I have, over the years or months or however long I’ve been interacting with a fair degree of honesty, been labeled a cynic. A pessimist. And I certainly understand where those accusations are coming from, given the current social framework by which cynicism and radicalism is judged. For example, I was at an engagement party this past weekend at which my anti-marriage, anti-institutionalization of love and emotion, etc. was bound to come out in one way or another. As is consistent with my behavior history, it came out in a series of jokes. Among them, asking the (supposed) groom-to-be, “Do we get all these hours back after the inevitable divorce?” etc. Cynicism is only cynicism when judged against the reference of socially accepted “optimism”. In this specific case, the social optimism is that the two will be married and in love for the rest of their lives. So, in this case, I am the cynic, the pessimist.
In the last few months, my supposed cynicism has been directed more at the foundation of society (as well as its subsequent outcomes including marriage, advertising, etc.). In this case the social optimism is that life is GOOD. Our society is free, we are autonomous individuals, free of manipulation and in this capitalist enterprise we are free to do as we please and work to whatever end we deem fit. And I have, amongst other things, realized this to be radically untrue. Subsequently, that pervading theme slips out of my face in the form of passive-aggressive humor et al. The central target of these recent outbursts of meta-sarcasm seems to be directed at the framework by which our society operates today: state-capitalism. Now, some (“hard-core capitalists”) believe that eliminating the state involvement, leading to “laissez faire” capitalism is the answer, but I’ve found that the very belief capitalism at its core gives insight to a very interesting fundamental belief.
I was discussing these ideas with two close friends of mine, both of whom belong to two important groups: capitalists (and/or objectivists), and those who consider me cynical. Through our dissection of economy, sociology, and human nature, we came to a fundamental disagreement that gave some incredibly counterintuitive insight. We realized the primary driving force behind their belief in such ideology was a fundamental human SELFISHNESS that would perpetually pervert any ideal of communal benefit. That is the capitalist ideal. We are inherently selfish and therefore we will always want more (greed) and are entitled to it if we work for it. Now, I agree with them on the basis, however vehemently disagree with the subsequent leap. I do find that humans are “selfish” at the fundamental level. We will always do what is best for us, no matter what. However, that does not necessarily imply that we will be GREEDY. We will only be greedy if our ideological prism is set up as such. That is, greed will only be our goal if we believe that greed is the best goal. However, alter the ideological prism through which the world is experienced, and we can see that it is possible to alter the behavior. If we were to BELIEVE that communal benefit was more important than individual wealth, then by pursuing our “selfish” goals, we will strive for communal benefit so as to be selfishly selfless. That is, one who believes the best way for a human to act is to benefit society, then he/she will benefit society so as to feel that he/she is acting as justly as possible. Yet, the “hard-core capitalists” (my friends), at their belief core, claim that human nature is such that this is impossible; people will always put themselves above others at whatever cost (global disparity in wealth, poverty, violence, etc.). However, given countless examples to the contrary (vegetarians, for example) I truly believe that humans not only have the capability to, but indeed WANT to strive for a more connected, communal experience. We have the capacity for sharing, for societal benefit and it simply takes a change in belief structure from dog-eat-dog to we are part of something more important than the individual and by working together we can achieve more individual freedom. My friends (as well as their intellectual allies) do not think this is possible, which led to an incredibly revealing truth: my perceived cynicism is in fact deep rooted optimism in the face off mass cynicism. This counterintuitive fundamental realization is instrumental in progressing the discussion. Is it not progress these discussions are meant to catalyze?