This was in respnse to a blog post by Daniel Pio Apostata
Critical Thinker. Skeptic. Cynic. Curmudgeon.
Thought I'd copy it here.
Cynicism ? Are you going to regret asking ? No matter. This is my take.
"Cynicism" as a term has been bastardised almost beyond redemption. So much so that modern Cynics tend to deliberately make distinct usages of the term -
- lower case, the common vernacular, is accepted as what you have stated above.
- upper case, (or "Kynic" as preferred by Peter Sloterdijk
), pertains to the original Hellenistic school of thought, which has never really left us. Great Cynics have existed continuously throughout history. To quote Wiki
Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and fame, and by living a life free from all possessions.
The Cynics were (and are) enlightened anarchists, iconoclasts, skeptics and cage rattlers. They viewed their job as quite simply "to keep the bastards honest" - to deflate arrogance, hubris, superstition and pompousness wherever they saw it. They were widely called the original defacers of currency (you anti-"In God we trust" people pay attention, you're not new), and to an extent it was true. Diogenes' father was a banker, and Diogenese' original exile is rumoured to have been due to large scale currency vandalism. But defacement of currency is also metaphorical - the Cynic's broader mission was to deface social currency. They waged war on custom, convention, etiquette, social heirarchy and political, religious and supernatural belief. It is this that is the most likely cause of the term "cynic" to have become deliberately debased over time. Yet above all else, the Cynics stressed the importance of ethics and virtue. The unspoken doctrines can be summarised as follows -
1. The goal of life is happiness which is to live in agreement with Nature.
2. Happiness depends on being self-sufficient, and a master of mental attitude.
3. Self-sufficiency is achieved by living a life of Virtue.
4. The road to virtue is to free oneself from any influence such as wealth, fame, or power, which have no value in Nature.
5. Suffering is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions and a vicious character.
A good overview of Cynical philosophy can be found here -
Our Cynics group, and my description, is here -
The founder of the Cynics is widely accepted as Antisthenes
, a pupil of Socrates. But it is with Diogenes of Sinope
that Cynicism came to true prominence and to now hold place as one of the most influential of all the ancient Hellenistic schools of thought.
Contrary to popular assumption, Cynicism is neither pessimistic, nihilistic nor bitter. It is positive and life affirming, and can be summed up neatly in one sentence - to live your life in the manner nature intended
. The misconceptions arise from Cynics facing brutal realities in a manner that is way beyond the average person's comfort zone. As I wrote elsewhere a long time ago, we don't merely slaughter sacred cows, we fuck the corpses and slumber peacefully in the rotting remains. We try to face life without blinking or flinching. Reality is what it is - getting squeamish about it changes nothing. Schadenfreude
is another common accusation levelled at Cynics. That is unfair - while we may laugh at the misfortunes of others, it is untrue to say that we take pleasure in them. To the Cynic, expressions of faux
grief at the death of a celebrity or some maniac going on a killing spree in some church on the other side of the planet is beyond merely contemptable and despicable - it is socially nihilistic. People that fall pray to these illusory emotions are the same people that look at the homeless in their own towns as mere ghosts that don't exist, and subscribe blindly to religious cults that sodomise their children. And they cry about Michael Jackson or Princess fucking Diana. Please. Who exactly is crazy here ?
The Cynic, for pointing things like this out, is dismissed as callous and negative, as someone that wants to corrupt the social fabric and bring godlessness. Pardom me while I fart. I refuse to feel pretend grief at the actions of some maniac I have never met, in events there is no possible way I could have prevented or influenced. I prefer to laugh. It is not joy at suffering. It is astonishment at the perverse reality we are in. Even here I have been reprimanded for laughing at some YouTube jebus freak's murder suicide in the news. I was accused of being something less than human. Pardon me, if anything I am more human. To me it is not just some event in a packaged media-bite I can say "oh dear how terrible" about to my workmates, then head off mindlessly to the gym, never to think of it again. No, to me it is a real event in the unfolding tragedy of our species. Call me whatever you like, but don't think I belittle these events by simple laughter. You have to laugh, or you go insane. Or you form an uber-puritan cult and see how big a mass suicide you can stage.
Modern Cynics, and there are more than you can conceive, include Nietzsche, Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Winston Churchill, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Of our timeline, most notable are Scott Adams
, Cecil Adams
, Hunter S. Thompson
, Garry Trudeau
and Penn & Teller. Of the current atheists, the most prominent exponents are Christopher Hitchens and Michel Onfray
(author of the rather excellent and not widely enough known Atheist Manifesto
). I term their approach as "bare-knuckle atheism". It confronts and it offends. Love them or hate them, they don't leave you sitting there like a plank - you listen to them. These people are all Cynics, and most of them would probably not make the connection of their lineage to ancient Greece, Diogenes, his tub and his dogs. Yet it is a real lineage.
In cinema, the Cynics magnum opus
is Fight Club
. If you can only ever own one piece of Cynic philosophy, this is it. The timeless quote from Tyler Durden expresses everything -
"Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else."
Translation: Get over yourself you pompous windbag. Live life as nature intends. You live, you die, that's all there is. Make the most of it.
Or, Diogenes telling Alexander the Great to get the fuck out of his sunlight when Alexander chooses to grant him any wish.
Enlightened ? I hope so. You are surrounded by Cynics. Everywhere you go. They generally bring you laughter and joy. Unless you are, deservedly, on the receiving end of their barbs.
Cynics - no pride, no shame, no problem. Woof.