It’s not clear to me where the trend of cool cynicism started and, since I’m only 23, it’s more than possible that it’s always been a thing. By cool cynicism, I mean the seeming fascination or respect we have for people who are all doom and gloom about things. It’s possible that with our culture’s often saccharine pop culture, a bit of bitterness helps to cleanse the palate. What often happens here is that, by comparison, the cynic seems to be more realistic than some of the fluff we hear on the radio or see in theatres.
While I’m a huge fan of being realistic, it needs to be said that being realistic and being cynical is not the same thing. If anything, cynicism exacerbates almost any situation it’s applied to. It’s a way of thinking that rots everything it touches by applying a pseudo-intellectual, “What’s the point?”
The most prevalent and easily relatable example of this is your Facebook newsfeed during a presidential election. You immediately know what I’m talking about, and you might even be one of them. One of the folks who go online while everyone is posting opinions and articles about presidential candidates just to make some dumb comment about how politicians are puppets and all that. What these political cynics outright say is that since the whole system is a farce and only serves private interest groups, then there’s no point in participating, because how will the common man ever conquer the billionaire elite class and multinational corporations?
Fuck the system, fuck voting. Fuck it. That’s what the say, and what’s most telling is that they almost never provide any alternative for living. This type of behavior is part (but definitely not all) of the reason voter turnout in the US is so low. (According to the Pew Research Center, “the U.S. lags most of its peers, landing 31st among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, most of whose members are highly developed, democratic states.”)
It’s glaringly obvious why this isn’t a sophisticated or enlightened outlook. Not participating in, paying attention to, or trying to change a system with which you disagree will never change that system. Considering politics has very real and pervasive impacts on human life, it’s not something that can be meaningfully ignored.
Cynicism doesn’t change governments or change lives. There’s no good reason to be a cynic. Being a cynic has never solved the cynic’s supposed core problem, which is disappointment with his fellow man or society as a whole, and that’s where it goes wrong. Only optimists change hearts. Cynics are part of the same problem they critique.
For this reason, I’ve always preferred optimism. Even when it fails, even when people fail, it’s that flicker of hope, that striving for better things and better lives that drives the human spirit. Cynics see the world for what it is and assume it’ll always be that way. Optimists see the world for what it is and imagine it better.