Cynicism: The Social Epidemic
By: J.C Aaron
A gentleman approaches you and explains he is stranded. Then asks to use your phone to contact a ride. Do you trust him? Does it depend? What does it depend on? I won’t presume to know you, but be honest. Did you pause a moment to wager your empathy for his situation against the image of him running off with your new iPhone in your head? I did. If you answered no, then it’s a good thing I took a moment to remind myself not to make assumptions about your morals.
To be fair, that philosophical intuition is pretty conventional. In fact, a study that I will be referencing in the piece mentions a poll in 2015 done in America where 76% of those surveyed admit having an intuitive reservation to trusting other people. That being said, those thoughts do not automatically make you a terrible person. It does, however, contribute toward a depressing worldview which, when ingrained, becomes highly difficult to manage. And with each generation, that philosophy has a powerful influence on our culture. Most specifically, our social climate.
Cynicism is a philosophy that has grown exponentially in correlation to mental illnesses and what I believe to be the primary factor shaping the way we live. Cynicism is the tendency to believe people are by nature morally bankrupt and self-serving.
A journal was written in Jan 2020 titled “Victims, Perpetrators, or Both? The Vicious Cycle of Disrespect and Cynical Beliefs about Human Nature” concluded the key factor to be disrespect. Any other relevant factors more likely exacerbate the problem rather than be the root of it. Issues such as marital and occupational conflicts or a lack of social support would be caused by a series of social transgressions resulting in hostile environments.
To feel disrespected is to feel you’ve been slighted or unjustly treated. We all feel a personal right to be respected by others by being treated equally and with dignity. When people feel devalued or excluded in a manner that diminishes their place in society, most feel compelled to reciprocate that disrespect. Our tendency to attribute the actions of an individual to society as a whole effectively reduces the perspective value of others in our worldview.
Unlike other dismal outlooks such as pessimism and nihilism, cynic behavior and expression not only compel responses that make the ideology seem self-evident; The behavior itself is conveyed entirely in a disrespectful manner, perpetuating the spread of that rationale. Cynicism is a social virus that is wildly contagious and mentally debilitating.
If someone treated you like a mentally corrupt and untrustworthy person, for example, they scoff at you for suggesting you’d return a lost wallet with a lot of cash, then imply that you would most likely take the money yourself to buy a videogame console, you probably wouldn’t respect them. You may also question their morals for being so convinced that people naturally behave that way. Talking to your older brother about it, he tells you he’d totally take the money, and you’d be dumb not to. Over time, these scenarios come up a lot, and 2/3 of your interactions lack integrity till you realize. People are disgusting, morally bankrupt, and selfish.
No one suddenly woke up into the person they became. They lived their lives; They rationalized their interpretation of their experiences; Lastly, they processed conclusions that influenced their outlook overall. Our experiences do not make us; Our conclusive interpretations of them do.
There is a vast difference between cynicism and skepticism. I’ve heard the two synonymously referred to as if to say one begets the other. Healthy skepticism allows us to question information that may slightly stray from the truth or describe our innate ability to know when what was being told to us is probably false. Not to be confused with ignorance, meaning to deny something entirely without the knowledge to refute it or the dismissal of information you refuse to know. Skepticism reminds us to refrain from being gullible and go find out the truth. Being a cynic does enable you to not trust information from others. It just lacks a rational desire to not believe it and a healthy incentive to pursue knowing it for reasons other than spite or superiority. My point? There are absolutely no advantages.
There are, however, severe consequences. I’ve explained earlier that it correlates with the statistic of mental illness. A large number of mental ills commonly afflicting people can easily be associated with that ideology. When your whole view of society insists that no one is trustworthy, it shuts out many possibilities that would positively benefit you. Many essential resources become much more difficult to obtain; You won’t consult people, sharply limiting valuable perspective or insight that only personal experiences can teach you. No one wants to be around someone who brings them down every time they speak. Odds are they already do enough of that to themselves.
Cynicism is also self-fulfilling. If you constantly insist that something will happen or someone will do something, they just might. A complex may derive from “being right” often while directly setting the string of events that make it so. Telling your partner constantly that they’re going to leave you gaslights them into doing it, even in the unlikely event that your insecurities are appealing to them.
For as long as humanity has been capable of free thought, we’ve adapted to our social climate based on cultural trends and current events. Things such as politics, religion, scientific advancements, and technologies; Everything has a hand in how we communicate and interpret each other.
Inequality, bigotry, war, corrupted powers in politics, information, the justice system, even personal relationships; Impact our perception of each other in dire ways. Those in power over our culture are the ventriloquist pulling on our strings, and we’re helplessly aware of it with no way to cut the strings from our back. We see a trend in cynicism, not to oppose those puppeteers, but out of fear and uncertainty of what will happen next time they tug on our string.
Awareness is the first step to change, and I intend to use the start-up of this blog to make my readers aware of the antagonists of our current and future generations so that people will think about it more often. We are on the path to great change. The fight has begun to bring about a better world and in turn, manage the mental health issues wrought by our collective cynicism