Home News CODGERTATIONS: Cynicism



Tom Harker

In a discussion with a friendly Conservative gentleman, it was suggested that in my writing I assumed to know and criticize the motivations of those with whom I disagreed. For example, he believed that I sometimes blamed people’s behavior on racism or selfishness, but they weren’t racist or selfish; they just addressed matters in a different (I assume Conservative) way.

Needless to say, I disagreed. I don’t pretend to be a mind reader, a psychic who can divine another person’s thoughts and motivations, but sometimes it’s pretty obvious that some folks – whether they know it or not – aren’t on the level.

I know a man who actually believes that President Obama is a secret Muslim. If he believed the President was Napoleon, he would be declared deranged, but “secret Muslim” is fine. Well, I believe this is a perfect opportunity for me to suggest possible motivations.

Since there is no way that President Obama is a secret Muslim (remember all the criticism he received for attending the “wrong” Christian church, and have you seen his wife and daughters wearing burkas?), how can this man’s view be explained?

Well, maybe he’s not too bright and believes whatever racists (remember the witch doctor Obama posters) or political operatives (the Donald?) tell him. Maybe he is racist and is anxious to believe the worst of a black President. Maybe he hates or fears Democrats and is anxious to believe the worst of them. Maybe he doesn’t believe it at all but has some reason for spreading a racist, religious, or political viewpoint.

I don’t know which of these motivations the fellow had, but none of them are very respectable, nor do they justify spreading false and hurtful information.

Of course, there could be one or more other possible motivations that escaped me and which would justify the claim that Obama is a Muslim. If so, I beg my critics to share them with me. They never do; they mostly make ad hominem attacks. As Jack Nicholson once said, they can’t handle the truth. They don’t like the truth; Oscar Wilde warned, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

As a young person, I heard people criticize those who questioned others’ motivation, calling them “cynical.” The implication of the tone and delivery was that being cynical was unacceptably negative. I checked the dictionary: Cynic – “a faultfinding, captious critic” (captious – “Marked by a disposition to find and point out trivial faults”). A Cynic must be a terrible person.

Of course, if there is fault there, finding it should be a good thing. Similarly, what qualifies as a “trivial” fault is debatable. Those at fault naturally think the concern is trivial: there’s no racism, no sexism, no classism, no economic segregation, no favoritism of the wealthy and powerful, no abuse of immigrants, no unfair treatment of gays and lesbians, no pushing other countries around, no unfairness by Israel toward Palestinians, everything is just hunky-dory. If there are any problems, those who suffer brought it on themselves by one means or another. If they would just behave properly and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they wouldn’t have any problems.

Unfortunately, the pain and suffering people face are real, and they are not trivial. It is easy for those of us who don’t share their pain to ignore or minimize it or even to blame the victim. It is even easier for those who benefit from causing the pain to rationalize their behavior and characterize any critics as fault-finding and captious cynics carping on trivial matters.

Well, there is a different take on that. Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary offered: “Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.” He and Oscar Wilde were on to something.

This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal