tgrundon

Cynicism and Ethics

20 posts in this topic

Dr Hurd had a good column yesterday on Cynicism vs. Naivitee. Unfortunately it is off the server so I can only paraphrase what I read. He talked about how cynics often attach a malevolent view toward the actions of other people. I want to elaborate how I think this relates to unethical people.

People who are unethical use cynicism as a tool that supports their motivations. If everyone is dishonest, then why not be dishonest, if others will stab you in the back, then why not stab first? Secondly people who are dishonest are more likely to have a cynical (or even paranoid) view of other people and life. They assume others have similar dishonest motivations as themselves, and so assume the worst in the motivations of others.

When I meet someone who is especially cynical in an unwarranted way toward a person, principle, or institution, I become suspicious that there is some dishonest part of them yet to be shown. For example I have a neighbor that dislikes the government because he thinks all government is a scam, and later I learned he is a bit of a scammer in his social relationships. But sometimes the dishonesty is more hidden and embedded in a cynics character, and so the reaction is not always recipricol (fearing equal dishonesty) but breaks out into strange and unwarranted suspicion in multiple circumstances.

If we had a less 'turn-the-other-cheek' culture I think people would call cynics on their dishonesty more often, and then there might be less of that behavoir.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
People who are unethical use cynicism as a tool that supports their motivations. If everyone is dishonest, then why not be dishonest, if others will stab you in the back, then why not stab first? Secondly people who are dishonest are more likely to have a cynical (or even paranoid) view of other people and life. They assume others have similar dishonest motivations as themselves, and so assume the worst in the motivations of others.

Like you, I find that cynics are often dishonest, but I think that is due to the psychological phenomenon of projection rather than from the cynic's desire to justify his own dishonesty.

Since we can't read other people's minds, we tend to "fill in the blanks" from our own introspections. When I meet someone who thinks that people are no damn good, it is usually because he is projecting his own self-image onto others.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

tqrundon

Personally, I have little time for those people, but sometimes you run into them at a social gathering , or waiting your turn at the supermarket check-out. For some reason they always seek listners, as if looking for others of their kind , and they probe you carefully at first, before they open up.Another characteristic of their is the effort they put in , in making you laugh, altough they project nothing but bitterness-- poor people.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In "Altruism as Appeasement" (The Objectivist, January 1966), Miss Rand offers profound insights into the psychology of an "intellectual appeaser." While such a person, as described below, may not be the only type to become a cynic, her analysis speaks to the deeper issue of cynicism's relation to ethics.

In contrast to a social metaphysician, who desires to escape the responsibility of independent thought and, therefore, sacrifices his mind to others' judgements, the intellectual appeaser "surrenders morality, the realm of values, in order to be permitted to use his mind" (p. 3) [italics in original]. He will concede altruism (even if he doesn't believe in it) so that he can be left alone to think.

Miss Rand describes a series of events that happen prior to this point, but it's what happens after the concession is made that is particularly fascinating and relevant to this topic (I will quote liberally from Miss Rand, as it is necessary to understand the psychological phenomena that take place):

There are as many variants of the consequences as there are men who commit this particular type of moral treason. But certain scars of psychological deformity can be observed in most of them, as their common symptoms.

Humanitarian love is what the altruist-appeaser never achieves. Instead, his salient characteristic is a mixture of bitter contempt and intense, profound hatred for mankind, a hatred impervious to reason. He regards men as evil by nature, he complains about their congenital stupidity, mediocrity, depravity—yet slams his mind ferociously shut to any argument that challenges his estimate. His view of the people at large is a nightmare image—the image of a mindless brute endowed with some inexplicably omnipotent power—and he lives in terror of that image, yet resists any attempt to revise it.

If questioned, he can give no grounds for his view. Intellectually, he admits that the average man is not a murderous brute ready to attack him at any moment; emotionally, he keeps feeling the brute's presence behind every corner.

An accomplished young scientist once told me that he was not afraid of gangsters, but waiters and gas-station attendants filled him with terror, even though he could not say what it was he expected them to do to him. An elderly, extremely successful businessman told me that he divided people into three classes according to their intelligence: the above average, the average and the below average; he did not mind the first two classes, but those of below average intelligence threw him into uncontrollable panic. He had spent his life expecting a bloody uprising of brutes who would seize, loot, wreck and slaughter everything in sight; no, he was not a "conservative"; he was a "liberal."'

There is an element of truth in that image of the brute: not factual truth, but psychological truth, not about people at large, but about the man who fears them. The brute is the frozen embodiment of mankind as projected by the emotions of an adolescent appeaser. The brute's omnipotent power to perpetrate some unimaginable horror is merely an adult's rationalization; physical violence is not what he fears. But his terror is real: a monster that had the power to make him surrender his mind is, indeed, a terrifying evil. And the deepest, the unconfessed source of his terror lies in the fact that the surrender was not demanded or extorted—that the monster was the victim's own creation.

This is the reason why the appeaser has a vested interest in maintaining his belief in the brute's existence: even a life of terror, with the excuse that he could not help it, is preferable to facing the full enormity of the fact that he was not robbed of self-esteem, but threw it away—and that his chronic sense of guilt does not come from the spurious sin of possessing intelligence, but from the actual crime of having betrayed it. (p. 3-4) [italics in original; bold mine.]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For the record, here is Dr. Hurd's post mentioned by tgrundon:

The Folly of Cynicism

Q: Dear Dr. Hurd: In today's culture, it is easy to be cynical. How can one not succumb to cynicism while simultaneously not being naive to the negativity or ulterior motives of people?

A: The term "cynicism" implies a departure from objective reality. The solution implied by this would be sticking to reality. Stick to the facts, and you'll generally be fine. For every negative fact there are usually at least one or two positive facts. Keep perspective.

The issue is even deeper than this, however. A cynic is someone who attaches more importance to negative facts than to positive or neutral ones. His whole mentality is one big "Ah-HAH! I knew it!" This is a sentiment that implies reality is basically a terrible and horrible place. People are also inevitably and by nature horrible, according to a cynic. It is true that people can be capable of the worst or best things. But if you look at human history, a lot of humanity has come a long way in a comparatively short period of time. When good stands up against evil, good always wins--provided good stands up for itself. Remember Nazi Germany and Communism? Those are two major examples. The same will prove true of terrorism, once better people (who have a lot to lose) actually stand up to it. And beyond world politics, consider the simple standard of living today compared to earlier eras. Wouldn't you rather live in Western civilization today than any place else today, or any place at all 200 or 300 years ago? I certainly would, despite all the things I see wrong with people and the world today. Money and physical comfort cannot buy happiness, but they sure set the stage for it.

Your question poses a choice between cynicism and naiveté. Again, be objective. Focus on the positive as well as the negative and give the positive more importance. Don't deny the negative either. Yes, people have free will. They can choose to hurt you or not. Give people the benefit of the doubt, but also require proof of honorable and rational intentions before becoming seriously involved in a financial or emotional relationship. Yes, it's naive to give away all your emotions or money for free, without someone earning your goodwill and investment first. Yet it's equally naive to assume that nobody is--or ever could be--worthy of your emotional or material investment. Cynicism is every bit as foolish and impractical a course of action as naive optimism. Once you get this, you'll realize the folly of cynicism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
People who are unethical use cynicism as a tool that supports their motivations. If everyone is dishonest, then why not be dishonest, if others will stab you in the back, then why not stab first? Secondly people who are dishonest are more likely to have a cynical (or even paranoid) view of other people and life. They assume others have similar dishonest motivations as themselves, and so assume the worst in the motivations of others.

In some other threads Betsy has mentioned that people grasping at religion are grasping for a compass of goodness and morality. Given that religions basically consist of a whole bunch of don'ts based on the premise that men are without doubt depraved and evil, it's a testament to the uniquely American benevolence and our sense of life that I meet fewer cynical devout people than I would elsewhere. I seldom meet people who are cynics in every aspect of life, but particularly disturbing to me is the high proportion of cynical youth (18-30) of the total cynical people I meet. The good news is that all cynics I have met are mostly occasional cynics; the bad news is that even among the people who have actually lived more (by that I mean been through either or both positive and negative experiences, whether compressed within a short time or over decades) there are many occasional cynics even though I would think that the more one has lived through, the harder it would be to be cynical about anything.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...I would think that the more one has lived through, the harder it would be to be cynical about anything.

That's probably because you hold a rational philosophy that includes a benevolent universe premise. Not everyone does. Also, a lot of people go through very difficult experiences that show them the worst in others and reality. One hopes that such people come through their experiences with whatever positive perspective or sense of life they originally had. But that is never a guarantee.

