Why not Cynicism?

362538_f520by Steve Snyder

If there’s one thing that a lot of people are sure they know about Cynicism, it’s that it’s nothing other than a usually unwarranted, almost totally negative attitude about life in general, and most of its individual elements.

And, if they think they’re talking about Cynicism the philosophy, with a capital C, they’re dead wrong. With a lowercase spelling, cynicism as a psychological attitude may be just that. As one of the great philosophies of classical Greece, with roots in the pre-Alexandrine Hellenic era, older than Stoicism and perhaps with pre-Socratic connections, they’re dead wrong [1].

Even people with some interest in philosophy usually know little that is true about Cynicism: that its founder, Diogenes, told Alexander to get out of his light, and that he (Diogenes) was known for masturbating in public.

Those are (likely) true, but they are mere tidbits, and the second was trotted out more than 2,000 years ago, and from that time on, as a transparent attempt to denigrate Cynicism. A denigration which was helped, to be fair, by the fact that later Cynicism did at times — perhaps in part facing the stark nature of Roman might — become a bit more like its own caricature.

There is an apt Existential Comics entry about comparing different schools of Greek philosophy [2], which provides an entertaining starting point to offset the caricature (especially if you click the “don’t get the joke” below the comic).

There, you’ll see this exchange that allegedly took place between Plato and Diogenes as further illustration, as Existential Comics notes:

Diogenes was in a stream washing vegetables. Coming up, Plato said, “My good Diogenes, if you knew how to pay court to kings, you wouldn’t have to wash vegetables.” “And,” Diogenes replied, “if you knew how to wash vegetables, you wouldn’t have to pay court to kings.”

Well put, well put, as Tevye the Dairyman [3] might also say. Then again, Tevye himself, for instance in the song “Tradition” [4] from “Fiddler on the Roof,” might be seen as well illustrating the need for Cynicism:

“Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer-shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.”

Questioning not just authority, but the conventionality of traditions in general, is at the core of Cynicism, as are the radical methods by which such conventionality is questioned by the Cynics.

Stoicism — Cynicism’s close cousin —  has gotten a revival of late, for instance with Stoic Week, and essays here at Scientia Salon on concepts such as Stoic meditation and the “Stoic egg” [5,6]. Moreover, echoes of Platonism have never gone out of style for people looking for a transcendent ultimate reality, and concerns for ethical matters in large, complex modern societies, have brought back a renaissance for Aristotle and his version of virtue ethics. Even Skepticism as a philosophy gets more appreciation these days, as the lowercase “skepticism” of modern times diverges far less from it than cynicism does from Cynicism. And yet Cynicism and its “sneer” remain almost as unappreciated, and at least as misunderstood, as Epicureanism and its “swerve.”

It shouldn’t be thus. Cynicism has older roots than Stoicism, and one can think of Socrates, in his iconic role as a gadfly, as a stepfather of sorts to Cynicism, although he may have been too wedded to convention for Diogenes’s taste.

Without following Diogenes in every respect, maybe we could think of Stoicism  as “the stiff upper lip” and of Cynicism as “the laughing sneer” from ancient philosophy. Or, per Camus, who I argue has some direct intellectual connection with the Cynics, to live it — at least inwardly — as a rebel. That’s not meant to denigrate Stoicism, but I do think that it had a more accepting attitude toward societal conventions, as well as a higher view of the rationality of human actions, stemming from its concept of the world-infusing Logos.

The capital-C philosophy did take a “sneering” attitude toward convention — but that was not the end point of it by any means, as opposed to the lowercase psychology, which will be set aside for the rest of this essay, as the difference between the two has hopefully been made clear. Cynicism was about a true “callout” of convention and authority, as tools to reach the Cynic understanding of eudaimonia (flourishing). The sneer, if you will, was a tool to try to break the non-Cynic’s attachment to conventions, be it conventions related to power, fame, money, or mores. The sneer is because Cynics know we can do better, and this, I maintain, is probably the biggest difference between Cynicism and Stoicism, as this essay notes [7].

I highly recommend the book “Cynics” by William Desmond [8]. A review of it notes:

“Far from being pessimistic or nihilistic, as modern uses of the term ‘cynic’ suggest, the ancient Cynics were astonishingly optimistic regarding human nature. They believed that if one simplified one’s life — giving up all unnecessary possessions, desires, and ideas — and lived in the moment as much as possible, one could regain one’s natural goodness and happiness.”

Desmond shows that Cynics were acting the way they were in what might be called an activist Westernized version of Zen. At their best, Cynics were encouraging a kind of activist detachment from conventional preoccupations, and even from all but the barest of physical needs.

That said, while some of their antics, like Diogenes telling Alexander to get out of his light, sound courageous and enlightened, others, like masturbating in public, were as repulsive to his fellow Greeks as they are to readers today. But that was the intent. That sneer at acceptable behavior was designed to break down conventional attitudes about mores in general, with all that word meant in the classical world.

The literal or metaphorical sneer of the would-be Cynic is similar to the literal or metaphorical lopped-off finger of the Zen student. The main difference is that Cynicism is not specifically anti-logical, unlike Zen and its koans. Although Cynicism, unlike Stoicism, did not drink deeply and heavily from the well of Logos, it was nonetheless a related philosophy, and part of the larger worldview of classical Greek schools of thought that appreciated the value of rationality.

It is arguable that Cynicism hasn’t totally disappeared. Indeed, some biblical scholars, like John Crossan, have imagined Jesus as a Jewish cynic, a notion rooted in the fact that Middle-era Cynicism was strong in the biblical Decapolis, as well as in east Syria. I think Crossan overstates the case, but it’s not totally implausible. The elements of denialism that are strongest in Christianity arose from the same area of eastern Syria that was a strongpoint of later Cynicism, and my disagreement with the likes of Crossan is more in the nature of degrees than substance. I certainly find it plausible that (assuming a historic Jesus) a Jesus born in a Gentile-influenced Galilee would have come across Cynic teachers. But that was probably not the primary influence on Jesus. Many other Jews challenged the Hellenistic Jewish culture of the Sadducees and the Herodians, without any reference to Cynicism.

That said, I see Cynicism as having some influence on Sufi Islam as well as certain strains of Christian denialism like the “holy fool,” common in Eastern Orthodoxy. It may also have some connection to some Hasidic Jewish ideas.

At the same time, playing the “holy fool” was often just that — playing it, not really being it, starting with Cynicism itself. It’s why the likes of Lucian of Samosata lampooned it, which in turn probably also hastened Cynicism’s decline, as did its association with the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, Julian. In the ersatz version of “holy fools,” Rasputin comes immediately to mind. So, a good Cynic, to go “meta,” needs to practice his philosophy on his own philosophy!

Plausible historical connections aside, the substantial question facing Cynicism is whether we can really do better as a species: should we be that optimistic about Homo sapiens? I’m not so sure, which is part of my discomfort with ancient Stoicism, one that’s referenced by a few other philosophers I’ve seen writing about Stoic Week — its comfort with the powers that be, and situations that may be.

Taking off on the Serenity Prayer (a modern Christian incarnation of the so-called Stoic fork), I would rather do and speak differently. Rather than “accepting the things I cannot change,” I prefer to “accept there are things that I cannot change.” The Serenity Prayer-Stoicism idea would have us ignore the emotions attached to those unchangeable things, and it would have us also ignore that these things often exist for very irrational reasons.

Which gets us to the “neo” modifier as I propose it: how do we pivot from Cynicism to a possible neo-Cynicism?

My suggestion for a neo-Cynicism would take ancient Cynicism and detach it from some of its optimism about the world. I’d then run it through some sort of filter of philosophical pessimism [9], whether that be provided by Schopenhauer, Camus, Cioran, Unanumo or someone else [10]. I note that the trick is to do this without adopting a world-weary stance that seemingly cropped up at times in Stoicism, or without moving from Cynicism the philosophy to cynicism the cheap psychology.

You’ll note that the philosophers listed above are, generally at least, in the vicinity of Existentialism, and I am presenting neo-Cynicism as a philosophy that accepts human nature simply as it is. If that is pessimism, either philosophically or psychologically, that is what it is.

Given that Cynicism has at least some roots in the pre-Socratic era, as pessimism arguably does as well, it seems to me that it was Diogenes’ greatest wrong-footing to stake out such an optimistic stance on human nature. Classical Greek pessimists (no capital “P,” as it’s not a recognized philosophical school) incorporated eudaimonia, or flourishing, as part of their worldview. Linking back to the Stoicism that had Cynic roots, they too recommended “acceptance” of uncontrollable things, while noting that the best result from that stance was really only an avoidance of pain, not an increase of happiness. Take that a step further, along with the convention-rejecting ideas, even the rebellion, if one wills, of Diogenes, and it’s not too far a step to the Camus of “The Rebel” and “The Myth of Sisyphus.”

At this point someone might cry out, “Why not Rousseau?” While Rousseau was of course pessimistic about human existence in the context of modern society, he was quite optimistic about humans in a “state of nature.” And, given that man has evolved to become, per Aristotle, a “civilized animal” (sic: that’s a better translation than “political animal”) our “state of nature” is and will remain a state of being conscious, of being self-conscious, and of being temporally conscious. We may rebel against social convention, we cannot rebel against our selves.

There is nothing wrong with classical Cynic simplicity nor with Rousseau’s state of nature. But, there is also nothing to guarantee that either leads to virtue, as Hobbes noted in his famous “nasty, brutish and short … a war of all against all” comment, summarizing his own understanding of the human state of nature. That is why classical Cynicism needs to be run through that filter of pessimism, or at least one of skepticism.

Per comments on Massimo’s Stoic Week essay, yes, this is syncretistic. But most philosophies are. As noted above, Stoicism and Cynicism overlapped, Neoplatonism borrowed from Gnostic-related ideas, and Cynicism appears to have been influenced by Pythagoreanism. Similarly, scholars of religion estimate that there’s some new religious variant group invented every week, if not more frequently. As long as we are clear about what’s being synthesized, and why, I see no compelling problem. (Similarly in art,  Stravinsky said his best music was what he stole from others.)

I also see Cynicism as the most political of ancient philosophies, in the broad sense of what political philosophy means. If we extend political philosophy in today’s world to include economics, I think the need for the Cynic’s contempt becomes more obvious. Neoliberal economics has run aground with little to offer but an Internet-based new version of capitalism, traditional business conservatism can’t even achieve that, Marxism was unscientific even before 1989, and the economics of religious-based political philosophy will always be based on the conventions of whatever religion is at hand.

How might neo-Cynicism develop from its ancient roots? One option is to take it in a more specifically anti-systemic direction. Tis true that there’s no such thing as being a complete anti-systemetician in philosophy in general or in life in particular, but I think it is still possible, and desirable, to move a fair degree in that direction. If we understand Cynicism as attacking convention for convention’s sake, we can extrapolate the approach beyond social mores, to include attacking conventionality in the very way we think.

A neo-Cynic project should also lessen the original’s asceticism to some degree — not just the sexual aspect of it, but its larger anti-material stance. Without the need to go ascetic, scorning and sneering at materialism and excessive attachment to material possessions is more needed than ever, especially in the consumeristic society that is the hallmark of the modern developed world.

In all of this, the key is to remember that any rebellion against convention is not to be done simply for the sake of rebellion, but rather for the amelioration of both one’s individual psyche and that of the larger community. Neo-Cynicism may be an important part of an increasingly urgent move beyond the present capitalistic system.


Steve Snyder is a newspaper editor and an atheist with a graduate theological degree. He blogs at Socratic Gadfly on politics, atheism, journalism, sports, and philosophy.

[1] Cynicism (philosophy), Wiki entry.

[2] Existential Comics, Greek Hold’em.

[3] Tevye the Dairyman, Wiki entry.

[4] Fiddler on the roof — Tradition, YouTube.

[5] Why not Stoicism?, by M. Pigliucci, Scientia Salon, 6 October 2014.

[6] The Stoic egg, by M. Pigliucci, Scientia Salon, 17 November 2014.

[7] Difference Between Ancient Stoicism and Ancient Cynicism, Ratio Cynicorum, 2 September 2012.

[8] Cynics, by William Desmond, University of California Press, 2008.

[9] Pessimism, Wiki entry.

[10] Somewhat reluctantly, I recommend Joshua Foa Dienstag’s “Pessimism” for further reading. While the book is good, it’s one of those pieces of writing that could have been great, but isn’t. Parts of it cover issues of historicity, linear vs. cyclical time, detachment vs. rebellion and more.

67 thoughts on “Why not Cynicism?

  1. I realize this is already pretty long, but a brief recap of the essential principles of Cynicism would have been useful. As far as I can tell it comes down to living a simple life, ignoring convention, and flouting authority. Is there more to it than that?


  2. Thank you for this, Steve. It’s nice to see a companion article to the Stoicism essay.

    I don’t know this particular branch of religion well but it looks more of the same. My suspicion is that a Zen philosopher would look at the different attitudinal approaches taken by Stoicism and Cynicism and see them as two equally valid and equivalent ways to deal with the world and pursue the truth, We could choose whichever approach suits us on the day.

    Only one objection. You say “The main difference is that Cynicism is not specifically anti-logical, unlike Zen and its koans.” I really do feel that this is the wrong word, and that it should be ‘meta-logical’ or something similar. There are some decent philosophers among the Zen patriarchs, Nagarjuna’s logical proof of Zen’s philosophical foundation is obviously enthusiastically pro-logical. Also, most koans, perhaps all, are, or can be stated as, metaphysical questions amenable to logical analysis. In fact this is the whole point, since it would be precisely this analysis that shows us we need to travel beyond analysis and helps us get there. Logic would be map-reading while Zen would be the journey, but no need for any antipathy. A koan would be useless to person who did not think ‘logically’.

    I enjoyed the syncretic approach, and would have taken it a lot further.


  3. Bill, the Wiki entry has a good summary of base points:
    1. The goal of life is Eudaimonia and mental clarity or lucidity (ἁτυφια) – freedom from τύφος (smoke) which signified ignorance, mindlessness, folly, and conceit.

    2. Eudaimonia is achieved by living in accord with Nature as understood by human reason.

    3. τύφος (Arrogance) is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions, unnatural desires, and a vicious character.

    4. Eudaimonia or human flourishing, depends on self-sufficiency (αὐτάρκεια), equanimity, arete, love of humanity, parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life (ἁδιαφορία).[11]

    5. One progresses towards flourishing and clarity through ascetic practices (ἄσκησις) which help one become free from influences – such as wealth, fame, or power – that have no value in Nature. Examples include Diogenes’ practice of living in a tub and walking barefoot in winter.

    6. A Cynic practices shamelessness or impudence (Αναιδεια) and defaces the Nomos of society; the laws, customs, and social conventions which people take for granted.

    The “flourishing” is of course a commonality with most other ancient Greek philosophies. Point 2 gets back to Massimo’s Stoicism essay on showing some commonality, and is my point of departure, with a different assessment of human nature, for neo-Cynicism.

    Points 3-6 then spell out how to achieve this … and why — that the challenging of convention, asceticism and related practices are designed to produce mental and emotional clarity.


  4. Peter, (and other Zen aficionados), I could buy “metalogical” as a substitute. I was looking for a prefix that contained the idea of “challenge” to logic in my usage.

    That said, I’m not sure it’s been mentioned in Zen-related comments on previous essays, but I know many scholars and students consider Zen to actually be good old Daoism given a Buddhist “baptism.” I had started gathering ideas for the essay when, on Massimo’s Stoic Egg piece, EJ Winner mentioned something about Cynicism and Zen, and I knew that the book on Cynicism made some of the same comparisons.

    As for the “taking it further,” I was leery about offering too much of my personal, descriptive thought on what the “neo” should be, lest it look like it was becoming too prescriptive, not just descriptive. Hypercapitalism is less a problem elsewhere in the developed world than the US, though the neoliberal steamroller seems to advance everywhere. And, materialist-related ideas aren’t the only “Nomos” which may need challenging. In other words, your mileage may vary.

    Also, there was a bit of a “meta” issue … can Cynicism internally become too prescriptive, lest it establish itself as a “convention”?


  5. Steve,
    thanks for your points 1 – 6. They make your essay clearer. But I see a fatal contradiction. You have several times mentioned the ‘laughing sneer’. I presume that is part of your point 6, shamelessness or impudence. The problem is that your ‘laughing sneer’ is nothing but unadorned arrogance, the very thing you disavow in point 3 (τύφος). It is the arrogance of thinking that you know better than everyone else.

    Here is a taxonomy of sneers, which brings home the nature of the sneer:
    – the laughing sneer (whatever that means)
    – the derisive sneer (postmodern liberalism)
    – the sneer of impotence
    – the sneer of envy
    – the sneer of frustrated greed
    – the sneer of frustrated desire
    – the sneer of mistaken superiority
    – the sneer of stupidity
    – the sneer of triumph
    – the sneer of despair.

    But really, does sneering, shameless, impudence achieve anything worthwhile?
    Or is it a destructive, corrosive influence that harms society?


  6. Thanks, Bill.

    First point, I think, is that a modern Cynicism would be self-reflective and self-critical in a way that “hippie culture” probably is not. That includes, per the recent essay on mysticism, and how “hippie culture” has at times “fallen” for some alleged gurus (I mentioned Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Ram Dass there), being self critical about alleged Cynic leaders who were fraudulent. (Or so I hope; I noted, in that same comment on the mysticism piece, that ancient Cynicism has its own version of “fake gurus.”)

    Second, and in part tangentially related to the proclivities of some modern fake gurus, even if modern Cynicism were not as ascetic as the original, I doubt it would buy into all the ideas of “free love.”

    Third, I noted capitalism and materialism aren’t the only societal conventions which can sometimes be oppressive. I am going to venture into politics here, in its more ancient sense. The idea of “American exceptionalism” extends beyond conservative politics. My own version of modern Cynicism calls for challenging the idea that we’re as exceptional as many people think.

    Fourth, while not as wedded to the seemingly high value of rationality as original Cynicism, or Stoicism, and getting back to PeterJ I think neo-Cynicism would not be anti-logical for the sake of being anti-logical. In other words, to the degree that antivaxxers and such are associated either with hippie culture or the New Left, they wouldn’t be in a new Cynicism. Nor would postmodernism in philosophy or the humanities.


  7. I’ve made the point before, but since it goes to why nature transcends convention, I’ll mention it again.
    As individual points of perception, we experience the effect of time as a sequence of events and so think of it as the point of the present going from past to future, but the underlaying reality is change turning future to past.
    Essentially reality is the dichotomy of energy and form, with conserved, dynamic energy manifesting static, transient form. As energy is constantly creating and dissolving form, energy goes from past to future, as form goes future to past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday, because the earth turns and the sun shines. We have a central nervous system to diagnose form and digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems to process energy. Consciousness functions as energy, being dynamic and conserved, while thoughts are the form it manifests, static and transient.
    The problem is that at the point form is fully manifest, is when it, like the amplitude of a wave, has peaked and the energy is starting to recede. So all our thoughts, conventions, beliefs, models, maps, measurements, observations, etc. are of the point of form as it recedes into history, while the dynamic of energy is constantly bursting through the seams and weaknesses, like children pushing aside their elders, who are focused on on all the details and knowledge, both sweet and sour, they have saved and stored, while ignoring the bloom of the sunlight and fresh growth, that has no set form yet.
    So the cynic knows that what is solid and stable, is not the source of life, but its passing form.


  8. Hi Steve, I am glad to see thoughts from other greek schools being explored/discussed. I never spent much time on the Cynics so this was useful, though I agree with Bill a few more elements could have been added in the original essy to “flesh out” the philosophy more (for those not so familiar)… thankfully your reply covered this.

    Why Cynicism never grabbed me back in the old days was that it seemed more about reaction than generating something positive for itself. I’m not sure my impression has changed much after your review.

    While I firmly support challenging old ideas, and flaunting tradition in order to expose and then tear down what is unnecessary or counterproductive, there has to be something one is building in its place.

    You rightly mention capitalism as a modern target worthy of challenge in a neo-Cynic movement. But here I would have viewed the “Occupy Wall Street (& more)” exercises as traditionally Cynical in nature. Their problem was they had nothing else/new to offer.

    Do you see anything in old-school or a proposed neo-Cynicism that would promote/require constructive efforts (with a specific kind of end goal)? Otherwise I only see us reducing ourselves to washing vegetables in the stream until something better happens to come along. That is unless Cynicism is married/incorporated with another system (maybe you have suggestions).

    I’m also curious how a real Cynic would fair in this highly legalistic/policed culture. Sounds like Diogenes would have been locked up forever.


  9. Erik Weissengruber,
    thanks for that interesting reference(http://bit.ly/1BZtWkl).
    I have started browsing through Peter Sloterdijk’s book ‘You Must Change Your Life’, see http://amzn.to/1zwAHqw
    In Chapter 2, Culture is a Monastic Rule(pg 132), he says

    In the following, I will show in broad terms how the shift from a theory of class society ( with vertical differentiation through domi­nance, repression and privilege) to a theory of discipline society ( with vertical differentiation through asceticism, virtuosity and achieve­ment) can take place.

    This is the basic theme of his book. It contains aspects of virtue ethics with its emphasis on the attainment of excellence through various practices, which he defines as (pg 4)

    Practice is defined here as any operation that provides or improves the actor’s qualification for the next performance of the same operation, whether it is declared as practice or not.

    For Sloterdijk this is the new ethical imperative where the sublime can be found in excellence.

    While this is an attractive thesis, it fails, as ethical theories have failed before:
    1) how do you motivate observance?
    2) how do you prevent it from regressing to the vertical differentiation of dominance, repression and privilege?

    Today’s liberal capitalism could be a case study of regression into the vertical differentiation of dominance, repression and privilege. Greed has been shown to reliably trump principle, once shorn of ethical motivation.

    And this bring’s me to Steve’s topic. What gives Cynicism motivating power? And what gives it staying power? Is this not just an interesting 2000 year old relic, with no practical relevance today? That said, I fully agree there is value in studying it to see what lessons we can appropriate for today’s conditions.

    Perhaps that should be my real question. What lessons can we learn from it that are applicable today? I mentioned Sloterdijk because he at least offers a positive thesis.


  10. Cynicism lacks modern purpose, to live a simple life (as simple as possible, of course). Cynicism proscribes leadership. Cynicism seems merely to be perpetual contradiction, as a general belief in selfishness, with “self-interest” presumed to support itself. Yeah, who cares about realism anymore? Let’s go back to the stone age and pretend to live in caves waiting for answers to arise out of necessity rather than openly reasoning, risking our precious reputations at debates that just barely influence democracy.

    Cynicism is narcissism.

    – cynic n. cynics One who is critical of the motives of others;
    – cynical adj. Believing the worst of human nature and motives; having a sneering disbelief in e.g. selflessness of others;
    – cynicism n. A cynical feeling of distrust.

    (above definitions from Ultralingua, http://www.ultralingua.com/about-ultralingua.html)

    Cynicism (philosophy) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynicism_%28philosophy%29

    “For the Cynics, the purpose of life was to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions.”

    Cynicism (contemporary) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynicism_%28contemporary%29
    “Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ motives believing that humans are selfish by nature, ruled by emotion, and heavily influenced by the same primitive instincts that helped humans survive in the wild before agriculture and civilization became established.”


  11. Unlike we moderns (who expect each other to be philosophers, to know what we, ourselves, are saying and doing, but also in the context of being freed from moral and intellectual slavery to survive according to systematic rationality in any of its attitudes), you know, living in a stream is pretty damn hard work, fishing in the same stream that you bath in. And, what for, when we can make public spas and soak in warmth during winter, bath in cool water in summer? Then, we have a market, and we pay for things, rather than cook for ourselves (of course, although we could cook for ourselves, the chore of living is just too time consuming some times).

    Is capitalism and democracy inherently compatible? If not (which I believe) then we would make rules to resist their mutual corruption (by taxation) rather than avoid the responsibility altogether (exemplified by cynicism).


  12. I would also point out(again), the logical fallacy of monotheism is that as a universal state of equilibrium, the absolute would be elementary, not ideal, so a spiritual absolute would be that essence of being from which we rise, not an ideal form of knowledge and judgement from which we fell. Sorry Plato.
    So while the Cynics may not leave us with a proper model of society, they at least focus on establishing a solid foundation from which the form of society can rise and tests it for weaknesses as it does. While civilization requires true believers, having no one to question it on a regular basis leads to disaster.


  13. Baboon Philosophy Needed
    Cynics, kynikos, means “dog-like”. The main idea was for humans to live according to nature… And thus reject the “nomos” (the way things are managed), when it does not fit nature. In extreme form, it meant living like dogs (that Diogenes embraced, and so did the enemies of cynicism).

    The question arises: what is it, to live according to nature? Rousseau thought it was to live like angels. Sade replied that Rousseau had no idea what he was talking about. Voltaire (a friend of Sade) told Rousseau that “jamais autant d’intelligence” had been deployed to make us all stupid, and he felt like “marcher a quatre pattes” after reading his book.

    French sailors, fresh from believing Rousseau, discovered Tasmania. The French has dressed au naturel, as they expected that the Natives, being the most primitive on Earth, would be happy and welcoming. Instead, the Tasmanian tried to kill the French in a massive premeditated ambush, and the sailors came back to France, announcing Rousseau had been found incorrect.

    So is the nature of man that of a dog, or wolf? Is the famous Roman “Homo Homini Lupus”, true?

    Well Ancient Greeks knew dogs, but not baboons. Baboons technical name is “cynocephali” (dog-heads). In more ways than simple appearances, they are half-way between dog and men. As I grew up in Africa, I observed baboons in the wild, or captivity. I was struck by their humaneness.

    Recently the great apes were re-labelled as “Hominidae”, to remind us of their humaneness. However, in one important way, baboons are closer to man than any other species. Both man and baboons have evolved to make a living in the savannah, instead of among the trees.

    To do so, they had to evolve not just an omnivorous way of life, but super-predatory ways, all the way to the fascist, military instinct some insist could possibly be human. As they move about, baboons form well organized armies, and the fierce military spirit to go with them. The larger, the noisier, the more horrific the army, led by seemingly crazed leaders, mad with uncontrollable hatred and rage, the better, to put all predators to flight.

    Back in Africa, it seemed to me that no philosophy that did not understood baboons could pretend to understand man. Thus a philosophy of origins had to encompass baboons. Conversely, baboons are easier to understand than people: people hide behind complicated cultures and their various make-belief “creators”, whereas baboons do not have this sort of arrogance.

    The zoologist Buffon pontificated that baboons were “too obscene to describe”. Baboons were an experimental model contradicting Rousseau. A progress from the Greeks, I would respectfully suggest, would be to graduate from dog to baboon, as a philosophical paradigm, a simpler model of Homo Sapiens.

    Once one has understood that people are super-baboons, one has made a gigantic step forward in the true nature of humanity, and its “nomos”. As we bring the greatest crisis in 65 million years, it’s high time.


  14. Yes, I do see the need for a word to describe Zen’s attitude to logic, at least in comparison to direct experience. But I don’t think it should suggest a conflict, rather a complete difference of emphasis and purpose. For Zen logic would not be the tool for the job if Truth is what we’re after, but it would be a useful tool for working things out, things like where the truth might lie, and also to critically interpret our experience, and it would be essential for metaphysics and koan study. .

    I’m not even sure that ‘meta-logical; would be right in hindsight. Kant is usually thought be ‘logical’, and he uses logic to arrive exactly where Zen logic arrives, with the conclusion that we need to transcend the categories of thought, and thus logic, for a fundamental theory, so maybe ‘super-logical’ would be better.

    On the syncretic thing. A quiet and modest lifestyle that leaves the mind relatively uncluttered and allows time for contemplation, prayer and meditation, a detachment from and even disdain for the struggles of life, the search for spontaneity and naturalness over convention and habit, and so forth, these are found throughout the wisdom traditions. So I would go super-syncretic, and categorise Cynicism, Stoicism and Zen under the ‘perennial’ philosophy, albeit that they would not be equally well-developed examples of it. . , .

    . .


  15. Steve,
    This was very well written. Exhaustive, yet concise. I was not familiar with cynicism and learned something here.

    As an aspiring follower of Christ (christian), the comments on Jesus in relation to Cynicism was of interest and I wanted to comment.

    I see Jesus as very much the cynic as you describe here. He was, without a doubt, a ‘guru’. The sneer of the cynic is proof that our philosopher has gone ‘full guru’. This is because it can only alienate those who are comfortable with the target of the sneer–i.e. convention. But, in doing so, it attracts those who are alienated by convention. Jesus sneered at the conventional religion that dominated his society and made devotees of those rejected by it.

    He was also ‘cynical’ in the way you describe as being ‘astonishingly optimistic’ about human nature. (As it can be unencumbered by convention.) I see this as the stoicism part of cynicism. Jesus, as a stoic, held that loving others could make one happy in all circumstances. In fact, that was all that could make one truly happy in any circumstance. He saw human nature, as given in the Jewish “Law”, as summed up in ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. His gentile followers found this “Law” reflected in the stoic “Logos” as well.

    Also, as the cynic you describe, he did teach that we should ‘live in the moment’…or as he said, ‘don’t worry about tomorrow, today has enough trouble to worry about’. He taught not to worry about food, shelter, etc. He believed God would provide what was necessary, and if he didn’t, love would suffice. Again, this sounds like the stoic approach to Nature as reflected in human nature.

    Finally, one critique. This was hinted at already by one commenter who preferred being an ‘ironist’ to a cynic and another who said ‘nature transcends convention’. I think we should draw more distinction between ‘human nature’ and ‘convention’. “The World” is convention and Jesus was quite pessimistic about ‘the world’. This is why he was so adamantly apolitical. He would have been as unconcerned about capitalism today as he was about Ceasar in his day. I can hear him saying “Render unto capitalism what belongs to capitalism and unto God/Nature what is Nature’s”. We have civic duties to which we should attend, but we should never confuse this with who we are. Ultimately, as Jesus said, it is not the external shit but it is our own internal shit that defiles us. It is our choice to be corrupted by the world and it’s conventions. Jesus, as a stoic, knew this. But as an ironist, he knew that God is God (or Nature is Nature) and that politics is our desire to codify our understanding of God and nature. Politics can never transcend convention but only change it from one convention to another. Meanwhile, Love can flourish in any conventional regime–even when it crucifies one–perhaps more so then.


  16. I appreciate Steve’s posting here, and think it properly provokes important questions.

    Let’s slip the discussion a little out of its present envelope.

    There are several ways to developing a satisfactory ethical theory. One, the easiest and most tempting, is to start from ethics as they are given – by parents, education, social environment – and then simply accept that or build further along the same trajectory.

    But there is another way, which carries far greater risks, but which occasionally promises greater satisfaction (at least if one desires living a good life, ethically). That is to start by renouncing all given (ie., conventional) ethics, and trying to determining what a good life might possibility mean in its core, without conventional sanctions.

    As noted, very risky; easy to lapse into nihilism or solipsism in such an effort. On other hand, it can get one onto an ethical absolute that is not a moral realism, but some ontological base of human behavior and experience.

    One story of the Buddha’s enlightenment is that, practicing Hindu asceticism, he was reaching the point of starving to death, when a tradesman chanced upon him and offered him a ricecake. Without thinking, he took it and ate it. Since this violated his ascetic vows, he struggled with what this revealed about the nature of human being and the source of its suffering. This led to his awakening, and the Four Noble Truths.

