by Peter Wingate
Scepticism and cynicism; the two concepts seem to get confused all the time but the difference between them is polar, not pedantic. One concept needs to be embraced like an orange life buoy on the sinking Titanic, and one needs to be rejected like the orange-skinned narcissist steering the Western World to the same fate.
Cynicism (whose definition is rooted in the belief people are motivated purely by self-interest) is a lazy, self-important blight on our intellectual psyche. Its innate self-absorption and negativity are self-fulfilling traits, ie. you believe that all politicians are bastards and (guess what?) you give them tacit permission to screw you over.
The sense of enquiry and critical-thinking it takes to be a sceptic (root meaning: doubt, enquirer) is often all too hard, particularly in the insta-news bombardment that is our modern multi-media existence. As our digital stream of multi-sourced media has gotten faster it’s almost impossible to apply sceptical enquiry and a search for truth to the ‘news’, so instead we take up a cynical stance. In a word where everyone who’s anyone can publish to the world (wide web), we can’t afford to believe everything we read, but we don’t have the capacity to apply the sceptical analysis that is critical to avoid looking like gullible schmuck.
Here’s a little quiz to help discern which category you fall into… Cynic or Sceptic:
What is your response to this poster?
Answer: A cynic, presumes self-interest and looks for the immediate negative. Luckily the poster shouts a negative warning message which fulfils the cynic’s blanket assumption, and all is well in cynic-town…they can move on. The sceptic (root: doubt, enquiry), instead doesn’t take the message at face-value but poses questions…What is DiHydrogen Monoxide (H²O)? On the pH Scale, do chemicals that are more acidic get rated higher or lower?
The result is the cynic ends up spouting Trumpisms at their next dinner party; “Did you know that water is the strongest acid there is?” and looks like a moron. The sceptic has, through recall or basic enquiry, quickly cottoned-on to the fact that two (Di) hydrogens and one (Mono) oxygen is in fact the very common element Water (H²O), and that the pH scale goes from 1 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline or basic), meaning a reading of 7 is neutral. No need to worry after all.
Not only does cynicism promote stupidity, but self-interested organisations can use it to manipulate and mute individuals on a larger scale.
I’m not the first social-media-stooge to proffer that certain political movements encourage and exploit public cynicism about politics to promote disengagement from the political process and thus public scrutiny. Unlike the pesky sceptic who is inclined to question and critically analyse new information to get to the truth, the lazy cynic kicks a knee-jerk goal for the dodgy politician by assuming a blanket self-interest stance and effectively ignoring any would-be benevolent bureaucrat and the chance that they may work for the good of the people. Whereas enquiry, independent analysis and critical thinking are essential tools for the sceptic, the cynic has already disengaged from true representative democracy with their presumptive blanket of blasé and, guess what?…The dodgy polly gets the vote.
When we look at the world assuming a negative stance, that is, indeed what we get.
THE WINGATE DUMBOCRACY: Peter Wingate immigrated to Yarraville from the leafy East before it was even trendy and likes to spend his days studying education (don’t get an education, just study it), cooking, avoiding making art, and pondering fantasies like living in a representative democracy that is one and, having his hands around the neck of <insert name of particularly inane politician here>