From Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book Doubt:
With the gods gone, the universe seemed like a dead place of violence and chance and we human beings the minuscule representatives of our own emotive fantasy. All that is left of this fantasy is what we maintain in our own civilized, cultured behavior–little creatures holding back the encroachment of meaninglessness with nothing but out body shame and our quest for accomplishment. Diogenes had essentially said, I give up, and he found the experience astoundingly liberating.
While not the original Cynic, Diogenes is often held up as the prototype of cynicism. He lived in a tub and off handouts. A rough outline of his reasoning was that if the gods don’t exist, there is no meaning, and if there’s no meaning anything we try to accomplish is pointless. Essentially, as Hecht puts it: I give up.
That’s why cynicism bothers me so much. It really is giving up. I have gone through cynical periods and that’s what it feels like. It’s used to feign wisdom which is giving up on your intellect. It’s used to mock those who are actually trying to do something by saying, “what’s the point? Just give up.” Anyone who can’t find meaning has obviously given up looking too soon. People are dying all over the place, there’s tons of stuff to learn, music and art to be made. Preachy blog posts to write. Fuck. Ok. Don’t take my word for it:
Conan O’Brien on his final episode of The Tonight Show:
All I ask of you, especially young people … is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.
And here’s Stephen Colbert addressing the 2006 graduating class of Knox College:
Now will saying ‘yes’ get you in trouble at times? Will saying ‘yes’ lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes, it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying ‘yes’ begins things. Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow. Saying ‘yes’ leads to knowledge. ‘Yes’ is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say ‘yes’.
Two guys. Really smart. Really funny. Two guys who rarely put on a serious face putting one on for something they obviously think is important. Although, I reserve the right to remain cynical about the Canadiens.