Lethargic Positivists: The War against Cynicism

The War against Cynicism 

Lethargic Positivists
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, May 6-8

It’s a twisted turn. The cynic is now the one considered politically correct. Those hailing the halo are seeing themselves as anti-establishment because they are anti-ennui. Their tired eyes and tired limbs cannot anymore tolerate the possibility of truth, any truth, including their own. Cameron Diaz is seeing a therapist to cure her of her cynical attitude.

I am sitting with holes I have picked in official versions as quite a few others have done. Suddenly, I am politically correct, pandering to Leftist/Islamist/Polemical/Racist strains. The middle-class has time to muse while playing the Left, I am told. A correction is in order. The middle-class is the one greasing palms, pretending to toil. It suffers from the delusion that the world existing outside it is neatly divided – the ones who don’t waste time pondering over things they have no control over and the ones who live their lives with utter simplicity.

The purest form of cynicism would, in fact, fit the latter for the Greek philosopher Antisthenes maintained that it was the call of such spartanism that the cynic answered to. But is simplicity not a simplification of spartanism too? Would not paring down arguments to their bare bones be a form of austerity where the cynic is really an idealist seeking to iron out creases?

Debates are now being pushed into basements. Is it because there is too much of it? No one complains of too much debauchery, of too much governance, of too much violence. Those who are traditionally considered against gun culture do not even see the violence of the peace ideology, of the violence in mourning the same dead again and again. They are not cynics, they say. They care.

Yes, they care. They care enough to now whitewash a Black man where a president is. Even racists have got over that. The cynics who are accused of political correctness are being consigned to the racist bin because they are not celebrating along with a man who has given them what they did not even know they wanted: Memory. “We will not forget,” is the chant. It used to be what the cynics said once. Now these supra-cynics have taken over, scrawling invisible graffiti on invisible walls so that one fine day they can say, “Look Ma, no hands.”

No hands do not make for idealism or even pragmatism. Barack Obama has been elevated, as he would be, but for the wrong reasons. He could not do anything right, so now they are giving him the right to be right. It is a democracy – a democracy that finally elected a Black man. Now, for a brief while till the jubilations continue, they won’t see a colour to his skin, they won’t ask for his birth certificate, his origins or even his politics. They are happy to watch the designer payback. Where are the arguments, the counterpoints? No, sir. You are a racist. You cannot stand the idea of a Black man, a part Moslem getting a brown man and a whole Moslem.

A while ago in a bar in Cape Town the neo black elite in the form of a business tycoon, Kenny Kunene, was criticised for his extravagant lifestyle and his parties where sushi was served on models’ bodies and the best wines were served. Union leader Zwelinzima Vavi said, “It is this spitting on the face of the poor and insulting their integrity that makes me sick.”

A person of wealth, by whatever means, can be tried for crimes, but not for how he uses his wealth. It is assumed that all the poor have integrity when they have few options. It is sloppy stay back at home time.

In an open letter Kunene wrote back, “You remind me of what it felt like to live under apartheid. You are telling me, a black man, what I can and cannot do with my life. You are narrow-minded and still think that it’s a sin for black people to drive sports cars or be millionaires at a young age. You make my stomach turn.”

Who is the cynic here?

The cynic is battling projectionism. The cynic who did not see colour or class or religious affiliations is racist, and there is political correctness in that it is deemed to be part of the straw man argument where a large section of the critics happen to be white. The primarily brown third world has to make noises about how good it is to see an invisible death played out with respect for customs. The cynic asking for gruesome details is a voyeur. The bloodbaths of the establishment are forgotten (oh, sure, they do forget), but now is the time for propriety, for the sanitised picture. For belief. Belief is the new anti-thesis.

In what might be considered a moment of inquiry, a group of US armymen have ‘come out’ of the closet to declare themselves non-believers, atheists. There cannot be a greater indictment of those who contend that the military is non-partisan. In Fort Bragg, home to one of the biggest military bases in the United States, they have formed an organisation, MASH - Military Atheists and Secular Humanists. A report mentioned that it hopes to be a pioneering effort to ensure fair treatment and win recognition for nonbelievers in the overwhelmingly Christian US military.

They are looking for official recognition as much as any ‘faith’ group. “We exist, we’re here, we’re normal. We’re also in foxholes. That’s a big one, right there.”

That they are part of an “assorted sceptics” group won’t be of much help. By the mere fact of their faithless stature, they will be seen as suspect. If you do not believe, then who are you with? It is the black and white quagmire. The extremism of the cynics is in opposition to the extremism of the non-cynics, who have always been in kumbaya mode.

They do not see that slowly they are becoming a uniform society. Uniform not in the egalitarian sense but the stratification of cultural hubris. Immigrants are visiting cosmetic surgeons in New York to reshape “Asian eyelids and Latina silhouettes”. The president of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group had said, “When a patient comes in from a certain ethnic background and of a certain age, we know what they’re going to be looking for. We are sort of amateur sociologists.”

Soon, it won’t be only about baseball caps turned backwards but about being like one of them, the cheerleaders of miasma. Their hoots and hyena laughter will drown out the bark of dogs. Dogs. Cynics. The Greek origin ‘kuon’ means dog and the philosophy it espoused was bliss without a care for tangible things. Times have changed. The definition might have fit the simpletons, although not without the dash of tinsel to their trees, branches swaying with jollity as every fruitfall harkens to the days of Eden.

