Wanted: Cynic Textbooks

People have a variety of motives for their actions. Actions vary in how verbal or symbolic they are, and motives vary in how explicit, conscious, and proximate to action they are. Motives also vary in being “high” vs. “low” on a standard ranking of the nobility of motives.

“Cynics” vs. “idealistic” beliefs differ in how high are the motives they assign to acts. (Cynical moods are another matter.)  We can probably agree that explicit, conscious, and proximate motives tend to be higher, as do motives behind verbal and symbolic acts. We also tend to be more idealistic about “us”, and more cynical about “them.” Even so, there is room to disagree on if cynical or idealistic beliefs are be more accurate descriptions of reality.

It seems to me that idealistic views dominate official views, especially views visible to many and expressed by the powerful. (After all, power is far, and far is ideal.) Idealism dominantes most official speeches, especially for funerals, weddings, award acceptance, politicial stump, and movie hero speeches. Idealism also dominates most ads, product brochures, vision statements, legal rulings, textbooks, and song lyrics. Cynical views are found in private conversations, e.g. at a bar or water cooler, in porn, from stand-up comedians, in movie villan speeches, and in political rants about certain sorts of “them.”

Formal education relentlessly pushes idealistic views on kids, and censorship “protects” them from hearing cynical views. Whatever cynicism kids learn “on the street”, they know teachers will not want to hear it in class. Cynical views may be expressed in hushed tones to co-workers, but modern workers know to avoid such views in official memos, or even in private emails, for fear of hurting their firm if exposed in a lawsuit.

Alas, this seems nothing remotely like a fair rhetorical fight. To give kids a fair chance to believe whatever the evidence best supports, they should have access to textbook-like presentations of cynical views that are as clear and accessible as for idealistic views. But few such texts exist, and we’d probably censor any that were created.  I’m interested in helping to create such texts, but the ideologues most willing to fund the creation of contrarain texts prefer to frame them in idealistic terms; cynical framing seems the kiss of death.

When people defend our habit of emphasizing idealistic views, they almost never say that such views are just plain more accurate. They talk instead about how it is good for the world if folks are taught idealism, or that it is empowering, motivating, or impressive to believe in idealism. Or maybe that if we repeat idealism enough then someday it may really become true.  All of which seems to me to basically admit: idealism, as usually spoken, is mostly a lie.

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  • david

    Alternative-perspective history textbooks like this exist, although they are perhaps cynical about the dominant ideology only to be idealistic about another.

  • Buck Farmer

    Evidence that the prevalence of idealistic rhetoric has led to greater idealism vs. cynicism?

    Evidence that we are away from the optimal idealism vs. cynicism balance given other existing human biases?

    Don’t sell our children short, Robin. Idealism has been the party line for millenia and somehow kids always figure it out. I think you’re attributing too much efficacy to official modes of thought control.

  • Jess Riedel

    It seems to me that schools push students to be idealistic (basically just pushing them to be moral with respect to the mainstream morality), not that they push students to accept idealistic explanations for others’ behavior. But maybe I’ve just got my blinders on. Could you give some examples?

    Also, it’s important to note that cynical explanations for behavior require strong evidence; academics and tachers will often disagree about why someone “really” does something. How do we distinguish between (1) teachers simply being wrong about motivations from (2) teachers dishonestly teaching that certain people have idealistic motivations when teachers actually know those motivations are not idealistic?

    On the other hand, we can all agree about what someone claimed was their motivation. Is this just, then, a problem of phrasing? Should we just be more careful to teach that “Thomas Jefferson said that he made the Louisiana Purchase for the good of the nation” (instead of for his own prestige) rather than teaching that “Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase for the good of the nation”.

  • anon

    The so-called “Marxist” tradition of social theory and history is pretty much what you’re asking for here: it starts from the assumption that history and human society must be understood through economic factors, i.e. the material conditions of life, and the relations of exchange, production, competition, rent extraction, etc. which exist within society. In this framework, most kinds of idealism would be seen as part of the “superstructure”, and efforts would be made to explain them as “ideological” outgrowths of the economic structure.

    Of course, most ‘Marxist’ analysis assumes Marxian economics as the “correct” theory of the underlying economic structure, which makes it confusing (if insightful) at its best, worthless in most cases, and positively harmful (as well as ideological) at its worst. But this seems to be an accident of history; the same kind of analysis could be undertaken from modern foundations, and economists have been doing quite a lot of work along these lines.

