Moving On…or Sarcasm?

Moving On… or Sarcasm?
Easter 20

The mind of a two-year-old child is amazing. It questions everything. Any attempt by the parent(s) to get the child to assimilate with others often becomes a call unheeded. The child questions everything with “Why?” being the hallmark of the age. Such characteristics are so common that the age even has its own nickname – the Terrible Two’s.

Yesterday we discussed cynicism. It is one school of thought within philosophy that turns its back on peer pressure and questions everything the general populous does. Sound familiar? Does this mean that those advocates of cynicism are immature?

Proponents of Cynicism advocated one being self-sufficient. When asked about religion, Diogenes of Sinope is said to have replied: “I don’t believe in God but I hope there is one.” The Cynics felt that group or “herd” thinking was dangerous. Indeed, history has proven this theory to be correct. It is precisely that same mob mentality that can turn a protest into a riot. People become influenced by those around them. In teenagers it is called peer pressure but the hallmarks are the same. People are influenced by those with whom they associate. Behavior is contagious, not only in humans but in all animals.

Cynics felt independence was attained by flouting convention. While Aristotle studied the social and political nature of man, cynicism disregarded it and/or considered it to be a shortcoming. The Cynicism philosophy believed that desire, indulgence, and ignorance were the basic causes of all human misery. Certainly indulgence can lead to problems and considering only one’s desires is not a healthy way to live. We do live in a social environment, however. We are social animals and a way of life that denies that cannot be very successful or effective.

A true cynic disallows another person the right to apologize. Not only does the cynic see the one doing the apologizing as weak, it holds the recipient to be weak also. Cynicism maintains “You need nothing other than yourself.” Apologies are tricky, not as plentiful as they should be, but they come in many forms. Yesterday I mentioned my computer had yet to awake. What I did not mention was the back story. My current computer is two weeks old. Its predecessor was almost ten years old and so its demise not that sudden. This computer, however, was really only two weeks old. Its problems were not only unexpected but unacceptable. It is, fortunately, under warranty. A true student of cynicism might feel the warranty a type of apology and my using it a sign of dependency.

The cynics taught not by formal literature or seeking knowledge in books but by example, using illustrated through sarcasm. Sarcasm comes from the word “sarkasmos” meaning to rip apart. There is no use of the word in English literature until 1579 when it appeared in an annotation to “The Shepheardes Calender” by Edmund Spenser: “Tom piper, an ironicall Sarcasmus, spoken in derision of these rude wits …”. Today someone using sarcasm is considered to be clever. I would offer that, as with many things, there is a time and a place for such. As a learning tool, sarcasm has limited uses and even greater chance for misinterpretation. Much of its intended meaning must be derived from tonal inflections and given our proliferate use of online communications, sarcasm is best left as a ways of exchanging thoughts on a one-to-one basis in person. Of course, cultural connotations should also be taken into account. So that what one intends as humorous is not taken as an insult.

Cynicism opened the door for the stoic school of philosophy, a conversation we will have tomorrow. What I find interesting is that cynicism relies on the very presence of society that it disdains. After all, one cannot deny social convention is one does not recognize it exists. I would encourage you to develop beliefs that can stand on their own. Goodness is its own reason for being. Using the inappropriate actions of others to justify your own is not goodness.

Today I will delve further into the repair of my preferred computer system and hope the warranty is really worth the time it took for someone to write it and the resources allocated to print it. Diogenes the Cynic might well view this as me being weak but I prefer to think of it as being accountable. Accepting and giving an apology is also a way of being accountable.

H.G. Wells once wrote “Cynicism is humor in ill health.” I happen to think there is a time and a place to be cynical, to question that which we think we know. Ignorance does not have to be our downfall; it can be the first step to greater living and increased knowledge. Leon Trotsky felt “Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.” Yoko On believed “The cynicism you have is not your real soul.”

To accept we don’t know everything is not cynical nor is it being weak or a sign one is ignorant. It is a sign of being human. To hold someone accountable for following through is not a sign of insufficiency. I believe it takes courage to apologize and even greater courage to believe you yourself are worth the best someone has to offer. I agree with Twyla Tharp who said “Optimism with some experience behind it is much more energizing than plain old experience with a certain degree of cynicism.” That two-year-old child might drive us crazy with their incessant questioning of “Why?” but they also embrace life at its fullest. Hopefully, today we will do the same.