May 14, 2013

The cynicism question: What do you want — ἁτυφια or τύφος? Lucidity or smoke? Clarity or choom?

Glenn Reynolds, in a USA Today column, suggests that we should be cynics.
A cynic might conclude that these scandals are of a piece. The IRS harassment, focused at an IRS office in the key swing state of Ohio, crippled Tea Party groups during the 2012 election cycle. The blame-the-video spin, meanwhile, obscured the administration's, and the State Department's, culpability in terms of poor security and inept intelligence, while protecting Obama's triumphalist Osama-bin-Laden-is-dead-and-al-Qaeda-is-on-the-ropes election-season line on the war on terror.
Now, "cynic" is the word of choice for politicians who want to lure you away from healthy objectivity and skepticism. It was just a couple days ago that Obama did a graduation speech (at OSU), warning the young about "cynicism":
In Obama's account, sinister (but unnamed) "voices" have been busily corrupting the once-idealistic Generation Y with a siren song of "creeping cynicism" toward ambitious new federal crusades. They'll even "warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices."
Back in January, covering the inauguration, I had occasion to say:
People observing the normal things that happen in politics don't deserve to be called "cynics." OED defines "cynic" as:
A person disposed to rail or find fault; now usually: One who shows a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions, and is wont to express this by sneers and sarcasms; a sneering fault-finder.
Oh, what the hell. I'll accept the label. With politicians, we should be cynics. By the way, "cynic" comes from the Greek for dog-like (which you can sort of see in the word currish, which echoes in churlish).
The word "cynic" is used to taint what might be lucid, critical thinking, associating it with a twisted mind. Obama — and others in power — would like us to go soft and trusting, and they equate this pliable, complacent condition of mind with mental health. There's something very creepy about government portraying political beliefs in terms of mental health.

But would could go back to the Greek roots of the word "cynicism." The original cynics sought clarity:
1. The goal of life is Eudaimonia and mental clarity or lucidity (ἁτυφια) - freedom from τύφος (smoke) which signified ignorance, mindlessness, folly and conceit.

2. Eudaimonia is achieved by living in accord with Nature as understood by human reason.

3. τύφος [smoke!] is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions, unnatural desires and a vicious character.

3. Eudaimonia or human flourishing, depends on self-sufficiency (αὐτάρκεια), equanimity, arete, love of humanity, parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life (ἁδιαφορία).

4. One progresses towards flourishing and clarity through ascetic practices (ἄσκησις) which help one become free from influences – such as wealth, fame, or power – that have no value in Nature. Examples include Diogenes' practice of living in a tub and walking barefoot in winter.

6. A Cynic practices shamelessness or impudence (Αναιδεια) and defaces the Nomos of society; the laws, customs and social conventions which people take for granted....
So there's your question: What do you want — ἁτυφια or τύφος? Lucidity or smoke? Clarity or choom?

60 comments:

Strelnikov said...

Can I have the choom while I look for clarity?

edutcher said...

A cynic?

No.

But someone who's followed the antics of the Choom Gang and makes a very logical deduction on the basis of past conduct?

Definitely.

Besides, all those starry-eyed idealists who followed him never had any alarm bells go off when the masthead of his '08 campaign website said, "I'm asking you to believe", rather than, "I'm asking you to stop and think".

I believe in God, not in men.

Meade said...

Vape two Maui Wowies and stop calling me in the morning.

bpm4532 said...

I like the term 'skeptic' as we should be skeptical of government actions until they prove their worth.

We have way too much 'faith' in government with out proof of worth.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"You should reject these voices."

The Great and Powerful Obama....has spoken.

Nonapod said...

I've always associated cynicism with a sort of expectation of the worst in people. This differs slightly from something like skepticism. Being "skeptical" implies being cautious and reserved, but not necessarily expecting a bad outcome.

I'm certainly cynical about the Obama regime.

Meade said...

Presidential Green Crack

gerry said...

I pray for escalation and paralysis.

Why weren't voters more cynical about this addled liar in the White House, in 2008?

Blinded by feelings of racialist superiority, they embraced his venom. They voted for something that did not exist, something founded upon ethereal blather, something without substance, someone without experience,and, as a consequnce, have saddled the rest of the nation with debt and doubt, and now fear.

Meade said...

Strain Name: Presidential Green Crack
Grade:A+
Type: Sativa
Looks:shades of green and gold
Smell:smells really good, like clean green bud
Taste:almost tasteless, no skunk taste
Effects: creativity, precision to detail
Potency: I give this 4 out of 4 buds
Reviewed by: sharyna
Good Strain For:tedious work

Astro said...

By the way, "cynic" comes from the Greek for dog-like (which you can sort of see in the word currish, which echoes in churlish).

I, for one, would like to see Obama's 2nd administration cur-tailed. What sailor's would call a 'dog-watch'.

(...and as Patrick O'Brian would say.)

furious_a said...

I'll take "clarity" as long as it leads to "anger" channeled into "contstructive action"; otherwise cynicism as currently practiced is nothing more than Lettermanesque snark.

President-Mom-Jeans said...

With a little luck, Barry Choom will be paralyzed by scandal until 2014, when he will be politically castrated.

By then, Obamatax will be wrecking havoc on the economy, and perhaps some sanity can be restored in 2016.

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

I have no problem with those who choose ignorance, apathy, or smoke filled euphoria. Just stay away from the controls. Let someone else drive. Pay your own way, and don't shit in the park.

Paul Zrimsek said...

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Statism.

gerry said...

By the way, Bassely Makoula, the victim of Hillary's lies about Benghazi, is still in jail.

The talking points were ordered to be changed so she could comfort the greiving families of those for whom aid had been refused: "We'll get the person responsible for this!"

It's a shame the swat team that arrested Makoula that night weren't ordered to stand down. After all, Nakoula was only exercising his First Amendment rights.

Michael K said...

A fragment of " Eudaimonia " is "daimon." Daemons are good or benevolent nature spirits. We need some of those.

Palladian said...

I'm staying in my barrel at least until 2016.

Chip Ahoy said...

He was doing so well until he got to 4 and 6, apparently ascetic practices leave out 5 but no matter.

Nonapod said...

When it comes to more government, Obama doesn't want us to be cynical or skeptical or pessimistic. In his mind Government should be viewed as the one great good. Big Government is the parent, the teacher, the caregiver that you should implicitly trust. I guess given his fatherless upbringing he can't relate to people who might be reticent to put their full trust in an amorphous entity.

bagoh20 said...

The problem is blindness. Blind cynicism is a problem too, but admittedly it's the blind enthusiasm that's proven to be far more destructive. Still, without the blindness that wouldn't be a problem either.

Chip Ahoy said...

If given a list of animals to choose from, I would have guessed cynic comes from swan.

edutcher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chrisnavin.com said...

I remain skeptical. I remember thinking that trying to solve race through politics can lead to bad outcomes.

Then I saw Cash 4 Clunkers and thought: "This guy doesn't have a clue."

I'd still like to see the cult of personality around Obama cut down to size, the establishment media hitched to establishment Washington cut down to size, and the idealism of the young and the progressive true-believers put in its proper place : Not running things.

Hopefully, some small number of folks will learn a lesson.

bagoh20 said...

So what is the form of dementia where you repeatedly leave out words mid-sentence for no reason, because I have that in spades?

I expect that soon my comments will just be a capital "I" followed by a period. You'll just need to fill in the rest for yourself.

edutcher said...

gerry said...

It's a shame the swat team that arrested Makoula that night weren't ordered to stand down. After all, Nakoula was only exercising his First Amendment rights.

You forget that, for the past century, the Constitution has been a living document for the Demos and you only have those rights they decide to let you have and those rights only mean what they want them to mean at any given time, subject to change.

First Amendment rights are superseded by the Choom Gang's need to hold onto and acquire more power.

As I say, Constitutional rights have become a contact sport.

(how's that for cynicism?)

edutcher said...

bagoh20 said...

So what is the form of dementia where you repeatedly leave out words mid-sentence for no reason, because I have that in spades?

I expect that soon my comments will just be a capital "I" followed by a period. You'll just need to fill in the rest for yourself.


I'm getting that way, too.

I think it's called, "Old and creaky".

The Drill SGT said...

I was struck by what is considered 'fair and balanced' by USA Today.

A Glenn column on substance of a bipartisan issue (IRS)

balanced by TWO histrionic columns claiming the GOP was on a Benghazi witch hunt, and Hillary was the designated witch

Colonel Angus said...

In the wake of these scandals it is obvious there are two possibilities to consider. The first is they were conducted with the full knowledge of the President, which is a frightening thought. Second, assuming the President had no idea, then its hard to think of a stronger argument for the shrinking of the power and reach of the Federal government. Because when this type of activity can occur without the knowledge of the Executive, then we are at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats who wield power over the population like medieval lords.

Either scenario should be of paramount concern to both conservatives and liberals assuming the latter can seperate love of big government from individual liberty.

Ann Althouse said...

"So what is the form of dementia where you repeatedly leave out words mid-sentence for no reason, because I have that in spades?"

Racism!

gerry said...

Big Government is the parent, the teacher, the caregiver that you should implicitly trust.

And the spouse.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

In the wake of these scandals it is obvious there are two possibilities to consider.

Correct.

1. They KNOW what they are doing and are purposely setting out to target political opposition and "fundamentally change America".

2. There is no one in charge and these actions are being taken by powerful unelected underlings. No one knows who is doing what and the government is just flailing around and trashing our lives.

Either one of these is terrifying.

Mark O said...

How good would this weed have to be to be called "crack?"

Wait. You don't say?

Unknown said...

"Cynic, n: a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be."

From Ambrose Bierce's "Devil's Dictionary"

Archilochus said...

Post-exam writing amusement for fed courts profs.

This is the type of question I want to be thinking about right now, instead of supreme court review of state court judgments.

I do think Michigan v. Long was a step toward ἁτυφια.

bagoh20 said...

"I think it's called, "Old and creaky"

I'm gonna go with "youthful exuberance".... and yes racism is part of it too, so "youthful exuberant racist" is how I would describe myself today. Kind of a young Hitler, if you will. I have great promise, and you'd be wise to follow me closely.

Levi Starks said...

Especially those of you in journalism school,
Reject the notion of government being evil...
It's on your side. Really...

rhhardin said...
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Sorun said...

Candidate Obama was very cynical when it came to the Bush Administration.

rhhardin said...

Vicki Hearne goes to the Greek and claims that a cynic is slow to believe what a dog is slow to believe.

Oso Negro said...

To my mind there are three things that must be overcome for there to be a hope of an American Restoration:

1) the embedded,statist Democrats must be driven from the agencies of the Federal bureaucracy;

2) there must be a successful campaign to remove the contemporary liberal bias from the curriculum of public education and to balance the ranks of public education with conservative teachers and administrators, and;

3) there must be a conservative balance in the mainstream press, the major players in internet and the media.

At 56, I am too worn and jaded to participate actively in such a campaign. My son at 26, a three-tour USMC infantryman, currently attending the University of Texas, and possessed of a passion for conservatism is the right sort of fellow for the job.

edutcher said...

Colonel Angus said...

In the wake of these scandals it is obvious there are two possibilities to consider. The first is they were conducted with the full knowledge of the President, which is a frightening thought. Second, assuming the President had no idea, then its hard to think of a stronger argument for the shrinking of the power and reach of the Federal government. Because when this type of activity can occur without the knowledge of the Executive, then we are at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats who wield power over the population like medieval lords.

I'm sure Choom, with his distaste for anything like work, left a lot of this to Axelrod and Plouffe.

However, to say he didn't know something was happening is like saying (Godwin Alert) didn't sign an order to kill da Joos, so he's absolved.

As an example, consider the fact the White house counsel knew of the IRS mess 3 weeks ago, but we're supposed to believe Choom didn't hear until last Friday.

PS The hits just keep on coming. Now we have an EPA fee waiver scandal regarding Conservative groups.

ndspinelli said...

edutcher, You DESPERATELY NEED to get high and chill the fuck out!!

bagoh20 said...

The question is: how bad do the Democrats have to act to get some people to actually vote for the "evil, mean, selfish", alternative? I think a lot of people are much more comfortable with being stupid, suckers than being a Republican. A stupid sucker is just a victim, after all. They don't cause the bad stuff to happen, even if they vote for it.

LilyBart said...

As much as I'd love to gloat over "Obama scandals", the truth is that this is what you get with Big Government. They run government for their own benefit and don't really care what we think about it, or what is really best for the American people.

We need smaller, more accountable government, no matter who the elected officials.

LilyBart said...


Thomas Sowell was once a self-described 'marxist'. Working in Government (Dept of Labor) cured him of that, he tells us. What he learned is that the bureaucrats don't really care how their policies affect the people - don't really care if the people are made worse off.

Its not 'selfish' people who believe in small government - its realistic people.

mariner said...