Also, think of this in terms of Miss Rand's observations. Cynicism can result from, first, sacrificing the realm of values (i.e., morality) to retain intellectual independence, and then projecting the self-sacrificing aspect of oneself onto others (e.g., the brute). Of course, there are relatively few people who completely sacrifice morality to be intellectually free, but they may have sacrificed some particular values over the course of their lives. My guess is that these are the "occasional cynics" you describe and that their cynicism organizes around some particular value they have sacrificed and/or a particular context in which that happened. So, perhaps they might be better called "contextual cynics."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
[...] My guess is that these are the "occasional cynics" you describe and that their cynicism organizes around some particular value they have sacrificed and/or a particular context in which that happened. So, perhaps they might be better called "contextual cynics."

I wanted to elaborate a bit to distinguish the occasional and contextual cynic from each other and both from people who are in bad moods. (Not that "mood" has been referenced in this thread, but because it's commonly and inaccurately said: "oh, don't mind me, I'm just in a bad mood".) Despite my frown-worthy preponderance for making up English verbs, I can't say "he was mood-ing cynically", because cynicism, in my view, is not a mood one is in, it's a method of thinking. Yes, certainly some people are contextual cynics, but the occasional cynics are the inconsistent thinkers who apply a particular way of thinking about one issue or value to other issues or values, not merely by analogy but as a thinking method, which they only apply occasionally and not every time. For example, when one points out, what that person said the last time the issue was brought up, they dismiss their previous reasoning and apply their current methodology.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Despite my frown-worthy preponderance for making up English verbs, I can't say "he was mood-ing cynically", because cynicism, in my view, is not a mood one is in, it's a method of thinking.

I agree that cynicism is not merely a mood. It involves both content (i.e., premises, the "what" of cognition) and process (i.e., actions, the "how" of cognition). I think the premises involved in cynicism have been identified in posts on this thread, and the quote of Dr. Hurd speaks to the process, i.e., assigning "more importance to negative facts than to positive or neutral ones." But perhaps you can elaborate more on what you think a cynical cognitive method involves.

Yes, certainly some people are contextual cynics, but the occasional cynics are the inconsistent thinkers who apply a particular way of thinking about one issue or value to other issues or values, not merely by analogy but as a thinking method, which they only apply occasionally and not every time. For example, when one points out, what that person said the last time the issue was brought up, they dismiss their previous reasoning and apply their current methodology.

Could you explain this a bit more? I think I understand you to be saying that occasional cynics apply inconsistent thinking methods to different issues or values, but may also be inconsistent in their methods regarding the same issues or values. Have I understood you and, if so, could you give an example of this? Also, what makes this type of inconsistency cynical?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Yes, certainly some people are contextual cynics, but the occasional cynics are the inconsistent thinkers who apply a particular way of thinking about one issue or value to other issues or values, not merely by analogy but as a thinking method, which they only apply occasionally and not every time. For example, when one points out, what that person said the last time the issue was brought up, they dismiss their previous reasoning and apply their current methodology.

I wonder whether the people you describe here are actually thinking inconsistently. For example, I've debated with people who will in one moment supply a lot of evidence they believe supports their claims, and then when their position is challenged they resort to ad hominem. Is it that at first they were thinking rationally and objectively and then spontaneously started evading? I think instead they accepted primacy of consciousness from the beginning, and the evidence they provided was never the basis for their claims.

Similarly, if someone voices a cynical opinion about the benefits of technology and then talks excitedly about a new car he bought, it may be that he is inconsistent. However it might also be that he was dishonest about the reasons for his cynicism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Despite my frown-worthy preponderance for making up English verbs, [...]

Would that be neoverbalism? But then that would be making up a new noun. :) (I had to think about that ... is the concept "verb" a verb? No, it's a noun, isn't it?)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Could you explain this a bit more? I think I understand you to be saying that occasional cynics apply inconsistent thinking methods to different issues or values, but may also be inconsistent in their methods regarding the same issues or values. Have I understood you and, if so, could you give an example of this? Also, what makes this type of inconsistency cynical?

