Overcoming Cynicism

life

SHARE THIS STORY

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
life

Overcoming Cynicism

SHARE THIS

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

A look at how we can overcome cynicism by reflecting on the “inconceivable achievements of the last 60 years”.

“It’s hard not to be cynical when you know the truth.”

I overheard this epigram many years ago at an office in the philosophy department at my alma mater San Francisco State University.

At the time, the first instalment of the Gulf War was in full swing. I remember vividly my first day of lectures, scurrying underneath clouds of teargas propelled into the campus atmosphere by university police during their pitched battle against students who had the temerity to forward the notion that the US had no right to invade sovereign nations, overthrow their government, install compliant dictators, then systematically steal their resources. That aside, it was a curiosity that “our” resources were buried in their country.

humans
Kaique Rocha at Pexels

It was quite an introduction for a young, impressionable Australian to the pointy end of progressive politics in the most left-wing campus of the most left-wing city in the US. Cynicism to this young cadre of progressives was as preposterous as the egomaniacal sanctimony of Ayn Rand. If ever there was a poster child for cynicism, surely, she is it.

Now, in the midst of the multiple horrors of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ripening of international grievances, frightening levels of domestic unemployment, and the horrifying spectacle of the unravelling of the United States as we know it, perhaps we could forgive one who, in despair, and out of a sense of self-preservation, arrives at the conclusion that Thomas Hobbes was right: “The condition of man…is a war of everyone against everyone.”

But, to do this, is to take too narrow a view of the arc of history.

With a wider lens, the perspicacious among us will note the almost inconceivable achievements of the last 60 years.

Take a snapshot of the Western world in the year 1960.

At this time, protesting against war or any type of international aggression was very rare, and the few brave participants who chose to do so took an enormous risk. It wasn’t until the late 60s that protest movements as we know them today gathered steam, many years after the start of the Vietnam war in 1962.

Vietnam, War
Pixabay at Pexels

Domestically, Jim Crow aparthied was accepted practice in the US and the lynching of black men was not uncommon. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s dismantled this practice with the crowning achievements of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Compared with now, although racial harmony is a long way from being achieved, back in 1960 the world was a much bleaker place for African Americans. They had no rights.

During this time the US had miscegenation laws that were so extreme even the Nazis refused to accept them. The US laws were based on what was called “One Drop of Blood.” So if your great, great, great-grandmother was black, you’re black. That was too much even for the Nazis. These laws were still in place in the late 1960s.

There was no women’s movement to speak of, notwithstanding the brave suffragettes of the early 20th century. Women had not yet been recognized by the Supreme Court as legal peers, as persons. That didn’t happen until 1975 when the court granted the right to serve on federal juries as a peer. It truly was a man’s world where women were viewed as the property of their husbands, to be confined to child rearing and domestic duties. Now, in the post ‘Me-Too’ world, there are many reasons for optimism.

Switching gears to another crime against humanity: the anti-sodomy laws of the 1960s. The ‘gay rights’ movement beginning with the Stonewall riots of 1969 and gaining momentum into the 1970s before finding its feet in the 80s and 90s had a tremendous liberating effect and led to today’s LGBTQ movement.

LGBTQ
FransA at Pexels

If you don’t believe in gay rights, you don’t believe in human rights. This statement although axiomatic now was unmentionable in the 1960s. You could lose your job, you could lose your life!

Returning to the global outlook, the environmental movement of the 1980s brought to public consciousness the notions that the earth’s resources are finite, nature’s balance delicate, and humanity should see itself not as her despoiler but as her caretaker. Only the most myopic reactionary fails to accept this now.

The Third World solidarity movement of the 1980s was an adjunct of a generalised anti-colonial sentiment taking root in Europe and saw ordinary people from countries whose governments were committing atrocities in foreign lands take an active supporting role in protecting the victims of such aggression. Unthinkable only 20 years before.

Much more could be said on the civilising effects of the 1960s and subsequent advancements, but the point is that apathy and cynicism guarantee the worst possible outcome: xenophobic repression and the stultification of any type of unifying and progressive platform, making a life of freedom and value fulfilment impossible.

beach walk
Rachel Claire at Pexels

Antonio Gramsci, the famed Italian dissident, lying in a pool of his own excrement in one of Mussolini’s prison cells, had every reason to feel all was lost, yet, as an antidote to capitulation found the courage to utter the immortal words – “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” That is, although the evidence of your senses might tell you the cause is lost, to keep fighting for what you believe makes you most human.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

related articles

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

more stories

Join our mailing list

Never miss our seriously happy global news!
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter: