers to pass examinations not only in economics, but also Greek poetry. I don't know about the pasty

white poetry, and I definitely don't know about me ruling the world. I'm willing to give it a shot.

But the point of me is not to outline some arbitrary article I've stumbled across, or to demand that insurance salesmen be down with their homeboy Wallace Stevens. In fact, I'm not quite certain what I'm currently about. In two-and-a-half words: "cynicism sucks, big-time."

But does being cynical about cynicism even do any good? What a predicament. In personal terms, I think my cynicism grows from a fear of being wrong, and as I age and become less self-conscious about things like my haircut and the composition of my tightie whities, my cynicism will wane. Hopefully before I enter the Archie Bunker/Fred Sanford/Depend undergarment demographic.

What might inspire me and replace this soulless cynicism, this bony Edgar Poeian emptiness, this bastard Franklinian self-fashioning? The Apostle's Creed? How about honesty, by acting according to my internal optimism? In fact, I believe in a God.

I believe that the principles of our country are sound (and we can actually write a few of them down on a piece of paper).

I believe that ideology is not always bad, that some things are more beautiful than others and that intuition is an equal of intellect. Crash Davis believes in slow, wet kisses that last three days. I think that's a little excessive, but I do believe that the ground ball is more democratic than the strike out. I believe that greed undoes itself and that you reap what you sow, and so mankind will not crush itself in a capitalistic age. I believe in both dead white guys and living women.

And I believe in being positive.

I think it was Luther who said, "works are for poop butts." Today, I'll be justified by faith. Maybe tomorrow I'll knock off the cynicism.


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