“The Sociology of Cynicism”
Cynicism is a virus that destroys the unity of civilization. It moves infectiously throughout the world and attaches itself to nearly everyone, causing a contagion so intense that there is no cure. Cynical fathers and mothers raise the next generation under the hovering doubt that anything noble or worthwhile still exists in the world.
I speak about cynicism this way because it very clearly presents itself to the world as a disease of the mind. There are always reasons to doubt something or other–or anything!–but the cynic discounts everything before they even consider it. Everything is false to the cynic. Every person in the world is lying.
The impact of this disorganized disbelief system is a fragmentation of what is considered to be a good thing for humanity. Often historical saints are transformed into monsters while some vicious tyrants are admired and elevated to great heroes. In a culture ruled by cynical doubt, nothing is either right or wrong. Some people will wish others dead with no regret, and even a cynical laugh. They will denounce an entire culture without really believing what they are saying. They believe in nothing.
A fine example of a nation fallen victim to the plague of cynicism is occupied France during World War II. When they fell to Germany in 1940 most of the nation simply rolled their eyes and said they’d been expecting it. There was no hope anyway, so why not just join the Nazis?
The Vichy government that became the interim rulers were a miserable group of people. They would shrug their shoulders at the Nazi commands and commit atrocities because they believed that they had to. As a French Resistance rose up in underground quarters, and as President Charles de Gaulle fled into exile, appalled by the cynical nature of what had become of his beloved nation, the people simply froze, settling for nights at the cabaret, wine with every meal, and bordellos on every other street corner.
De Gaulle blamed the idea of ‘nationalism’ that the Nazis were spreading as a new religion. He thought that the paranoia and selfishness this imposed upon a culture was going to destroy the world. He said on the matter:
“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”
The French authorities, at the time, devolved into having opinions about nothing. They indifferently organized concentration camps (forty-nine were set up ramshackle across the nation), and sent soldiers out to round up all the Jews. This was no surprise to them or to the rest of the nation. It was just another shrug, then a look away. There is nothing we can do. Nothing. We have to think about ourselves.
This abandonment of hope, this growing indifference to all the horrors that happen in the world, allowed these horrors to grow in intensity and savagery. People were suddenly being shot in the streets. Groups of children would laugh as they kicked a homeless person begging for food, spitting on them and holding out money before pulling it away as the desperate groped for it. Then they would taunt them, screaming obscenities, laughing, sometimes even pissing in their face. People became aloofly evil because they saw the world that way. What was the point in resisting?
Of course a resistance did develop. Some people, like future Nobel Prize winner Jean-Paul Sartre ( https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=Jean-Paul+Sartre&cm_sp=det-_-bdp-_-author) led heroic missions to get people out of the nation, to free them from slavery, and to fight back against the oppressive forces that were trying to conquer the world.
But even Sartre became infected with a dire hopelessness after the war, which was developed into the ideology of ‘existentialism’ (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780671867805&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used). This popular new philosophy saw society as a preordained failure, expressing the idea that there was nothing one could do to confront evil. This is what has led to the more modern beliefs around the world that the French are arrogant, miserable, that they are cowardly drunks who wander around having random sexual encounters and that they hate all visitors, mock them, grope them and act like the Nazis they were for a brief moment in time.
Cynicism allows us to believe anything. It gives rise to conspiracy theories, some that are so outrageous that they create an angry world where no one is free from blame. Take the assassination of John F. Kennedy (see #35). There are now so many theories on how this happened and who is really responsible (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?cm_sp=SearchF-_-topnav-_-Results&kn=jfk+assassination&sts=t) that if the actual truth were exposed, the admission of some very old man on his deathbed, or a hidden file from J. Edgar Hoover’s vault, it would be written off as just another theory, a distraction, a piece of misinformation to protect the real killers. This is what happens when we stop believing in anything, and when we live in a world where people lie far more often than they express the truth, even believing their own lies.
Cynicism is the death of empire. One could look back at thousands of years of history and chronicle the fall of the great powers. Egypt, Sumeria, Greece, Rome, The Aztecs, Great Britain, and many other conquering world powers who watched their power die because no one believed in it any more.
This is where we are once again in the history of our world. We have reached a plateau, and now all we are able to do is doubt the greatness of once upon a time, and look down on the future. There is a revision of history that either destroys reputations, or paints ordeals and individuals as greater and more important than they ever actually were. This is not just in politics or sports or in the world of entertainment, or with any other popular culture distraction that we run and hide into as the world closes in upon us. Watching the world today is like watching the value of a baseball card rise or fall after a scandal or prison sentence is handed out to the player. That is about how seriously a cynical culture takes all the terrible things that still happen in the world day after day after day.