There is the story of Diogenes, a cynic if there was one. When Alexander the Great approached him and asked if there was anything he wanted, he said there was just one and told him to move a bit. The sun’s rays is what he wanted that the king was blocking from his view.

This is beyond the literal. It is about seeing not the light that descended from a heaven we do not know but to be able to see more clearly what is right there before us. We let kings block the light. In the dark can you look back in angst?


  1. Farzana,
    At the outset, Thanks for the Wonderful post.
    We are really talking Semantics here. ("Aah Semantics" - as a pathologically psychotic character in "Con Air" would say - to borrow a idiom from "popular culture").
    A larger part of the problem with orchestrating the progressivism in our (and various other cultures and polity including West) has been strengthening of "progressive tokenism" in various forms. While risking to me being flamed let me say this - For instance even being Gay , something that is very personal in lifestyle terms - and quite equally deserving of rights on par with "straights" , is at times advocated as a form of Progressivism. Societies, Issues and Circumstances change - but this tokenism sticks. Have seen this happening with "our own" progressives who , for instance would be heckling a lower middle class "brahmin pujari" for his birth caste but have no issues accepting donations from corrupt OBC government bureaucrats. My feeling is - resorting to cliche ridden tokenism has , more often than not , relegated progressives to elite "high brow" culture. Often alienating them from the masses. The public discourse of in media strengthens the tokenism further. Furthermore, my guess is several right-wing organizations (including "Tea-Partiers", specifically the "grass-roots" folks , not their financiers) thrive precisely on this. And yes, you may want to add several of our own "Bajrang Dals" and "Lesser known SIMIs" to it.
    Incidentally, A Hollywood film - Amos and Andrew - underlines the phenomenon rather well while resorting to the stereotypes and cliches.
    I guess, we might be in for a long debate on this post.
    p.s. : "Publicly" Wishing you a wonderful weekend and nice week ahead.

  2. Addendum to my earlier comment....
    My sense is - more often than not - the class aspects have been made sub-servient by the progressives in favour of tokenism. Would love to have this position debated.
    p.s. for those from U.S. reading this blogpost and comment : Would love to have this position debated specifically in the context of "Tea Party " movement and the "official democrats".

  3. Any and all interested in the topic of Cynics would certainly enjoy "Critique of Cynical Reason" by the contemporary German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. - Paramesh

  4. Mahesh:

    Thank you. I will leave the Tea Party out coz I ain’t in Boston and no precious little about the contemporary partiers.

    Let me attempt a discussion. It is about semantics, but here it is turning stereotypes upside down to suit the prevalent narrative. It is opportunistic.

    Re. “progressive tokenism”, we have discussed it in several forms here, including the current anti-corruption movement. But we have had major differences about one particular ‘tokenism’, and you know what I am referring to. This is to let you know that when I talk about the subject that will be an intrinsic subterranean aspect of the debate! (I shall spare your soft spot on a Sunday.)

    I agree with you about the gay movement in India. Not only is their progressive tokenism, it is left to itself no questions asked that would be asked of straights. One would have thought of this as evolution – or change as you refer to it – but tokenism does not alter the essential beliefs; it is merely a superficial herd instinct that is ironically, or with some manipulation, going against the tide.

    Where the OBC bureaucrats are concerned vs. the lower middle class Brahmin pujari, is it tokenism or a need-based opportunism?

    My feeling is - resorting to cliche ridden tokenism has, more often than not , relegated progressives to elite "high brow" culture. Often alienating them from the masses.

    Precisely. The vocational liberals cater to a limited ‘invited’ audience and even use the mass movement for it. It is shameless. I can only say it would alienate the masses only if the masses knew who the heck they were and what they were barfing about.


    PS: Have a fun ‘publicly’ certified by me Sunday and a stress-free week.


    Thanks for the reference.

  5. Interesting stuff in the mail:

    Speaking of light, as you do at the end of your current essay, I wonder if you're familiar with this; it's very much about seeing the light without needing the dark to display it:
    //The Sun and the Lamps

    Someone said to Jan Fishan Khan: 'What we have heard of the Concealed Activity has been rumoured for centuries. But it is an extraordinary thought.'

    'Why is it extraordinary to you?' asked the Khan.

    'Because it postulates that, in spite of the thousands of visible centres of studies of the Sufis, nevertheless these are nothing compared to those places which we cannot recognize, because they do not have the appearance of shrines, tombs of saints or abodes of wisdom.'

    Jan Fishan Khan said: 'It depends upon the viewpoint, and where you are looking. The visible places of Sufi study are like lamps in the dark. The inner places are like the Sun in the sky. The lamp illuminates an area for a time. The sun abolishes the dark.'

    'If you do not conceive of this you will naturally be surprised when you hear it. But the surprise is no greater than if you were night people who for some reason never ventured out of sleep during the day. The night people, knowing darkness, see the lamps partly because darkness is present. To those who seek light, light itself is perceptible without darkness to display it.'//

    - - -

    My reply to the last para:

    And that light is subtle rather than a desperate need. It is not in apposition or opposition to darkness. However, what about those who sleep in the day? I'd say such sleep is part of fear, for they wish to dream without acting upon the dream. The natural light will therefore elude them because they choose to be deluded.


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