Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wouldn't you like to be a cynic too?

I’ve been thinking a lot about cynicism lately, and as usually happens when I ponder an idea, I get curious about the word itself: what it means and where it comes from.  So this morning (actually last Sunday - ed.), I went to www.dictionary.com to find out more about the word, and I discovered something surprising.

The first definition of cynic, according to Random House (via dictionary.com) is “a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.”  That part’s not surprising; that matches my mental definition of a cynic pretty well, and probably yours too, although I would add something more, which we’ll get to in a minute.  It also seems to me to sum up the age we live in about as well as one word can:  cynical.  But we’ll get to that, too.

The face of a cynic?
The thing that surprised me was the origin of the word.  Apparently, the word “cynic” comes from Greek, and literally means “dog-like,” as in behaving like a dog. Now I don’t know about you, but this made me think that maybe crack has been around a lot longer than any of us has realized.  Dogs?  Really?  Only motivated by selfishness? Dogs?  Not believers in selfless acts? DOGS?!!  I’ve always had a high opinion of the Greeks, especially those ancient ones; I’m a big fan of their mythology, and gyros.  But either when they said “dog,” they really meant “cat,” or they were just plain stupid.  Some of the least selfish people I’ve ever met are dogs.  What about Lassie, or Benji, or St. Bernard’s?  You don’t see any cats willing to lug alcohol up mountains through blizzard-like conditions to quench the thirst of skiers who have gone two hours without a hot toddy, do you?  I’m willing to bet that in all of human history, no cat has ever gone out of their way to help a human.  Oh yeah, I’ve heard the story on the news about the cat that dialed 911 when its elderly owner had a heart attack and couldn’t reach the phone.  But first of all, that’s one cat; dogs do that every day.  They do it so often, it doesn’t even make the news anymore. And secondly, I’m pretty sure that if you could ask the cat, it would tell you that it was really just trying to order a pizza from Domino’s.  And it was probably planning on paying for it with the old lady’s credit card, and not tipping the driver, either, because CATS ARE CYNICAL!!!

Now that's one cynical cat.

But, this isn’t really about cats, is it?  Word origin aside, cynicism is about us.  As the dictionary states, a cynic is someone who believes that people only act selfishly, which of course provides the cynic with the perfect excuse to act selfishly, because “everyone else does it, so why shouldn’t I?”  To me, that is complete BS, and in my opinion, all cynics should be rounded up and -

Excuse me for a moment, the phone’s ringing.  I’ll just be a second . . .

Is this Kevin Thorson, author of the “thunderstrokes” blog?
“Um, yes, it is.”
What kind of a name is that for a blog? Thunderstrokes? I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.
“Well, it’s kind of a long story . . . You see, when I-”
You know what? I really don’t care. That’s not why I’m calling.
“Oh. Why are you calling?”
I represent the Greater Southwest Chapter of Cynics International. Have you heard of us?
“No, no I haven’t.”
We don’t do much marketing. Our organization has plenty of members, but we have a hard time collecting dues.
“Well, I’m sorry about that. But I don’t really know why you’re-”
We noticed that you’re working on a post for your blog about cynics.
“How did you notice that?  I’m actually working on that right now.”
I know.  That part about the cats and dogs, that’s cute. You should do more of that.
“Wait a minute, how can you see what I’m doing on my computer right now in the privacy of my own home?”
We’re always watching.  We’re cynics; we leave nothing to chance.
“Hey, you weren’t watching yesterday, around 4:30, were you?”
That depends.  Were you doing something cynical?
“I’m not sure . . . possibly.”
I usually get an early dinner around that time, you know, take advantage of the senior discount.  Well, I suppose I could look it up, if it’s really important . . .
“Oh, no! No. No. Not important. Not at all.  Uh, so . . . you’re a senior citizen then?”
No. Why would you assume that?
“Oh, I just thought-”
Look, it’s clear this inane babble could continue for hours.  Let me come right to the point.  I’ve been authorized to pay you a five-figure salary if you will cease and desist from this negative portrayal of our members, and instead write a fair post that depicts us in a more balanced light.
“Five-figure salary? What precisely are the figures in that salary?”
I’m only authorized to tell you that it will definitely be five figures.  Will you do it?
“Let me make sure I understand this.  You will pay me to stop writing this post about the evils of cynicism and turn it into a ‘fair and balanced’ piece instead?
Forget fair and balanced. For five figures, we want abject flattery.  We want to be buttered up like a cow in a centrifuge.  Will you do it?
“Well, that’s kind of funny.  I mean, it would be kind of cynical of me to take your money and reverse my stand on something that’s important to me.  You know, make it sound like I endorse cynicism when I really don’t.  It’s actually-”
I’m not stupid. I get the irony. Will you do it?” 
“Five figures?”
Five figures.
“Can I think about it?”
Think about it all you want.  But, remember, we know what you’re posting before you post it.  You should also know that, as cynics, we place very little value on your individual life, and the lives of your ‘loved’ ones, as if there were such a thing.  Now, if you were a dues-paying member of Cynics International, that might sway our opinion of you. . .
“Wow, you guys play hardball.”
We’re Cynics International, Thorson, not Namby-Pambies International.
“Gee, I don’t know what to do. . .”
I’ve got five figures here that say you do. We’ll be in touch – or something.” Click.

Talk about your moral dilemmas.  How can I turn what was going to be a vitriolic condemnation of cynics and cynicism into a love letter in their behalf on such short notice?  Plus, I swore to myself that I was not going to sell out as a writer.  I’ve only been blogging for a month, and already I have to make a decision like this?  Still, five figures could keep me blogging for a long time, stress-free.  Then I notice my shirt, which bears the logo of my former favorite soft drink (former because I stopped drinking soda last November, which is a whole other story).  I am inspired, and I am desperate.  I feverishly copy down the revised lyrics that just seem to pop into my head.  I look it over.  It’s pretty good.  You know, maybe these cynics are on to something.  I read it again.  This time, the novelty’s wearing off, and it loses some of its charm.  I opt against reviewing it a third time.  Besides, it’s Sunday, and we’ve got church in 30 minutes.  I just hope it’s good enough to placate Cynics International (and to pick up that five-figure salary I was promised).

So here it is, my song of praise to cynics everywhere (sung to the tune of the Dr. Pepper commercial from the 70’s, “I’m a Pepper” (you know, the one with David Naughton where he dances down the street with a flash mob of young, hip fellow Peppers)).

If you don't remember, or if have no idea what I’m referring to, check this out: 

“I’m a Cynic”

I’m egotistical and I’m proud
I don’t give a damn about the crowd
If you’re contemptuous these days
You should come and join the cynical craze!

I’m a cynic, he’s a cynic, she’s a cynic, we’re all cynics!
Wouldn’t you like to be a cynic too?
I’m a cynic, he’s a cynic, she’s a cynic
If you are selfish you can be a cynic too.
Be a cynic, C’mon be a cynic!
Be a cynic, C’mon be a cynic!

Well, we’ll see what happens.  Keep your fingers crossed! 

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