    • nazgulnarsil

      get thee to a library. start studying classical economics. marx was not by any means the first to analyze history from the point of view of the means of production and division of labor.

      • anon

        Of course not. But the guy’s still important because he was first to state that everything, incuding politics and culture (not just wealth or the material organization of society) should be understood in such terms. If such weren’t the case, “marxist” culture studies and their derivatives would not be the big deal they in fact are.

  • http://www.dloye.com/myblog/wordpress dloye

    I may not understand the terms or the discussion at all. (Tends to happen to me a lot lately) However…

    In many years in the education mine field, one of the better activities I found for students was a game sometimes used in academic game settings called “Propaganda.” I never got to explore it much. Time constraints, you know. Still it looked like a great way to expose some of the best and brightest to important “cynical?” ideas.

    The game was not used anywhere so that I got a chance to study it. I never knew why the game was not used, but my sense was that it was a case of not wanting that sort of honest analysis of writing and motives. Teaching “thinking” is where we sorely fail.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    david and anon, as I said “cynical views are found in … political rants about certain sorts of `them.'” Marxist social theory is example of cynicism about them, not about us.

    Buck, a massive rhetorical imbalance doesn’t matter because “kids always figure it out”? Do you think that true for all rhetorical imbalances?

    Jess, why do cynical explanations requires stronger evidence that idealistic explanations?

    • Jess Riedel

      Jess, why do cynical explanations requires stronger evidence that idealistic explanations?

      They don’t. Instead of saying “cynical explanations for behavior require strong evidence” I should have said “explanations for behavior–either idealistic or cynical– requires strong evidence in cases where the motivation isn’t obvious.”

      People are complicated things and, as countless behavioral-econ studies have demonstrated, one should be very careful before confidently ascribing motivations to them.

      I really think it would help everyone understand what you’re getting at if you could give some examples of idealistic motivations offered by teachers where there is stronger evidence for cynical motivations. It would especially illuminating if you could give an example where the teachers *purposefully* mislead, rather than just themselves being misinformed about motivations (as are, I assume you would grant, most people in society).

    • Buck Farmer

      Yes. I am taking the consequentialist viewpoint that if there’s no change in the outputs, changing the inputs doesn’t matter. You may wish to argue that a massive rhetorical imbalance matters intrinsically.

      Do I think it is true of all rhetorical imbalances?

      No. I only think it is true of rhetorical imbalances that have been prevalent throughout all human societies and history. I believe more or less in an ‘efficient market’ over long time scales and large numbers of observers.

      Do I have proof? No, but the conjectures seems consistent with personal observation of how children respond to parents, teachers, etc.

      The evil you need to look out for is not explicit idealism, but paradigms in which cynicism is not expressible. These are typically much more effective. I don’t think you’ll find one though, since idealism and cynicism are fundamental enough that our brains will find a way of coming to them.

  • anon

    Why is marxist social theory not cynical about “us”? The devil is in the details, but even the most ideological kind of marxism runs like: “the man is keepin’ us [=the working class] down, so we’re going to stage a coup d’etat [=’socialist revolution’], become ‘the man’ [=’dictatorship of the proletariat’] and enforce the socialist mode of production.” It can be put in idealistic terms (lots of people have done so) and of course it’s the wrong kind of cynicism, but still–the signature of historical materialism as the ‘cynical’ theory of society is quite clear.

  • cournot

    It seems odd to worry about cynicism in a period when revisionism seems the rage. But as David noted, most revisionist work (usually of a Marxist or leftist or generally anti-traditionalist bent) simply replaces one sort of idealism with another. Cynicism, whether of the Marxist or Nietzschean sort is mostly used to pound on the remnants of mid century Anglo-American Victorianism. Indeed, I would say that the true cynicism would be an education that supposes that all the traditionalist beliefs that the Left has chosen to devalue or to only selectively support since the 1960s are mostly right and that the various forms of revisionism (often taught as a cynical retelling of the truth) are basically wrong. Cf. feminism, egalitarianism, PC, multiculturalism, blank slate thinking, etc.

    Perhaps the real truth that Robin refuses to face is that certain networks of “lies” and ideals are more fundamentally truthful and more properly convey complex truths than the disjointed set of facts and overly simplistic not quite truths that Robin likes to tell himself are the “real” truth.

    • anon

      But as David noted, most revisionist work (usually of a Marxist or leftist or generally anti-traditionalist bent) simply replaces one sort of idealism with another.

      Could you taboo “idealism” in the above and clarify your point? ISTM that renouncing idealistic motives entirely in one’s work would lead to a nihilistic sort of ubercynicism which would be qute properly dismissed and ridiculed along metacynical lines. Even Robin is not that much of a cynic, since he advocates for various kinds of policy reform and embraces economic efficiency as the standard by which policies should be evaluated.

      As for the values that you bring up, I’d say that feminism was mostly a straightforward adaptation to technical changes and probably a big win despite its negative side effects, that the New Left should not be blamed for egalitarianism, and that “blank slate” and multi-culturalism were a knee-jerk reaction to the so-called “scientific anthropology” of the 19th and early 20th century, which was severely tainted by antagonism and outgroup bias. But I’m open to arguments in favor of “traditional” beliefs.

  • http://deaneckles.com/blog Dean Eckles

    One skeptical (perhaps not cynical) textbook I like is David Freedman’s “Statistical Models: Theory and Practice”.

  • Floodplain

    Idealism and cynicism implies normative value judgements. While this is expected for speeches, motivativational literature, etc., TEXTBOOKS (yes I know not in practice) are supposed to be descriptive and thus idealism and cynicism should have nothing to do with it.

    What, are you going to say — hey, “the second law of thermodynamics means we live in a shitty world with no free lunch” as an cynical view versus say, “the second law of thermodynamics is a beautiful thing that defines the world we live in, and all the reactions that allowed life to exist” . Why not just teach the second law, with no baggage attached?

    With regards for the explanations for social and historical events, if an explanation is best decribed as cynical (ie. caused by “low” motive), so be it. If it really is caused by a high motive, then be it. If you value kids learning the truth, just teach them the truth.

    Description not Perscription! The distinction should be obvious!

    Just the facts, sir!

  • Floodplain

    You could have guessed, but I meant “motivational” in the comment above.

  • bock

    we dont need textbooks. what do u think the media is for?

    You want Truth? Watch Southpark. or read a good novel. textbooks have always been losing the battle.

  • Matt C

    Sure, a good deal of lofty idealism is lies. But saying that out loud makes you sound like an embittered loser, as you have pointed out elsewhere.

    Maybe the imbalance is an attempt to protect our kids by teaching them the safe things to say when they’re too little to be judicious. I think Buck is right about kids figuring it out on their own eventually.

    I don’t teach my kids all the cynical stuff I believe. I try not to lie, but I do omit. I plan to be more direct with them as they get older, but it doesn’t “feel right” to train them in cynicism at age 7 & 9.

    I think your list of where cynical views pop up is interesting. Are cynical views “for” coordinating against whoever is dominant?

    • anon

      Maybe the imbalance is an attempt to protect our kids by teaching them the safe things to say when they’re too little to be judicious.

      In most cases, idealism is also about the safest thing to do, not just say. When playing the iterated coordination games which arise in social interaction, “cooperate” is a better default than “defect”.

      Are cynical views “for” coordinating against whoever is dominant?

      The general rule is that we’re idealistic about “us” and cynical about “them”; this also holds when “they” are dominant and “we” are not. I have pointed out an exception above (Marxism), but that’s mostly because of its overall interestingness as a rare instance of ‘official’, overt cynicism.

      • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

        In non-coerced cooperation games, there is a third alternative: avoid. Instead of being forced to deal with everyone, simply avoid dealing with people you fear may defect against you, or that you dislike enough to want to defect against.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Yes, I think many of the cherished views heavily promoted now would lead to losses if their proponents were to make bets on them. It is my hope that you can spread the betting norm so that the popularity of public beliefs selects for accuracy.

    I haven’t read Marx in the original, but I would say that even while it’s accused of making the proletariat its deity, its still cynical about them. The word “proletariat” itself is much more cynical than “working class”, and then there’s the addition of “lumpenproletariat”. And it should never be forgotten that Marxism contains a strange admiration for capitalism as a great progressive force even as it seeks to tear it down. In practice Marxism tends to get molded onto more idealistic “liberation” movements.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    To give kids a fair chance to believe whatever the evidence best supports…

    That’s an awfully idealistic view of what education is for. Or maybe not idealistic, but simplistic.

    Somewhat more cynically/realistically, the main function of education is not to transmit facts, or generalized thinking techniques as you suggest above, but rather it’s to perpetuate the culture. The values inculcated by education may be more important than any factual content. (A positive example of this: I had most of my education at a first-rank technical school, and while I certainly learned some content that was on the curriculum, probably a more important part of learning was picking up the attitudes of bold inquiry, rigorous numerical thinking, arrogance, etc. This is one reason that distance education doesn’t work very well, because that kind of stuff doesn’t necessrily come across in an online video).

    It is true that in classrooms idealistic views are given more official voicing than cynical views. But that is part of what is being taught. Kids are fully acquainted with selfishness, and need to learn that presenting an unselfishness face gets you more status. That is just a basic fact of our culture (and may be a fact of all cultures — the Ayn Rand cult’s attempts to invert this value seem pathetic for good reason).

    Also, it seems like the ususal lesson in schools is not that selfish motives don’t exist. The usual simplified model of history taught at the elementary level is that there are two sides, one selfish and one idealistic, and we think it’s good when the idealistic side wins. I have kids in school and such items as the American Revolution and the civil rights era get slotted into that framework. Even so, in better classrooms this is augmented with material that promotes a more nuanced view; ie by role-playing games. But there’s a limit to how much nuance a 10 year old can process.

    When people defend our habit of emphasizing idealistic views, they almost never say that such views are just plain more accurate. They talk instead about how it is good for the world if folks are taught idealism, or that it is empowering, motivating, or impressive to believe in idealism…. All of which seems to me to basically admit: idealism, as usually spoken, is mostly a lie.

    Um, aren’t you contradicting yourself in this paragraph? What is the lie if people are promoting idealism in a prescriptive rather than descriptive mode?

    In any case, calling idealism “a lie” seems like an extraordinarily naive viewpoint. Perhaps it’s better to think of idealism (and a good deal else) as ritual performance or a speech act, rather than something true or false.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      Warning, mtraven, you are in danger of agreeing with John Lott.

      • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

        Yeah like there haven’t been critiques of schooling from the left for the past 50 years at least.

        At any rate, I wasn’t so much making a critique as an observation. All cultures necessarily have mechanisms to perpetuate themselves.

    • anon

      Somewhat more cynically/realistically, the main function of education is not to transmit facts, or generalized thinking techniques as you suggest above, but rather it’s to perpetuate the culture.

      It may be true that “perpetuating the culture” is more important than the specific factual content, but shouldn’t the factual content conform to accurate descriptions of reality? This sounds like a catch-22.

      The usual simplified model of history taught at the elementary level is that there are two sides, one selfish and one idealistic, and we think it’s good when the idealistic side wins.

      That’s actually a fairly good model, since societies do advance in the general direction of more idealism as they grow wealthier and as connections with potential allies and partners increase. Still, it could be augmented with more realism. What about e.g. the selfish allies of the idealistic side? Or the idealistic appeal of conservationists and reactionaries? Or setbacks like e.g. the two world wars and the Cold War, which we still haven’t fully recovered from?

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      I didn’t say I thought my texts would achieve the usual function of education. I’m saying I want there to be some texts somewhere where students can go to read the truth, if they feel so inclined.

      • josh

        They can visit their local library or google books. Do their own independent research using the best primary and secondary sources available.

      • Noumenon

        I wonder if even the Internet will be forced into idealism over time.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    “Idealism dominantes most official speeches, especially for … movie hero speeches.”

    “Cynical views are found in … movie villan speeches,”

    This is a nice, easy quant empirical project. I’d predict the reverse, but with significant overlap, because I think movie heroes are near and entertaining and movies are private escapism like comedy and porn.

    There is an interesting trend of media villian as hyperational utilitarian which seems to me to be about caste construction (top caste exists to tell the quants not to violate human repugnancy norms of the masses).

  • jb

    Idealism is a lie. Agreed. But Cynicism is demoralizing, energy-sapping and just plain depressing.

    If we lived in a highly cyncial world, people wouldn’t want to take risks and start new companies, or promote new techniques. Because they would recognize all the wear and tear it would cause on their lives, the low likelihood of success. Their customers would cynically wonder “what’s he hiding” and make sales that much harder.

    I am much more cynical now than I used to be, and I have found it incredibly hard to stay motivated to do new things, pursue entrepreneurial ideas, etc – because I know how much work is involved, and how much of my personal life I’ll have to give up, and the low chance of a good return on all that investment. Plus, of course, even if I succeed, all that extra money won’t make me nearly as happy as parts of my brain tell me it will – I’ve cynically come to accept the reality of the hedonic treadmill.

    And of course, the ultimate turn of cynicism is when people stop working because they know the state will take care of them, and they just have to vote for politicians who will give them more money to not work.

    Hail Idealism! It’s the only thing that’s delaying the inevitable collapse of Democracy.

