Postmodern times – an era of cynicism?

If you do not express your own ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.” – Rollo May

Postmodernity has strangled idealism. Woodly Allen was right when he pointed out that not only ‘God is dead’, but also Marxism, feminism or humanism. We live in an era in which believers of any kind are labelled as irrational – “there is no fundamental truth” is the postmodern answer to religious or political faith. In the ascent of modernity, ideology had to bite the dust and was relentlessly replaced by deconstructionism. Why is cynicism the sickness of postmodernity?

What strikes me is that even amongst the young generation ideology has become a rare phenomenon. What I often hear in economics or politics classes is the argument that ‘pessimism is the new realism’. Those who forecast the doom are more likely to be right, which is why students tend to agree on cynical scholars. The new left praises philosophers such as Slavoj Zizek, self-proclaimed “hater of the world”. Derrida’s deconstructionism has become the ultimate methodological tool in almost every academic discipline. The popular ‘anti-hipster movement’ targets ideologically motivated environmentalists – in 2012 it is simply uncool to be a rebel.

Examining the etymology of cynicism, it originated from the ancient Greek philosopher movement of the ‘Cynics’. However, in contrast to its contemporary meaning, Bertrand Russell argues that ancient Cynics believed in the emancipating forces of “virtue and moral freedom”. In Michel Foucault’s ‘Hermeneutics of the Subject’, Cynics are an often cited movement in his analysis of self-aesthetics. So, if even the Cynics themselves were not cynical, why do so many young people nowadays cynically embrace the postmodern period of disillusionment?

Firstly, postmodern deconstructionism is nothing but a belief system in itself, replacing Enlightenment values in the ascent of modernity. I suppose Jürgen Habermas is right by emphasizing that postmodern pessimism is nothing but a temporary, historical phenomenon after the Enlightenment. Furthermore the problem of blatant pessimism is that sensing the doom is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are also one of those who believe in ultimate doom, I can tell you with certainty that nothing is going to change. True – forecasting failure is easy, because you are more likely to be right judging others from your comfortable throne. Taking the courage to believe is not easy, because you will have to go on the battlefield and handle an adaptive challenge to make your beliefs come true. However, I highly doubt that the melancholic and self-pitying life of a cynic is an abundant one.

Ideology is our raison d’etre. All great human achievements have originated from ideological beliefs. Jesus, Socrates, Karl Marx and Mark Zuckerberg were all believers. Metaphysical rebellion, as Albert Camus calls it, is the blood in our veins, it adds meaning to life and colours existence. Creation requires courage and courage requires belief. I have seen so many successful metaphysical leaders and they all had one thing in common: they believed in their creative ideals.

I am sure that an end for postmodern cynicism is in sight. Great ideas, as Albert Camus said, come into the world as gently as doves.
I shall leave you with the full quote:

“Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation; others in a man. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished, by millions of solitary individuals whose and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history.”


2 thoughts on “Postmodern times – an era of cynicism?

  1. Cynicism is not that far from Romanticism. I think that is one of the reasons for the rise of Fascism in the 30s. And cynicism has always been popular with the young. Its ‘cooler’ to be offhand. I had friends who went from being cynics to business or seminaries.

  2. I remember Orwell saying something to the effect that many peoples minds are “poisoned” due to a lack of ideology.

    Interesting that you mentioned Mark Zuckerberg; I think there is at least one ideology that still remains. Many young people think that while all else might be “bunk” but becoming rich and successful at an early age is a dream that could be pursued. I am not denigrating that. Just saying that this is one goal (ideology if you like) that many young people today aspire to. Nice post!

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