My current view as a lay person is that the idea is to ensure one is never fooled or bluffed, and the occasional cynic will try to show that in any situation, he has an infallibly exact perception of reality. I use the word perception because, in even in a situation where a view has been rephrased repeatedly so that the meaning cannot be misinterpreted by anyone familiar with the language, the occasional cynic and the contextual cynic will both not even necessarily pick out words from what you say, but even claim you said something completely different and malevolently rephrase what you did say. They attempt to mar or tarnish even the mere existence of something or someone in reality that might uproot the sense of "you can't fool me". The occasional cynic, however, is not inconsistent because he is attaching a benevolent (or neutral) view towards the actions of other people or to things some of the time (that would be more like mood-ing cynically, which is not possible), but because he thinks he's done enough to show that he cannot be fooled or bluffed. This can be accomplished by stating something to oneself (not aloud) or by expressing the cynicism aloud to others. This applies to both single and multiple issues or values, because it has nothing to do with fallacious reasoning or integrating/misintegrating concepts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My current view as a lay person is that the idea is to ensure one is never fooled or bluffed, and the occasional cynic will try to show that in any situation, he has an infallibly exact perception of reality. I use the word perception because, in even in a situation where a view has been rephrased repeatedly so that the meaning cannot be misinterpreted by anyone familiar with the language, the occasional cynic and the contextual cynic will both not even necessarily pick out words from what you say, but even claim you said something completely different and malevolently rephrase what you did say. They attempt to mar or tarnish even the mere existence of something or someone in reality that might uproot the sense of "you can't fool me".

If I understand you correctly, the occasional cynic has an irrational fear of deception and is motivated to maintain a sense of perfect rationality and objectivity (which protects him against deception). This motivation is so strong that such a person will tarnish others he views as threatening by inventing statements which are then attributed to them and/or negatively mischaracterizing what they say.

If this is the case, how is it that such a person is only an "occasional" cynic? This seems like too significant and deep a fear to be applied only occasionally.

The occasional cynic, however, is not inconsistent because he is attaching a benevolent (or neutral) view towards the actions of other people or to things some of the time (that would be more like mood-ing cynically, which is not possible), but because he thinks he's done enough to show that he cannot be fooled or bluffed. This can be accomplished by stating something to oneself (not aloud) or by expressing the cynicism aloud to others. This applies to both single and multiple issues or values, because it has nothing to do with fallacious reasoning or integrating/misintegrating concepts.

I must confess I'm quite confused here. What do you mean that he "thinks he's done enough"? Done enough of what--inventing or mischaracterizing statements? Also, what is the significance of mentioning that he could do what he's doing internally or externally (through verbalizing it)? Finally, if this is happening, is there really no fallacious reasoning going on? After all, if your formulation is accurate, he is fooling himself, which is the very thing he is apparently deeply afraid of and on guard against. Or is it that such a person starts with the premise that someone is trying to fool him, so then his job is to read between the lines? (For example, "I know that this person said A and B, but he's trying to fool me. I know he was really saying Y and Z. I'm on to him!") This would mean his reasoning is "correct" given the premise from which it starts, but since the premise is wrong, the conclusion of his reasoning will be wrong, too.

(By the way, I'm asking these things not necessarily because I disagree that this phenomenon happens, but to clarify it. In fact, that kind of contradiction exists in a lot of mental health problems. For example, paranoid people claim to hate the fact that others are watching them all the time, but then engage in all kinds of odd behavior--to avoid detection, they tell themselves--that draws attention from others. Also, the fact is that they are the ones watching everyone else, while no one else really cares what they are doing.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The occasional cynic, however, is not inconsistent because he is attaching a benevolent (or neutral) view towards the actions of other people or to things some of the time (that would be more like mood-ing cynically, which is not possible), but because he thinks he's done enough to show that he cannot be fooled or bluffed. This can be accomplished by stating something to oneself (not aloud) or by expressing the cynicism aloud to others. This applies to both single and multiple issues or values, because it has nothing to do with fallacious reasoning or integrating/misintegrating concepts.

I must confess I'm quite confused here. What do you mean that he "thinks he's done enough"? Done enough of what--inventing or mischaracterizing statements?

Yes, but that was one example only. The occasional cynic can choose to act a certain way (other than speak) due to that way of thinking, then change direction.

Also, what is the significance of mentioning that he could do what he's doing internally or externally (through verbalizing it)? Finally, if this is happening, is there really no fallacious reasoning going on?

