Presently the word generally describes, somewhat pejoratively, the opinions of those disinclined to believe in human sincerity, in virtue, or in altruism: individuals who maintain that only self-interest motivates human behavior. A modern cynic typically has a highly contemptuous attitude towards social norms, especially those which serve more of a ritualistic purpose than a practical one, and will tend to dismiss a substantial proportion of popular beliefs, conventional morality and accepted wisdom as irrelevant or obsolete nonsense. Many cynics do not like the way the world really is, however, and wish it could be changed. They want to see the world for how it is (or how they perceive it to really be) rather than delude themselves.
In informal use, derived from the meanings described hereabove, cynicism may refer to heartless calculating behavior or thinking because someone who has no faith in the goodness of other human beings might have less restraints to behave without compassion. These multiple meanings can lead to the ironic situation of a voter accusing a politician of being cynical because they are alleged to be heartless, even though this means the voter is also cynical because he/she does not trust the politician.
Despite the negative portrayal of cynics, some would argue that such people simply "refuse to look through rosy-tinted spectacles" and do not fear to demolish popular beliefs no matter how sacred society considers such alleged misconceptions. Cynics themselves tend to take this view, regarding themselves as enlightened free thinkers, and their critics as deluded social pretenders who "bury their heads in the sand". However, an excess of cynicism in an individual can cause social or psychological difficulties when cynics see themselves as depersonalised and self-serving inhabitants of a meaningless, fictitious, and shallow world. It can be argued that an excess of cynicism actually leads to a disassociation from reality, because it leads to easy rejection of hard answers.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
I've highlighted (as indicated by the red text) the portions of wikipedia's description of modern cynicism that really concerns me: