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Cynicism is Intellectual Cowardice
Posted By Washingtons Blog On August 17, 2012 @ 1:30 am In Think Tank | Comments Disabled
Preface: Obviously, giving up cynicism and getting active doesn’t mean adopting phony hopium. It means abandoning both fear and laziness – on the one hand – and false hope  on the other.
In other words, question authority and be cynical of those in power. But don’t be cynical of the desirability – and necessity – of acting to challenge the destructive or criminal acts of those in power.
Why aren’t we?
A large reason that we are failing is that people are copping out … by adopting a cynical attitude.
Many of us pretend that we are too smart to think anything can change. Too smart to get emotionally involved in the destruction of our prosperity or our liberties.
“Cynicism is nothing but intellectual cowardice”.
- Henry Rollins
“Cynicism is not realistic and tough. It’s unrealistic and kind of cowardly because it means you don’t have to try.”
- Peggy Noonan
“A cynic is a coward …. Cynicism always takes the easy way out. It is a form of laziness that provides someone with an excuse for not making any attempt to change the world …. Cynicism is a way to hide …. Cynics are afraid …. So, instead, they pass judgment on anyone who is trying to make a difference. They ridicule the efforts of individuals and organizations that are working hard under incredibly difficult circumstances …. Being cynical is often thought of as being composed and detached. It is considered to be a sign of sophistication. Cynics are mistakenly given credit for possessing a deep awareness regarding the limits of what humans can accomplish which is somehow lacking in those who spend their time in passionate efforts to change the world …. Being filled with cynicism is indeed a cowardly and sad way to go through life. ”
- Michael Crawley
We’ve previously noted :
The ironic thing is that if all of the people who think of themselves as cynics or skeptics made noise, things would instantly change for the better. In other words, the millions upon millions of cynics/skeptics/self-described “realists” aren’t raising a ruckus against the fraud being committed by the giant banks, the corruption of our political system, or the lawlessness and imperial arrogance of our military-industrial complex because they think things can’t change.
But by staying silent, they are actually creating the conditions in which nothing can change.
If the millions of cynics woke up to the fact that they are a huge group – especially when combined with the people who are already actively working for the restoration of a democratic republic, justice, and the rule of law – they would suddenly realize that collectively we can change things in a heart beat.
Skepticism, cynicism and “realism” is an act of fear, of cowardice, of apathy. Because if the skeptics just got off their backsides and made some noise, things would change.
The optimist – whether a person of faith or plain old positive temperament – is sure that he’ll succeed.
The pessimist – i.e. the cynic – is sure he’ll fail. Indeed, the powers-that-be try to instill pessimism (see number 2 ) so that we won’t try.
But the truth is that we never know in advance whether we’ll win or not.
How do we know if what we’re doing will really have an effect or not? How do we know if we are being called upon to struggle in order to succeed in changing things for the better … or for the heck of it?
We are called upon as part of our core purpose to struggle to try to make the world a better place. But we are not privy to fruits of our actions. We are not granted a view of the future … we will never know how many people we will help, and how we will change the course of history.
We are called upon to struggle, but we can never know the end result of our efforts … that is not for us mere mortals to know.
Chris Hedges – the Pulitizer-prize winning reporter who challenged the indefinite detention law and amazingly succeeded  against all odds in having a judge strike down that law, saying:
None of us thought we would win.
Another judge – amazingly – halted  all nuclear construction and licenses until disposal risks are addressed.
They didn’t know until they tried whether or not they could win.
And – even if we lose the immediate battle – we will help win a long-term war. Specifically – as bad as things are (and yes, we know things are getting worse) – they would be much worse if millions of people worldwide hadn’t struggled.
As Hedges writes:
The battles that must be fought may never be won in our lifetime. And there will always be new battles to define our struggle. Resistance to tyranny and evil is never ending.
So how can we fight not knowing whether we’ll succeed?
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.
Hellen Keller pointed out:
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
And Czech leader Vaclav Havel said:
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.
So is the ability to think.
As we’ve previously noted :
[Studies show ] that even one dissenting voice can give people permission to think for themselves. Specifically :
Solomon Asch, with experiments originally carried out in the 1950s and well-replicated since, highlighted a phenomenon now known as “conformity”. In the classic experiment, a subject sees a puzzle like the one in the nearby diagram: Which of the lines A, B, and C is the same size as the line X? Take a moment to determine your own answer…The gotcha is that the subject is seated alongside a number of other people looking at the diagram – seemingly other subjects, actually confederates of the experimenter. The other “subjects” in the experiment, one after the other, say that line C seems to be the same size as X. The real subject is seated next-to-last. How many people, placed in this situation, would say “C” – giving an obviously incorrect answer that agrees with the unanimous answer of the other subjects? What do you think the percentage would be?