There's fallacious reasoning in the process, definitely, but that's not at the root of occasional cynical thinking. I'll have to think a bit about what the automatization actually is because there are no boundaries confining occasional cynicism to a particular issue or value. The mention of internal or external is that the person is not just verbalizing externally, as can be in the bborg's case of the person who is dishonest about the nature of his cynicism. He's trying to fool himself too, and keeps it up sporadically, sort of like recharging a battery...except it's like charging a Ni-Cd rechargeable battery that wasn't fully drained because does cynical thinking ever shorten the lifespan of a person's soul!

After all, if your formulation is accurate, he is fooling himself, which is the very thing he is apparently deeply afraid of and on guard against. Or is it that such a person starts with the premise that someone is trying to fool him, so then his job is to read between the lines? (For example, "I know that this person said A and B, but he's trying to fool me. I know he was really saying Y and Z. I'm on to him!") This would mean his reasoning is "correct" given the premise from which it starts, but since the premise is wrong, the conclusion of his reasoning will be wrong, too.

Yes, but the occasional cynic understands that. For some occasional cynics it's enough to have asserted that he knows all about reality and they stop only to pick it up again another time or on another issue or value, and for other occasional cynics they keep pressing, changing their statements for the ultimate purpose of showing they can't be fooled by anyone's reasoning (um, including their own). There's cynical resignation and cynical indifference, the permanent cynic, which are different from the occasional cynic. I'll think about this topic because I may be able to see more clearly than I have so far. It'll be a novelty for me, thinking about psychology when there is not an immediately applied need for it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Yes, but the occasional cynic understands that. For some occasional cynics it's enough to have asserted that he knows all about reality and they stop only to pick it up again another time or on another issue or value, and for other occasional cynics they keep pressing, changing their statements for the ultimate purpose of showing they can't be fooled by anyone's reasoning (um, including their own). There's cynical resignation and cynical indifference, the permanent cynic, which are different from the occasional cynic. I'll think about this topic because I may be able to see more clearly than I have so far. It'll be a novelty for me, thinking about psychology when there is not an immediately applied need for it.

Thanks for your responses, Cometmaker. I'll confess I'm still confused by all the distinctions you make; it seems overly complex. Also, I'm not sure that cynicism is something that can be occasional. It seems too deep of a worldview to not be pervasive in one's thoughts and actions. But I'm open to further discussion and your thoughts on this.

Last but not least, there is always an immediately applied need for psychology! :rolleyes:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'll confess I'm still confused by all the distinctions you make; it seems overly complex. Also, I'm not sure that cynicism is something that can be occasional. It seems too deep of a worldview to not be pervasive in one's thoughts and actions. But I'm open to further discussion and your thoughts on this.

My thoughts wandered this way recently, and I agree the distinctions are overly complex. I think I made some incorrect distinctions between cynics.

Could you explain this a bit more? I think I understand you to be saying that occasional cynics apply inconsistent thinking methods to different issues or values, but may also be inconsistent in their methods regarding the same issues or values. Have I understood you and, if so, could you give an example of this? Also, what makes this type of inconsistency cynical?

Inconsistency in a thinking method is one form of indecisiveness, but I am uncertain whether the psychological, and not epistemological, root of indecisiveness can be called cynical.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Inconsistency in a thinking method is one form of indecisiveness,

Hmm, could you elaborate on this a bit more?

but I am uncertain whether the psychological, and not epistemological, root of indecisiveness can be called cynical.

Indecisiveness can result from a lot of things. Perhaps cynicism is one, but offhand I don't think it is the most common.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Inconsistency in a thinking method is one form of indecisiveness,

Hmm, could you elaborate on this a bit more?

One can’t decide by introspection or discussion which way of thinking about something is right and best.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Inconsistency in a thinking method is one form of indecisiveness,

Hmm, could you elaborate on this a bit more?

One can’t decide by introspection or discussion which way of thinking about something is right and best.

Initially I took your statement to mean that there are different forms of (or perhaps reasons for) indecisiveness, with inconsistency in a thinking method being one of those. However, your elaboration seems different. I take you to be focused on what is really a metacognitive process, i.e., thinking about and evaluating thinking methods (i.e., through introspection and/or discussion) but not being able to decide which is correct. Am I understanding you correctly?

Also, does this link back to cynicism?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Am I understanding you correctly?
Yes.
Also, does this link back to cynicism?
I think it is possible to be cynical about one's own thinking processes and default to a less rational thinking method.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites