Against cynicism

In today’s postmodern age, it is popular to adopt a universal cynicism which questions every tale of heroism and finds fault in every profound belief and insight. Such people think they are the enlightened intellectual superiors of the gullible masses who are fooled by popular mythologies and overly simplistic explanations.

I myself advocate a rational skepticism, which asks “is this really true” of every claim and demands to see the evidence. My skepticism is fundamental in the sense of questioning basic assumptions of religion, politics, ethics, science, common sense, etc and also radical, in that I disagree with many of those assumptions, and thus hold views very different from the vast majority — ethical egoism, anarchism, transhumanism, paleolithic lifestyle, and other ideas there are not yet isms for.

Nevertheless, I am opposed to cynicism. There is no virtue in disagreement for the sake for disagreement, nor the rejection of heroism. It is a kind of cowardice — the fear to take a stand and defend an idea or a person. Yes, it is wrong, cowardly and self-deceptive to substitute one’s independent judgment for blind obedience to a leader or a book. But there is nothing wrong with the worship of heroism — as long as we recognize the heroic traits within people, instead of uncritical worship.

And this goes for ideas as well — modern civilization is made possible by a great intellectual revolution — a liberal and empirical worldview that is broadly shared by the modern world. As radical as my views are, they are very similar to the majority when compared to someone in a pre-industrial society. From a world-historical perspective, I am foremost a liberal, even though I am opposed to both left-liberalism and democracy. Many of my most cherished beliefs – on evolution, freedom of speech, the value of education, equality before the law, the appreciation of nature and other cultures, non-violence, etc, are thoroughly conventional, even though I disagree on the means of practicing them.

I would go further and say that it is impossible to achieve great things without heroes. To do the impossible we have to know that other people have done the same. We need to know that heroism exists not only in fiction and history books, but is a reality and possibility in our own world. People who believe that there is no such thing as truth or heroism — or that it belongs only in fiction or a lost classical age will never go on to achieve greatness themselves.

The world is of heroic individuals who do impossible things every day. We need only to look for and learn how to recognize heroism. Here is a simple exercise: name ten living heroes. If they don’t come to mind immediately, you need to either rethink your worldview or pay more attention.

One thought on “Against cynicism”

  1. You’re describing 1 extreme aspect of modern cynicism. None of it is representative of classical cynicism. There are quite a few useful principles that can be taken from both classical and modern cynicism.

    Modern cynicism could perhaps be described as skepticism with a bad attitude. Quite often that is appropriate and useful, though certainly not always.

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