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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