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Cynicism: More Dangerous than Psychopathology

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Message C. S. Herrman

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans return home, many with scars, to a country unwilling to ease their way, unwilling to assure them at least temporary employment, unwilling to offer to enough businesses the incentives for hiring them, and perhaps worst of all, a public hardly of one mind as to our military commitments. This is a recipe for cynicism. If part of the scaring is mental illness, that only raises the ante for cynicism. When no care is felt for what one does to or for others -- because people by their callousness appear not to deserve the care -- this defines the content of contempt. The next stage finds one doing what is desired rather than what society would prefer. Whether the evident result is adopting drugs, taking up crime, or worse, cynicism has infected these veterans. They and their victims will remind us that cynicism hurts, damages, and kills.

One remedy for cynicism is activity in movements that offer outlets for meaningful work and outward expressions, not to neglect the contempt otherwise bottled up. The Occupy Movement was wonderful for these reasons (amongst obvious others), and I believe the results were wonderfully salutary. Perhaps it was the impending successes benefiting the mental health of the citizenry that spooked authorities to clip them, then smash them. The movement is still yet alive, but barely, and only in a few places. There is internet communication, but that hardly counts as a movement as here described, though such contacts are helpful and I would not want to be thought of as wishing to discourage them.

While these vets remain in the combat zones they avoid the signs of cynicism, but not the tendency to feel contempt for the enemy, which leads invariably to horrible wrongs. Warriors deal with stress by forming strong bonds of camaraderie, as effective in warding off cynicism toward the goals of war as any ideology keeping Republicans free of the cynicism and sleeping soundly despite the harms their ideology presupposes. Soldiers see what they want to see, as do Republicans. Liberals, when they are forced to see reality for what it is, turn increasingly to cynicism.

There are but two remedies for cynicism, both very powerful, but both very difficult to achieve. Strong bonds of attachment, say to the Occupy Movement, are as effective as the bonds formed in combat zones. And why not? Do not the plagues of society create a combat zone so far as stress and exposure to harm are concerned? But of course, and of course the authorities were aware of the fact and pulled out the stops to stop this dangerous movement, for dangerous it was indeed to those in power who understand the wellsprings aback such things. Dictators put a harsh and quick stop to anything that so much as smells of the ilk. But keeping up an Occupy movement is fraught with a thousand little, and a few major, problems, making them difficult to sustain for long enough periods to reap the desired results.

The other remedy entails adopting a stewardship attitude toward our offices, which amounts essentially to a developed sense of responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Stewards are enabled to form an attachment to professional principles no less than soldiers in their camaraderie. Professionalism can and should be a self-sustaining source of pride. What we call stewardship is what Thorstein Veblen referred to as 'workmanship'. The psychology is identical as between them. The pride in doing right by others is an essential ingredient in a civilized society.

But don't be telling that to Republicans, for it is precisely what they do not want to hear. Today's brand of Republicanism reflects a generalized me-me-me impulse, which their ideology places upon a pedestal. Only a self-centered and narcissistic attitude can spawn so many who to this day worship Ayn Rand as a hero. She was no hero. She turned Adam Smith on his head in presuming that self-centered selfishness does everyone good. It does nothing of the kind. She was a vicious fraud, no less venomous than Madoff, and a good bit less charming, if more persuasive for those wishing to play at being a cowboy capitalist, a cowboy ethicist.

Real cowboys were neither of these things as any historian will tell you. Cowboys broke the peace of saloons only for the same reason that the Occupy movement might engender minor vandalism. Only miscreants or those pushed to extremities did then what Republicans of all stripes presume to claim as their god-given rights in today's me-me-me world.

Put simply, Republicans require to grow up, and liberals require to nourish the spirit of stewardship especially in their own dealings, thus illustrating by their own example how an American ought to live and represent herself to family, friends, community, nation and world. The Founding Fathers understood stewardship, but we have come close to losing touch with the idea, absent which we should not be surprised at the degree of current cynicism and the staggeringly awful consequences in its wake.

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Mr. Herrman is a liberal philosopher specializing in structural metaphysics, where he develops methodologies enabling him to derive valid and verifiable answers not only in matters of the ontology of reality, but also in real-world concerns for (more...)
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