    • anon

      With all due respect, this sounds more like existential angst than cynicism.

      I’m feeling cranky today, so I’m going to be cynical and say that existential angst is usally caused by feeling demoralized and depressed, rather than the other way around. There are lots of potential interventions which could make life more enjoyable and exciting, most of which are not related to the idealism vs. cynicism axis. For instance, using money for precautionary savings which will provide security, rather than increasing consumption and triggering hedonic adaptation. Or consuming memorable experiences rather than material objects, since we adapt more readily to an increase in “stuff”.

    • Lord

      I agree. It isn’t about reality but about how we wish reality to be. Idealism is aspirational concerned not with what is but what could be. Cynicism is just the path to the apathetic, inert and negative, nothing matters because nothing can matter, the future will be no different from the past and if that is depressing slit your wrists now. That is much different than merely seeing imperfections, obstacles, and failures and considering how they may be overcome. That is merely being careful, cautious, and critical, not cynical.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I wonder if we could use idealism/cynicism levels in societies as measure of success of coordination of the powerful in those societies.

    For example, rising atheism/skepticism in recent times could have resulted from evangelical christian and evangelical muslim leaders encouraging the public to view each other cynically -a coordination failure of evangelicals of both religions.

    In contrast, a large percentage of the public wasn’t cynical about invading Iraq after an overwhelming spectrum of the powerful lined up in support of it rather than publicly framing the invasion in cynical terms.

  • josh

    Social studies teachers tend to invite cynical views of history that endorse whatever POV they are selling (all SS teachers are selling a POV, that’s why they took the job. Oops, that was cynical) and idealistic views when that serves the purpose. For example, the USA is usually portrayed as greedy and violent (the war of 1812 was to invade Canada, the Mexican American war was to steal land and resources, American industrial wealth was built on slavery and wage-slavery) but with a noble, idealist streak always coming from the left (the progressive movement helped the “common” people, Civil rights leaders, even questionable ones like Garvey, only cared about equality and justice). Most SS teachers are fighting progressives.

    I will say this, cynicism makes it really, really hard to teach. Idealistic motivations are much more understandable and require less theoretical machinery about how the world really operates. For instance, its much easier to say that the US was anti-communist than to try to explain the various factions and their influence on political reality.

    The bottom line is, history education is a pretty blatant form of propaganda, which is a democracy tends to be factional, and, IMHO, deleterious.

  • http://www.cawtech.freeserve.co.uk Alan Crowe

    Such a text book might be harmful because Cynicism is dangerously naive

  • Bellisaurius

    If by cynical, one means something that views us in a more or less negative light (ie, our lesser selves), then I’ve seen social studies books that address propaganda, and in the netherlands, I’ve heard that they’re required to watch some of hitler’s speeches to hear how easy it is to slip into finding them agreeable, but I think the best place to do it would be in science class where maybe they could do experiments in cognitive biases.

    Personally, I’d prefer it this way, because it would allow us to say that the idealistic version is probably how most of us see the world (with our own actions), but how things end up far different from what would be expected from a world full of good people. I think it makes for a better worldview generally, and requires more mental effort to build a more complete model of things.

    Then again, I’d just be happy if they gave philosophy in high school, but that’s not happening either….

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  • Vlad

    For what it’s worth, when I was around 14 I got to read The Selfish Gene. While Dawkins writes somewhat idealistically that we’re the only species on earth capable of changing our innate tendencies, the obvious (cynical) conclusions on human nature are inescapable. Strongly recommended.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    One of the stronger memories I have of middle school (a long time ago) was reading in class the Shirley Jackson story “The Lottery”. Does that count as teaching realistic cynicism? Or rather because it exaggerates an unattractive human behavior into horror, is it clandestine idealism, since it allows us to feel superior? Lord of the Flies, also commonly taught in schools, is also along these lines

    Or, take a left-wing textbook like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It is plenty cynical (about the motives behind various actions of the US) when compared with more standard texts. But it’s also teaching idealism, because it conveys a sense of moral outrage at these acts. (I am personally somewhat more cynical than Zinn, because I simply expect governments to do the sorts of things that they do).

    The more I think about it the less useful this distinction becomes. Behind almost any human act lies a rich mixture of motivations, both selfish and idealistic, low and high.

  • Ned Baker

    Robin,

    Your definition of cynicism is so broad as to be useless. Are you saying selfish motives are completely omitted from textbooks? Give me a break! Don’t they still teach the “invisible hand”? What about the Trail of Tears?

    And you don’t have to be a cynic to see selfish motives at work in the world. Maybe a realist. True cynicism is just a crutch for smug, lazy, depressed, or unsympathetic minds.

  • Hal

    Perhaps we could imagine a sort of “idealistic cynicism”, a synthesis of the two views that would retain good qualities of each. The idea would be to recognize the importance of “low” and “base” motivations, but to cast those in positive and approving terms. Rather than acting ashamed of these forces, we would applaud and glorify them.

    You see this somewhat in Libertarian philosophy, exemplified perhaps by the quote, “greed is good.” Greed, traditionally seen as a base motive to be disparaged and denied, is instead celebrated. After all, the world is a good place, much better than caveman days, and base motives have no doubt driven much of the change.

    • http://kazart.blogspot.com Mike

      Thesis, Antithesis, SYNTHESIS. Google it.

  • http://unpleasantfacts.com/ jlonsdale

    You gave two explanations for cynical moods. Both of these make your proposed project seem less worthwhile than the idea of promoting true ideas initially sounds.

    1. Idealistic explanation of cynicism (high motives and/or insight leads to disappointment) – The cynical textbooks demoralize the students and turn them into underachievers.

    2. Cynical explanation of cynicism (low motives or ability) – You are targeting an audience that probably isn’t going to do much with the truth in the first place.

    At the very least, it suggests that there should be some calculation of the trade off between encouraging cynical moods among a number of people against the value of those people understanding the cynical belief.

    A good example of a cynical textbook is the book “The Game” by Neil Strauss. It can be seen as part of a textbook itself or as a story about a bunch of guys who discovered the cynical textbook on male/female interactions. Many of the guys got what they wanted in the short term with this information, but the their ability to form longer relationships was damaged. This is either because they believed they knew how girls really worked and were disillusioned, or because the new cynical beliefs were incomplete and yet were enough to make older knowledge about how things are supposed to work seem (incorrectly) useless and irrelevant.

  • http://kazart.blogspot.com Mike

    What are the relatively utilities to accomplishing things of cynicism and idealism? Where are the great accomplishments of the cynics? The great institutions founded by cynics?

    I choose constant refills of of idealist bias because it seems to me that this makes me better able to do things that are good for me and for other people, i.e., to be productive in the grandest sense. Years ago I believed I had to choose between personal experience in the form of drugs and engagement in the real world. It seems to me it was allowing, even pushing, my idealistic interpretations to the fore that lead me to put my goals in reality and not in finding more time for better drugs.

    Cynicism is the degenerate aspect of critical thinking.

    Following on the comments about marxism above, I have been taken by the idea of rational development: thesis, antithesis, and THEN synthesis. The FIRST thing we learn in any area should be an idealistic thing: equations of marginal pricing and utility, straightforward models of atoms underlying the periodic table, newtownian mechanics. THEN, with a complex structure in place, we learn the limits of that structure, that is antithesis. (I am thinking those we characterize as cynics get stuck in antithesis. They are so fascinated by the limits of the ideal structures, they never move past seeing those limits.) FINALLY we have synthesis, which i have always taken as looking for the more complex models that to some extent resolved the conflict between the ideal and the cynical.

    At your deepest level, Robin, it seems to me you are COMPLETELY idealistic. You believe in rationality and its power. You believe in what you do here. If I were to teach someone else about you, about your approach, would this not be an overwhelmingly idealistic teaching?

  • max

    “Predictioner’s Game” by Bueno de Mosquita, gets high grades for cynical spelling out of implications of game theory to politics.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      I haven’t that his book (or even “The Logic of Political Survival), but he has a few podcasts for EconTalk that are very entertaining.

  • Idiot

    Cynicsm was once a Greek philosophy. Says right here.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynic

    “The Cynics (Greek: Κυνικοί, Latin: Cynici) were an influential group of philosophers from the ancient school of Cynicism. 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 simple life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone, and that suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable and by the worthless customs and conventions which surrounded society. Many of these thoughts were later absorbed into Stoicism.”

    It might be possible that a few present-day cynics with no knowledge of Greek philosophy might still believe in this same thing (humans are motivated by base motives, if you get rid of these base motives, they might become good), only with the addition that it would be impossible for anyone to achieve this idealism…

  • AnneBridget

    I would like to know if there is something like the 10 commandments of the cynic or a book that teaches how to be more cynic?
    I’m trying to become more cynical but I’m wired to try and look for the best on everyone and like people in general so I have no idea how or where to start. Thanks for the help.

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