Full Disclosure Cynicism

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on November 18, 2010

Most cynics aren’t being entirely honest with themselves.

Robin Hanson observes that cynics are typically losers. Michael Vassar speculates that Shaw’s ‘unreasonable men‘ might have a neurological bug which makes them operate in Far mode most of the time.

I think a significant proportion of cynics also have that second trait. They are more sensitive to the personal consequences of believing in certain ideals, and so are more vulnerable if such ideals are harmful when taken too seriously.

As an example. Everybody, reasonables and unreasonables alike, believe “education is about learning”.

When explicitly considering the function of education, a reasonable person would believe that he believed it was true. But when it comes to coursework and exams, he would do the minimum necessary. Short of (or even beyond) cheating, our reasonable man will try to circumvent actually having to learn anything, as long as he gets the grade he wants. The grade is what truly matters to him, even if he will not admit it when in Far mode. A reasonable man is thus safe from taking the “education is about learning” ideal too seriously for it to do him any harm.

An unreasonable person, however, will truly believe in education as learning. He will go beyond the syllabus, neglect or more likely vehemently dismiss parts of it not essential to learning. Quite possibly, this unreasonable man will fail the course, inflicting on himself great personal harm. Now let’s assume he drops out of college, and is now working in McDonald’s, and living with his parents, and is 35 years of age. We have us a loser. It will be very tempting for this loser to turn into a cynic. This cynic will acidly observe that education is not about learning. It’s about signaling conscientiousness and intelligence, and about training for obedience in the modern workplace. And what’s more, this fact seems very important to him. After all, it cost him his life, not to mention the propagation of his genes.

So Hanson’s metacynic understands that him being a loser has a large part to do with him being a cynic. He might then believe that even though he’s epistemologically privileged, his acerbic observations and pronouncements on human behavior are simply, but unfortunately, true. So far so good, but he oversteps and errs when he thinks this matters. The fact is, most men are not unreasonable, they are insulated from harmful ideals precisely by their hypocrisy. His cynicism really does most people no good at all. Unless he specifically targets unreasonable men who are not already cynics, he should just shut up.

In summary, for some cynics, full disclosure consists in admitting:

  1. You are a loser.
  2. You are more vulnerable (sensitive) to the harmful (positive) effects of the hypocritical ideals you attack (espouse).

One Response

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  1. anydreamwilldo said, on November 19, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    “Now let’s assume he drops out of college, and is now working in McDonald’s, and living with his parents, and is 35 years of age. We have us a loser.”

    I hope there aren’t any 35 year old men who dropped out of college, live with their parents and work at McDonald’s reading this post.

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