Cynicism: A Tool For Distinguishing Quality, Or A One Way Ticket To Misery

In the past couple of days I’ve seen a lot of talk about how cynicism is quality that will allow one to avoid disappointment, distinguish good from bad and overall just allow one to keep their wits about them, but is cynicism necessarily a universally good lense through which to view the world all the time.  Is there such a thing as too much cynicism?  This blogger says yes and no.

I think there’s probably nobody in the blogosphere that would disagree with the notion that a healthy dose of cynicism will keep one from getting in over their head with something they probably aren’t going to like and that through application of it they can help to make the experience better or less painful.  Take the timeless case of MST3K, the classic basic cable series that featured a man and his two robot friends sitting in front of a movie screen making snarky comments about bad movies they were being forced to watch in order to keep their sanity and much to the delight of the audience watching from the comfort of their own homes.  Many will attest to the fact that MSTK3 made watching certain bad movies enjoyable for them that without the cynicism and grilling the films got from the MST3K crew would otherwise have been unwatchable.  I think this is a good example of a healthy dose of cynicism.

But here’s where I think the double edged sword comes in.  What if you are so cynical that even something like MST3K, cynical as it is in nature, would be nothing but a bother to you?  That you go into everything in life expecting it to suck and with a negative viewpoint that ends up making said experience suck via a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That you are incapable of enjoying anything without making room for a little enjoyment and benefit of the doubt here and there to the point where you bring everyone around you down with you, some who might even be cynics themselves. 

I think there’s a point when cynicism crosses over into closed-mindedness, where an invidual instead of being a fun guy to hang around with because of all the wise cracks he makes becomes a pain in the ass that nobody ever wants to deal with and who you’ll want to avoid if you can because everything that comes out of their mouth makes you want to sucker punch them square in the jaw.  This is where I think cynicism ceases to become a useful tool to keep one from getting taken down by life’s shittier aspects and ends up becoming a detriment that does just as much harm to a person’s own psyche as if they were to view the world through sugar-coated glasses and just end up disappointed in the end.  In fact I would even argue that overwhelming cynicism is merely a short cut to that disappointment and thus of no use at all.

I bring this topic and opinion to the table because I’m seeing a lot of what looks like the detrimental kind of cynicism from people lately and it makes me wonder what could have happened to them to make them that way.  And these aren’t people having a mid life crisis, these are young people around my age of 24.  People I work with, people I come across online, people that just seem to have given up on enjoying life, and really I could hardly imagine how life is worth living if taken in from that point of view. 

I think it’s something that ought to be looked at a lot more in studies and that perhaps therapy to help care for this seemingly ingrained disillusionment with life young adults I run into seem to be experiencing more and more should be looked into as well.  Young adulthood, to me at least, is supposed to be the time when you are enjoying life to it’s fullest, not wallowing away as if one’s life is already over and the only thing that awaits one around every corner is disappointment.  I’m going to be keeping tabs on this phenomenon for a little while and see if I can learn anything more about the psychology behind it, because this is really starting to interest me a little.  Until then I’m going to leave people with this poll and an invitation as always to share their viewpoint on the topic. 

A little extra reading if for those interested:

Children Develop Cynicism At An Early Age Science Daily (May 26, 2005)


7 Responses to “Cynicism: A Tool For Distinguishing Quality, Or A One Way Ticket To Misery”

  1. 1 Enact November 20, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Speaking from experience, a lot of the cynicism you hear on the internet comes from the idea that being jaded makes you sound cool and edgy and agianst the grain. A lot of people are geuinually miserable individuals and try to seek some sort of recognition by being very vocal assholes for the amusement of other people. You see it on forums all the time, where you have that one person who is incapable of enjoying anything at all and only posts to derail the topic with repetative negativity for the sake of it. It’s an unhealthy behavior and one I think needs to be dealt with.

    I do think there is such thing as too much cynisism because I think some people just refuse to see the good in something and insted only see the bad, even if that bad is something they make up in the process to justify their negativity. Most of this though is just due to being on the internet for any given amount of time, and it’s sad, but thats’ how things are at the moment.

  2. 2 Kaioshin Sama November 20, 2008 at 8:52 am

    But I’m cool, edgy and against the grain. 😦

    I think there is a certain belief in coolness associated with cynicism though. If you look at certain anime characters like Kyon for example, the most often cited reason for their popularity is their sarcasm. Unfortunately it’s just about the only character trait he really has for the most part, but that is though of as really cool. The problem though is that while sarcasm may be a way of cutting through the crap in life, a lot of people don’t know how to use it well or abuse it to the point where nothing they say ends up having any meaning anymore.

    I’m pretty sure the internet does make one a little jaded if most of their interaction with other human beings comes through the medium of a keyboard and monitor. There’s always a certain lack of trust one feels in a person they cannot see versus one they can evaluate with their own eyes and go “yeah he/she’s alright”. Sometimes I feel that if I could have a face to face chat with some of the people that I know hate my guts the most in my internet interactions that we’d hit it off pretty well.

    I think if you were to look at a person who interacts with people in real life more often versus one who interacts with a person on the internet more often you will find that the latter is usually the one with the more cynical outlook on life and that has faith in very little but that whatever faces them the next time that watch that popular show or just when they get out of bed in the morning is going to be a waste of time.

  3. 3 Enact November 20, 2008 at 9:15 am

    You may be cool and edgy and agianst the grain but ARE YOU REALLY? ARE YOU SURE YOU JUST AREN’T ONE OF THE COOL KIDS :p? I kid of course.