    The point is, as an ascetic, the Buddha had reached the point of negating absolutely every human value, even that of his own life. But this couldn’t possibly be the path, and his body let him know it – the body, not the mind, sustained itself in eating the ricecake. And the tradesman had shown compassion in providing him with it – how could that not be a good?

    I’ve never been a proselytizer for Buddhism; it is the course I chose; but there are other paths. There are other ways to negate the conventional in order to begin the search for a richer ethic, and a better life, than what we inherit from our families or cultures.

    That’s slipping this out of the envelope. As long as we try to determine the value of Cynicism in comparison to other philosophies, or in comparison with the cultural givens of our own day, we are really arguing over trajectories of differing traditions. But perhaps the value of the Cynical attitude is precisely in that it cuts through the traditional in an effort to find roots from which to grow new shoots.

    And in an era when most of us have to find our own ways, individually or in small groups, to live ethically, that seems to be a useful thing to do.


  17. Wm Burgess wrote:

    He saw human nature, as given in the Jewish “Law”, as summed up in ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. His gentile followers found this “Law” reflected in the stoic “Logos” as well.


    Don’t know why you put the Halakhah in scare-quotes.

    And the understanding you attribute to Jesus was actually lifted from Hillel, who predates him. Indeed, most of Jesus’s love/peace message was taken from Hillel and is not original to the NT.



  18. I am mainly going to follow up responding to Brandholm (and others) who basically are wanting to know the positive side of either classical Cynicism or neo-Cynicism, in other words, what it might be for rather than against.

    The first thing? Authenticity. And not a narcissistic pseudo-authenticity of the modern “selfie” era. Starting with the Socratic injunction to “know thyself,” I take Cynicism as an injunction to “be thyself.” I think this is part of why it’s important to note that Cynicism is older that Stoicism and has a direct connection to Socrates via Antisthenes, a pupil of his who preceded Socrates.

    And, following on the theme above, where mass media and now social media bombard us ever more, that’s possibly harder to easily do in the developed world than in the developing one.

    Then, per the two goals of classical Cynicism, one can have one’s own clear thought and clear emotions.

    And, per my idea for neo-Cynicism, that’s why I put the classical version through the filter of Existentialism. What is Existentialism about more than authenticity.

    Or, to riff on Abraham Maslow in particular and humanist psychology in general, it’s about self-actualization, and I’m trying to update that, while noting that such a program should be less optimistic, and a touch less rational, than the ancient world would have proposed.

    Second, per EJ Winner Cynicism leads to an attitude of doubt that’s different from ancient Skepticism, in that it’s again, more psychological, or so it seems to me. It’s also different than the Socratic method, as it has far broader range.

    I almost regret using the “sneer” metaphor, both on Massimo’s Stoic Egg and here, but not totally. To put it another way, it’s parallel to Descartes’ program of skeptical doubt. Or, a more psychological version of ancient Skepticism to some degree.

    And, the “why” of this is the key, I think. It’s to formulate an open investigation of ethical and related issues. The “related issues” is part of what I was getting at with referencing a good translation of Aristotle of man as a “civilized animal.”

    After all, in one sense, tribes and bands are small-scale politics, and a lot of what could be lumped under the rubric of “convention” is potentially, or actually, dead socio-political weight. And, that’s not true only for politics in the narrow sense, but any organization large enough to be politicized.

    Third, and partially related to Labnut and also to others, “spirituality.” I mentioned the “Holy Fool” tradition, something that’s been fairly missing in Rome (and Wittenberg and Geneva), but never faded away as much in Constantinople (or, as I also noted, in Sufi Islam and certain Jewish trains of thought). And, yes, Wm. Burgess, this is the idea of “Jesus the Cynic” that some critical scholars have proposed. I think it may be overstated, but I don’t think it’s totally wrong, as I noted above.

    Fourth, it should be noted that not every Cynic was as … impudent? as Diogenes. In fact, one might argue that a bit of his behavior was schtick. However, it’s ultimately the inner attitude that is the key.

    Fifth, per all of the above, is much of this that easy, if radically pursued? Not really. But, just a step or two further in this direction truly would be good, I think (except for some business and political leaders and maybe other similar types), for the great majority.

    A few other observations.

    Aravis, Hillel actually propounded the “Silver Rule,” that is: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” I actually find it and Confucius’ quite similar statement, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself,” to be more golden than the “golden rule.” It’s a more ‘live and let live” version of the Golden Rule.

    That said, and not to get too far off track, variations of both (with Wiki confusingly listing both under “Golden Rule,”) go back before either Hillel or Confucius.



  19. Aravis, Yes, I knew that this view of the Law preceded Jesus in Judaism. Thanks for pointing this out. Even though I was calling Jesus a ‘stoic’ I was only doing so because of the context of this forum and recent themes on this board. I think that Jesus was completely motivated by, and using concepts provided by, his own tradition– as all great reformers do.

    However, I think there is a universal theme or principle in humanity that takes concrete historical form in each of the major religious traditions. In Judaism–its ‘the law’, in Stoicism its “the Logos”..in Christianity it is “Love” –i think Islam and eastern religions have their own names for this reality. This is why I used the quotes over both “Law” and “Logos”—because I see them both as concrete historical instances of a reality that transcends them.


  20. It’s odd that the author is for cynicism and against neo-liberalism. Economics is all about self-interest. It shows us that self-interest can be good for the world. So shouldn’t we embrace cynicism and neo-liberalism alike?


  21. Forgive me, Steve (SocraticGadfly), but I just found it terribly difficult to be inspired by this. Socrates was a warrior, and not for a short life, living an old age (immortal by comparison to most), dying with great valor for philosophy under a self-imposed duty to the state, to accept his own execution. Hard to say if all of is true, but certainly admirable in character (if the ethics and drama did not require so many answers for latter Western scholars). Not a miracle, but definitely a hero. Did the philosopher Athenians learn from the warrior Spartans? As much as could be made of Socrates, for lack of answers why he shared time with Spartan tyrants who despised Athens, Socrates simply lives on as a mysterious albeit fascinating character. The ancients had already recognized their myths, and their lack of history, and so Socrates achieves quite a status among both myth and history, even so contemporary to it. Do I believe in Socrates? You better believe it, because I don’t think his example requires repeating. For once, humans recognized their own reasoning and their own morality, thrilled in drama theater, all as within their own self-control, dressed in blankets and sandals. The Cynics don’t appear very often, and why is that? Were they Spartans? No, we might say, they were just very “down to Earth,” or “natural,” whatever the rhetoric appeals. The Cynics don’t appear to be quite sustainable rivals, and why not? No logic, perhaps? No science? No new advancements in fishing poles? Forgive me for getting crass, but I see more challenge then inspiration from cynicism, and often too much challenge.

    You had asked, long into the article: “How might neo-Cynicism develop from its ancient roots?” and this really just shocked me, why, why, why would cynicism be worth recidivating? Even after the example of Jesus (not to mention Socrates)? Perhaps, because in some picturesque view of classical origins, it is possible to contrive a development (e.g., conservatism) as having such an origin (e.g., cynicism), and then abduct participants according to some particular premise (e.g., “self-interest”). That might work to get students into philosophy class (to learn more about the last century than three millennia ago), or it could make a lot of hermits out of people who become like monkeys in WaPo’s monkey cage. You had stated: “Tis true that there’s no such thing as being a complete anti-systemetician in philosophy in general or in life in particular, but I think it is still possible, and desirable, to move a fair degree in that direction.” Hah!! What a self contradiction! Oh, if only more of us could get paid for that, right?


  22. Aravis,
    And the understanding you attribute to Jesus was actually lifted from Hillel

    What a strange way to put it. As an academic you understand very well the implications of saying that someone ‘lifted’ ideas from another source. Why word it in this particular way? A little over the top, eh?

    And I must challenge you on this. Can you really show that Jesus ‘lifted’ these teachings from Hillel? Perhaps you can show me how Hillel wrote the Sermon on the Mount? It is a completely ordinary fact that different schools of thought influenced each other, which is not at all the same thing as saying the ideas were ‘lifted’. Moreover the desire for love and peace is a universal condition that has found expression in all places and all times. Thus teachings of love are widespread and not at all original, certainly not to Hillel.

    The difference is the centrality of love to Jesus’ teaching and the high degree of emphasis on love. It is the centrality and emphasis that distinguishes Jesus’ teachings, not originality. As I said, no-one can claim originality for teaching love.

    Matthew 22:36-40

    36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
    38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
    39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
    40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    This was a common question – what is the greatest Commandment?
    Jesus replied from Deuteronomy and Leviticus (not Hillel).

    Deuteronomy 6:5
    And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

    Leviticus 19:18
    Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

    Jesus was careful to show that his teachings derived from the Law and from this you can see the great antiquity of the sources that Jesus drew on for his teachings. Hillel undoubtedly drew on the same sources. So why should we be surprised by similarities?


  23. Massimo, if that’s you, neo-liberalism is more or less laissez-faire economics, which is self-interest and the invisible hand to the fullest extent. Cynicism is a belief system or attitude that sees people as self-interested. I’m suggesting neo-liberalism is a positive spin on cynicism. It looks at people being selfish and applauds them, for they are making the world a better place.


  24. Jake, I guess I don’t see Cynicism as a selfish philosophy at all. Individualistic, maybe, but not selfish. I’m pretty sure Diogenes would have treated a Wall Street tycoon worse than how he (allegedly) treated Alexander the Great…


  25. Jake – I think you miss the point somewhat. For the world-view that lies behind or underneath Cynicism there would be, at the limit, no difference between altruism and selfishness. Neo-liberalism is self-indulgence, not self-interest. Self-interest requires discovering what is in one’s best interest, and Neo-liberalism requires precisely the opposite approach. One might think of Schopenhauer and his observation that altruism is ‘the breakthrough of a metaphysical truth’. The truth would be that altruism is in our own best interest,. so would coincide with selfishness once we’ve seen this truth. Cynicism would be a reflection of this truth or response to it. Or so it seems to me.


  26. When Diogenes was criticized for masturbating in public, he supposedly replied, “I”m only sorry that i can’t get over being hungry by rubbing my stomach.”


  27. Labnut and others:

    Yes, “lifted” was a bad choice of words. I lapse into it, because I am often confronted with the sort of Christian who claims that Christianity–and its conception of God–represents a tremendous innovation and improvement over its harsh, legalistic Jewish predecessor. I then explain to them that many of the most distinctive elements of Jesus’s message already existed in Pharisaic Judaism and especially in the thought of Hillel.

    I certainly did not mean to suggest that such ideas are original to Hillel, and of course these ideas have roots that go back to pre-Hebraic civilization. If that’s what I conveyed, it is my fault.


  28. Well I think my interpretation is more palatable. Steve’s interpretation of Cynicism is pretty repellent. He basically characterizes it as iconoclasm mixed with pessimism. I think global pessimism is patently unjustified. Economic growth, poverty reduction, better medical care and many other things that contribute to human prosperity are all on the rise. This kind of attitude toward the world is simply misguided.


  29. I don’t think Cynicism has anything to do with either pessimism or global economic growth. It is a call for a more minimalist life style that, according to the Cynic, will make people happier.


  30. Steve, I totally support self-actualization (promoting one’s authentic self), which happens to require a bit of self-realization (sadly often hampered by social pressures/expectations).

    The project of self-actualization could probably merge nicely with existentialism, but I have found other routes to the same thing which I tend to find more… well, exciting to me I guess. I had a hard time with existentialism because it generally seemed so pessimistic and almost like it supported finding the worst in oneself, by which I mean destructive traits rather than illuminating the constructive elements. But maybe you dug deeper into existentialism and found it more appealing.

    I’d be interested in seeing examples of this kind of neo-Cynic approach, along the same lines as those trying out Stoicism to see how it effects their lives.

    Patrice, personally I’d consider us closer to super-Bonobos than super-Baboons. Regardless, I have a question regarding your claim that ancient Greeks didn’t know of them. Baboons (from what I understand) were used in ancient Egypt for duties very similar to what we use dogs today. You can certainly see images like this on Papyrus from that time. Wouldn’t the Greeks be aware of this through trading contacts at the very least?


  31. A brief comment or three here.

    1. Pessimism, though not a school of philosophy, per the book I referenced, can certainly be considered a philosophical mode of thought or mindset. As such, a capital-P Pessimism has about as much in common with the everyday lowercase-p pessimism as an emotional or mood as capital-C Cynicism does with the lowercase c-cynicism as a mood or mindset.

    Capital-P Pessimism might also be described as a subset of Skepticism. I think that’s a fair assessment.

    I’m also going to introduce a touch of Husserl here, namely, the idea of “bracketing.”

    I can, and do, bracket my hopes for what I would like to see changed in this world versus the perceived likelihood of that actually being achieved, or even being achievable.

    2. That said, I did note that one thing my version of neo-Cynicism would focus on would be hypercapitalism. That’s not necessarily the same as “global economic growth,” though, as I’m sure Massimo would agree. And, per earlier comment, it’s far and away from being the same thing or hand-in-glove with neoliberalism. In fact, it’s pretty much opposed to neoliberalism, and I’m sorry, Jake, but I’m not sure how people could draw the conclusion that it’s related.

    Peter J, that said, a good insight with the Schopenhauer reference, who is somebody often mentioned in the ranks of philosophical Pessimists.

    3. Not all Cynics, by any means, were hermits, Peter,. One can be an ascetic of some sort while still living in community in some way, either with other ascetics (Christian and Buddhist monks and nuns) or in general public (Paul from the Bible, and Jesus, for people who think he didn’t have a wife, although, compared to John the Baptizer, his opponents said he was a drunkard and a glutton.).


  32. A correct trajectory is one according to the Principle of Least Action. Correct thinking may be the one achieving the most, while supposing the least.

    Cynics know the theists have a dog in the fight, and his name, or that of his Representative, Messenger, Archangel, Son, Demiurge, or whatever, is Sacrosanct. Sacrosanct is a concept coming from Republican Rome: Tribunes were sacrosanct: attacking them physically meant death.

    Cynics know theists insist upon a particular name, because they want to make their champions more respected and powerful that anybody else. Alexander went back east where Orientalism thrived. Alexander saw his blood flow. He wondered: “Is that the blood of a God?” His fellow Macedonians, and a few Greeks, companion in arms, laughed.

    In the Orient, Godism was strong (sorry, let’s be polite with those who come from the fanum: Theism). Because, in a Hydraulic Dictatorship, you need a great dictator, and thus a great god created in His image.

    The original cynicism was a reaction the rising plutocracy: it’s no accident that the fundamental plutocrat, this follower of the demonic instinct, who had annihilated the entire City-State of Thebes, Alexander the Great, was viewed by the fundamental cynic, Diogenes as blot on an otherwise cloudless sky.

    Reminding Alexander that humans were just dogs, was a way to remind Alexander that he himself was just a dog. (And a dog who kills tens of thousands in a city which has surrounded, is indeed rabid; Alexander the “Great” also crucified thousands in Tyr, and annihilated that City-Civilization too.)

    If humans are dogs are not their deities in their image too? It’s hilarious to see a debate about cynicism being transformed into the usual my-god-is-bigger-than-your-dog debate. As one commenter said, “continental” philosophy is pretty ignored. Too anti-God, of course, to survive deep down in the American aquarium.

    To kill the Dog who wants to rule us (Alexander and his countless imitators, some contemporary), we have to kill the God they pretend to be (or live according to, thus giving them divine power, while bringing to life the ahistorical Jesus)

    “Man is a hope, stretched between beast and Übermensch.” (hope not a typo.)

    But there is no hope, when all the hope there is to follow the Dog, especially when he strive to make himself believe he is a so-called “God” (As Alexander did, until Antipater told his youngest son to do away with him… At least so it is pleasant to believe).

    There is the paradox of the make-believer. Somebody who goes through life, assuming more than s/he needs, to gain theoretical advantage.

    In the blessed USA, churches don’t pay tax, and thus legions believing the American world is the will of God (or, as Diogenes implicitly said, Dog) are ready to serve a government of plutocrats, by plutocrats, for plutocrats.

    Don’t tell me what your society is: tell me what your gods are, and I will tell you what your elites do claim they believe in, and what they can get away with.


  33. Patrice,
    Absolute is basis, so a spiritual absolute, or state of absoluteness, would be the essence from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell.
    Good and bad are not a cosmic dual between the forces of righteousness and evil, but the basic biological binary code of attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental.
    What is good for the fox is bad for the chicken and there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. Between black and white are all the colors of the spectrum.
    Nature expands and consolidates. Form is the apex of that process. Rise and fall.


  34. SocraticGadflly: “Hypercapitalism is less a problem elsewhere in the developed world than the US, though the neoliberal steamroller seems to advance everywhere.”

    Yes it does. Now that we’ve progressed from American companies tax-shopping among states to multinationals tax-shopping for nations…

    And yet we are less afflicted with the “austerity” approach to recession than the Europeans are. (cf Krugman and Martin Wolf’s The Shifts and the Shocks). Though the new Congress would have it otherwise. There is something positively flighty about the American political mind (one can nominalistically say there’s no such thing, but my multi-perspective philosophy is inclined to say “mu” to that)


  35. Brandholm: I’d consider us closer to super-Bonobos than super-Baboons.

    Human nature seems to encompass both possibilities.

    Call me a radical contingent-ist. To be a pessimist or an optimist is to think you have to have a story about what is going to happen (or rather to think you have to have *one* story, more or less)


  36. You say “The main difference is that Cynicism is not specifically anti-logical, unlike Zen and its koans.” I really do feel that this is the wrong word, and that it should be ‘meta-logical’ or something similar.

    How about “orthogonal to logic”?

    D’Amasio (Descarte’s Error) presents a real life case-study of the man with only reason, who has no clue how to get along in the world and can’t hold a job though quite intelligent, which illuminates Hume’s “Reason Is and Ought Only to Be the Slave of the Passions”. Well slave is overstated I think.

    The errors of neo-liberalism, behaviorism, blank-slatism (and what else? — probably a sort of Greek hyper-rationalism that makes some of us find some relief in Diogenes) may just come from very premature attempt to define spirit, or what makes us alive and human.

    “Why, it’s just some generalized computational power (or “reason” to the Greeks) plus a goal. What sort of goal? Why a maximization problem, of course! All good problems(goals) are maximization problems (Why on earth did he think that?)” Quoth the anti-Diogenes.

    Thanks go to Erik for Sloterdijk. Never heard of him before, but went and spent quite a while rummaging in “Look Inside!” widgets on Amazon. Some people (Amazon reviewers) seem to accuse him of being some thing like an aimless storyteller or exhibitor of marvels or mega-intellectual-name-and-concept-dropper, who draws no conclusions and makes no prescriptions, but for the broadly read (to the extent I am), it’s rather entrancing, knitting together all sorts of references I know of but not well, and shedding light on some of them, so I think I’ll follow up.


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