A majority of Americans expressed a clear preference for choom.

We shouldn't inquire too closely about how many of those Americans did not have corporeal existence. We also should not inquire about how many of those Americans cast more than one vote for choom.

That would be cynical.

mariner said...

Astro,
I, for one, would like to see Obama's 2nd administration cur-tailed. What sailor's would call a 'dog-watch'.

A tip of the hat to you.

bagoh20 said...

Oso Negro said:
"To my mind there are three things that must be overcome for there to be a hope of an American Restoration:..."

I agree with those, but the first two seem almost impossible to achieve, because the left's hegemony there precludes their reversal. On the third, I think the message from the right is pretty widely available due to the overwhelming success of FOX and conservative talk radio. The problem is that people have lost the ability to do what this post is about: being skeptical of the left's motives and the real word work-ability of it's ideology.

Jeff Teal said...

Thirty years ago Iwas at a dinner with CIA whistleblower Frank Snepp and cynicism came up as a expected response to experience in the politico-military arena.I quoted Lillian Hellman to him."Cynicism is just an unpleasaant way of viewing reality".Snepp just chewed his Greek Shrimp and hummed.Me I'll take reality over the psychogenic fantasy.

Colonel Angus said...

As much as I'd love to gloat over "Obama scandals", the truth is that this is what you get with Big Government.

This is exactly what I have tried explaining to liberals all my life. When you demand a big government don't be surprised when it starts throwing its weight around.

Liberals have this naieve belief that the Federal government can be like that really cool mom ans dad that give you the keys to the car and credit card and will always be there when you wreck the car and max out the Visa.

mariner said...

chrisnavin.com,
Hopefully, some small number of folks will learn a lesson.

Nah.

Those of us with [minimally] functional eyes, ears and brain already knew.

Those who need to learn continue to refuse to do so.

Oso Negro said...

Bagoh, I agree that there is more hope in the third arena of action. But despite the success here, the news still doesn't seem like the news until you see it in the WAPO or the NYT. If conservatives felt secure in their media access they wouldn't constantly bitch about what the MSM does or says. On further thought, I might add a 4th point: 4) the primary system for U.S. Presidential elections must be adjusted to reduce the bias toward liberal eastern states. As a Texan, my vote in the primary has NEVER mattered. Why the hell should New Hampshire and Iowa be the everlasting arbiters of Republican candidates. Hold the primaries in order of which states voted most reliably Republican. By this measure, it is probably Utah, Oklahoma, Wyoming as the first three.

The Drill SGT said...

Colonel Angus and DBQ, there is an option 3, which I think is the case for the IRS. Call it "Alignment of Interests"

3. The President sets the tone. Obama clearly has both set the tone and identified the enemies.

"Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest"

However, the employees of the Federal governemnt split more Dem than GOP; beyond that, they have a vested interest in big government; and further, they know what outcomes will please the leadership.They proceed to punish their collective enemies, the small government conservatives, without the knowledge of the political leadership, which does it's best, not to know. Thus plausable deniability.

furious_a said...

Colonel: The first is they were conducted with the full knowledge of the President, which is a frightening thought. Second, assuming the President had no idea...

...or the Hanlon corollary:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Except that with the Obama administration the two may not be mutually exclusive, and we're stuck with the frightening possibility of malicious stupidity.

Jeff Teal said...

furious_a--Exactly.

YoungHegelian said...

Didn't Diogenes write the song τύφος gets in your eyes?

jim said...

Cynic = Idealist + Failure.

Both idealism & cynicism are routinely reified, then marketed as social neutering agents. Both have shown themselves to perform splendidly & reliably in this capacity.

The net results of this long-term marketing campaign have been spectacular, to say the least.

n.n said...

"Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though,"

yashu said...

3. Eudaimonia or human flourishing, depends on self-sufficiency (αὐτάρκεια), equanimity, arete, love of humanity, parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life (ἁδιαφορία).

NB the great term parrhesia. The cynics (in this taking after Socrates, the Great Gadfly, who died for it) prized freedom and boldness of speech as among the highest values.

The other day Althouse asked for a Greek word that would describe the kind of discourse she practices on this blog (in contrast to "eristic"). I suggested "dialectic," but "parrhesia" might be more apt.

Obama: "reject those voices..."

Voices Obama accuses of corrupting the youth and refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state (i.e., "the state")!

Voices like that deserve exile or hemlock. Or at least, the IRS on their ass.