    I do agree that if your only interaction with people is via the internet you do tend to get jaded quicky, but there are sometimes other factors in place for a person’s assholeification (yes I just made up that word). It’s just a wonder as to why some of these people turn to anime or games or whathaveyou.

    Speaking from experience agian, it seems the ones who are the loud vocal types are the ones who get the most cheering and sneering on forums and general closed communities, simply because they find their bashing of something amusing, thus encouraging their behavior because it brings enjoyment to others. It’s kind of a vicious cycle really, and really sad that we live in an age when behavior such is that is encouraged for nothing more then “lulz”.

    There was a time in my life when I was a really negative, cynical person, and you know what? It was painful and tiresome, and I wouldn’t want anyone to live life that, no matter how many internet cool people points it gets you, cause if you are like that long enough, that behavior sticks with you, and that’s something you don’t want.

  4. 4 Enact November 20, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Also for Kyon: I never honestly understood his appeal. I enjoy him a bit now but unlike Haruhi, he doesn’t seem to have a legitimate reason for his negativity, and just functions as the straight man to all the crazyness, making him feel kinda shallow.

  5. 5 ghostlightning November 20, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I take pains to generate genuine vitality in conversation and discussion, especially when disagreeing. I do feel like it takes Kamina levels of unstoppableness to be this way, and yet maintain dignity when I’m shown up to be quite wrong.

    My thesis: the cynicism you abhor is abhorrent because it is phony.

    It’s inauthentic. Why, because there’s effort in the creation of a provocative put-down. It’s not so much the negative opinion that is important in these cases, but rather when the spectacle that is made out of giving the negative opinion is.

    The real objectives is/are to dominate others, and find acceptance/win adulation/avoid domination.

    This doesn’t apply when the put downs are nothing else but stock phrases/memes. In this case the supposed cynic is just a lazy lamb seeking the comfort and protection affirmation of the flock.

    Having said this, I also intend to point out exceptions:

    1. For some individuals, creative put downs cost no effort at all. They have a talent for this and they carve out an identity out of what they are world-class at. And when they do put in an effort, they can produce very good spectacles indeed and there is value in that too.

    2. For some individuals, who do have a negative opinion that they own and stand by, and yet refuse to baa like the rest of the sheep, invest effort and talent into producing a crafted piece of negativity. Validate this by juxtaposing both negative and endorsing pieces by the reviewer. This is how I view Crusader of THAT.

    Cynicism is acceptable to me, entertaining and valuable even, when the sentiment behind it is authentic. If it’s just bullying and grandstanding, then I’d rather not waste my time on it.

    Hypocrisy check: On occasion I do help myself to several helpings of RAEGHAET from /m/. I derive the same pleasure from it similar to watching hyenas wage clan wars or fight over scraps: I always hope lions show up and kill the lot.

  6. 6 drmchsr0 November 20, 2008 at 1:27 pm


    There is a fine line between being discerning and being cynical.

    Unfortunately, everyone crosses that line.

    Most cynical people have a deep-seated hatred for a lot of things. I wonder if it’s because they are angry at not being dominant and the only thing they can do is whine, bitch and moan.

    Because that represents a lot of people.

    As for the Internet, I feel that it peels off the layer of fakeness that we show to the larger world, since, well, YOU’RE BEHIND A FUCKING SCREEN. ANONYMOUS< ETC. Once the need to put on the mask is gone, you can slowly observe how horrible humanity really is.

    Frankly, I’d rather face an army of shoggoths or Cthulu than interact with people on the Internet, but I’ve faced the lattter and have made warm, friendly relationships with people I’ve never met face-to-face. So your point is moot.

    Besides, DISCERNMENT is the tool for distinguishing quality, CYNICISM is a self-defeating cycle that will turn you into a bitter, hateful shell of a human, and I’ve considered the Lovecraftian horrors.

  7. 7 Kaioshin Sama November 20, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    @Enact: It is a vicious cycle I agree and I had my bout with it too. Anybody who remembers my little war against a certain anime studio in 2006-2007 will attest to just how much of an asshole I was and in some ways still am. Strangely in my case it was blogging that got me out of it. When I first started I thought it was going to give me the power to continue my campaigns uninterrupted, but instead I found that having that power made me not want to use it because in a way I had already sort of one that which I most desired, a voice that was unmutable. In some ways having power and not using it is more effective then the use of it.

    @Ghostlightning: And in overusing the power to ramble and RAGE unchecked I believe one would end up lookin like the pack of hyenas you described. In a way I suppose constant cynicism is like the latest gladiator sport when used well where everybody wants to be there to see it unfold other then perhaps the cynic themselves.

    I guess there’s a chicken or the egg question that applies to all of this in asking who came first, the internet cynic or the people that gathered to watch him do his thing. Without a doubt though I think the sheep are always going to be the ones in the chorus section echoing the sentiment of the cynic as opposed to the other way around. Though if you can find me an example of a reversal then I’d love to see it.

    @drmchrs0: HOLY SHIT YOU CAN TALK?!!!! Seriously though, I think that’s a good point too, that the internet shows us the true nature of humanity and it’s a lot closer to what Thomas Hobbes invisioned rather than John Locke’s idealism. The question is whether you are willing to face that truth and possibly get shivved like Shirley or to wear a mask and put one on humanity as well and eventually die of a heart attack from anxiety like Rolo. Wait…..that’s a pretty cynical outlook isn’t it?

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