Three-quarters of the subjects in Asch’s experiment gave a “conforming” answer at least once. A third of the subjects conformed more than half the time.
Get it so far? People tend to defer to what the herd thinks.
But here’s the good news:
Adding a single dissenter – just one other person who gives the correct answer, or even an incorrect answer that’s different from the group’s incorrect answer – reduces conformity very sharply, down to 5-10%.
Why is this important? Well, it means that one person who publicly speaks the truth can sway a group of people away from group-think.
If a group of people is leaning towards believing the government’s version of events, a single person who speaks the truth can help snap the group out of its trance.
There is an important point here regarding the web, as well. The above-cited article states that:
When subjects can respond in a way that will not be seen by the group, conformity also drops.What does that mean? Well, on the web, many people post anonymously. The anonymity gives people permission to “respond in a way that will not be seen by the group”. But most Americans still don’t get their news from the web, or only go to mainstream corporate news sites.
Away from the keyboard, we are not very anonymous. So that is where the conformity dynamic — and the need for courageous dissent — is vital. It is doubly important that we apply the same hard-hitting truthtelling we do on the Internet in our face-to-face interactions; because it is there that dissent is urgently needed.
Bottom line: Each person‘s voice has the power to snap entire groups out of their coma of irrational group-think. So go forth and be a light of rationality and truth among the sleeping masses.
And a recent study shows that when only 10%  of a population have strongly-held beliefs, their belief will often be adopted by the majority of the society.
This is true of soldiers as well as civilians. Indeed, if the soldiers, sailors, seals, flyboys, intel operatives and law enforcement officers  wake up to what is really happening, things would change overnight .
Some historical quotes may be helpful in illustrating the importance of struggling to make things better …
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
- Robert F . Kennedy
We must never despair; our situation has been compromising before; and it changed for the better; so I trust it will again. If difficulties arise; we must put forth new exertion and proportion our efforts to the exigencies of the times.
- George Washington
There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at points in history and creating a power that governments cannot suppress.
- Howard Zinn
If you don’t like the news, go out and make some news of your own.
- Scoop Nisker
To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.
- Bruce Lee
Article printed from The Big Picture: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog
URL to article: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/08/cynicism-is-intellectual-cowardice/
URLs in this post:
 false hope: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2010/01/abandon-false-hope-and-get-some-real-hope.html
 overwhelming numbers: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/09/polls-americans-want-our-liberties-restored-our-troops-brought-home-and-the-federal-reserve-reined-in.html
 this: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/10/conservatives-and-liberals-agree-end-the-malignant-symbiotic-relationship-between-big-government-and-big-corporations.html
 If we worked together we would win: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Da0JWHNrwvk&feature=player_embedded
 number 2: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/08/the-15-rules-of-internet-disinformation.html
 We’ve previously noted: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/05/it-is-worth-fighting-even-when-there-is-no-hope-of-winning.html
 succeeded: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_victory_for_all_of_us_20120518/
 halted: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nrc-freezes-all-nuclear-reactor-construction--operating-licenses-in-us-165323116.html
 Courage is contagious: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/06/i-learned-that-courage-was-not-the-absence-of-fear-but-the-triumph-over-it-the-brave-man-is-not-he-who-does-not-feel-afraid-but-he-who-conquers-that-fear.html
 they’re terrified of us: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2010/06/the-powers-that-be-are-terrified-of-the-mass-awakening-taking-place-worldwide.html
 noted: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2009/03/there-is-still-hope.html
 Specifically: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/12/aschs-conformit.html?
 when only 10%: http://scienceblog.com/46622/minority-rules-scientists-discover-tipping-point-for-the-spread-of-ideas/
 soldiers, sailors, seals, flyboys, intel operatives and law enforcement officers: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/08/dear-soldier-sailor-seal-flyboy-intel-operative-law-enforcement-officer-or-contractor-we-need-you.html
 things would change overnight: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/01/corrupt-regimes-crumble-as-soon-as-the-foot-soldiers-refuse-to-carry-out-the-tyrants-draconian-orders.html
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