15 December 2009

Struggling with Cynicism

It seems that the more I learn about society, the less I wish to participate in it.

The above statement may seem like a witticism of a sort, and sometimes it amuses me in a tragic sense, but it’s a true statement for me that expresses my increasing cynicism about society and my discomfort at that.

I think the American socio-, economic- and political structure is flawed in many ways. The majority of the nation is not in control its destiny: the people are routinely exploited, lied to, and manipulated. People have become addicted to being entertained: the emotional depth of their lives has dissipated. Their talk has become small talk, devoid of substance or relevance. We spend more time reacting to what television tells us than actually living life -- more time using people for our own entertainment than connecting with them: we attempt to console ourselves by endlessly buying things. The list goes on.

Perhaps many people think that society is sick for reasons different than my own, but they go on participating in it. I increasingly understand Henry David Thoreau, and sometimes wish that I, too, could run off into the woods and get away from the irrational and unhealthy society that has arisen in the United States. I even find monks to be understandable, and I want to live in a quiet little community somewhere with other people who find society objectionable and don’t want to participate it in anymore.

At the same time as I am thinking these things, I examine my motives and I wonder if I am not just becoming a perpetual whiner,  pacifying and even entertaining myself by finding flaws in society instead of living up to my own ideals and doing what I can to change what I can. I wonder if my cynicism is just a way of protecting myself from the emotional toll living fully would actually take.

At the same time, I think a good thing that I am so wary of this increasing cynicism, that I don’t want to give up.  It seems that many people do, and think themselves the better for it, but I am not convinced. I believe we must strive and fight in life, but my ability to do so is more and more impaired by my suspicion that I am merely kicking against a mountain.

How do other people prevent themselves from sliding into the abyss of jadedness?



Christo said...

volunteer. help others.
Studies have shown volunteering to be as effective as any antidepressant on the market. So go hammer some nails with habitat for humanity or something. Don't let the religious folk get all the credit.

you may only be able to improve a very small part of the world as you see it, but for the person you help, that's a rather big part of their world.

CyberKitten said...

sc said: How do other people prevent themselves from sliding into the abyss of jadedness?

Love, hope, humour, the delight of new discoveries..... I suppose the 'trick' is walking the middle path between despair on one side and unbounded (and unrealistic) optimism on the other.

Cynicsm is only a bad thing - as are most things - when taken to extremes. We need to be cynical about our cynicism too [grin].

Pamela said...

I have declared a moratorium on television and movies for the coming year. I am going to use the time that is normally wasted in this activity for listening to music and reading/studying. The latter activities seem to be much more of what my soul needs at the moment. I know that there are wonderful benefits from watching movies and educational/edifying programs but I am going to fast from these things for a calendar year. Once the year is over I will see if I want to slowly allow these activities some purchase in the real estate of my time allotment for living.

We are also instituting a Sabbath of sorts. From Sundown on Saturday until Sundown on Sunday we will, unless traveling on business, rest and relax. No work, taxi service for adult children, or renovation busyness wi11 interrupt this rest period.

Hopefully these two "cures" will help us regain a lot of the peace that we have found missing in the past year. Time for contemplation will be a treasured thing.

smellincoffee said...

Pamela: Your presence here is...*eerie*. From Words of Wisdom's followers, I just found your blog and commented on your television post. I then came here to respond, and...here you were. Hello! ;-)

Christo: This is my suspicion as well. In retrospect I should've known it already: working with people is what pulled me out of dark times in the past and put me on a more fulfilling track in life.

Cyberkitten: I'm still working on finding that middle ground -- between optimism and cynicism, between Stoic detachment and humanist passion. It's proven to be a daily, minute-by-minute thing and emphasizes the need for mindfulness.

Hesiodos said...

I would agree with being a careful consumer of media. One way I keep from getting jaded is to get the know the people around me who tempt me to cynicism. I find that they are not so different from myself, and so find it makes it easier to feel compassion rather than condemnation towards them. Also, being of a conservative temperament, I am more ready to forgive a systematic fault in society than to think that a radical new solution will fix all. For me the burden of proof for a radical change is high. Knowing what I can change and what I can't helps bring peace as well. It really isn't all up to me, just the bits that cross my path. I can do well by them, at least.

smellincoffee said...


I've been thinking a lot about change and society these days. I do try to keep the fact that I can't change society in mind, but that sometimes tempts me to think that I can't do anything productive at all. At that point I should take up Christo's advice.

Have you observed anything in Seneca about struggling to effect change for the betterment of all when politics (for him, Nero) hindered more than it helped?

Hesiodos said...

I haven't run across anything yet, but I have only barely dented Seneca. I'll see if I can speed things up and keep my eyes open for anything applicable.