Is Cynicism Corrosive?

Sam W makes some cogent points about actual or feigned sincerity, but lately I wonder whether it is possible that cynicism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To be fair to Sam, upon rereading his piece I notice that this possibility is actually allowed for in his framing:

What if your behavior in this round influences the probability that others will either be sincere or act as if there were sincere in the next round? Go ahead and get all recursive with that. Take a moment and see if you can’t land on an equilibrium where every player is privately insincere but publicly sincere. If you were a naive observer, would you be able to distinguish between that world and one where everyone was actually legit sincere?

Here are the rungs that my brain keeps stubbornly stringing together:

  1. Deirdre McCloskey’s argument that removing the “honor tax” on bourgeois activity resulting in mass flourishing.
  2. The nurse example Sam H discusses.
  3. What if believing true sincerity is too rare to expect actually acts like a tax on the truly sincere? What if believing that the institutional destiny of politicians and civil servants is to become scumbags and parasites regardless of who they are to begin with actually acts as an “honor tax” on those professions, ensuring that we only get scumbags and parasites?

No further thoughts to offer at this moment. Just wanted to kick this out here for anyone who might want to discuss it, as #3 has been nagging me quite a lot lately.

8 thoughts on “Is Cynicism Corrosive?

  1. Jessica

    Citations: personal experience with sincere, sensitive, intelligent, and painfully misunderstood prodigies/geniuses, unguided children, blonde girls, bosomy girls, grown women of any description, soft-spoken people, people with even the most subtle of accents from the American South, business students, economists, environmentalists, prostitutes, and entrepreneurs. All hurt by cynicism, all tempted to view themselves through others’ eyes and become what they’re expected to be. All challenged by negative stereotypes and the frustration and sadness of being misunderstood.

  2. Jessica

    So sorry for multiple posts, but I have one more citation and it’s an important one: cynicism is particularly corrosive to victims/survivors of sexual and/or domestic violence. You would be amazed at how cynical and vicious people can be.

    1. I wouldn’t say it stands in relation as an opposite, so much as it is the embodiment of low expectations. Maybe it’s even worse than expectations, because it tends to involve the straight assumption that people aren’t being sincere, even when all the observable evidence points in that direction.

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