Tuesday 14 October 2014

Futile cynicism as a characteristic of late modernity (mouse utopia: terminal phase)

Futile cynicism is everywhere, normal, accepted.

Everybody is 'cynical' about politics and politicians; advertising; the mass media; fashion; the culture of celebrity; the behaviour of lawyers, professors, tradesmen - everybody knows that the public world is full of hype, spin, unscrupulous selection, grossly partial exaggeration, devious dishonesty and outright barefaced lies.

And yet this cynicism is utterly futile, totally ineffectual - because everybody believes what politicians say (if they support them), and what the mass media says (if they want it to be true); and they buy and wear or mutilate themselves as fashion dictates, and they believe and obey legal verdicts and college qualifications and government officials; and they swallow up celebrities - hype, spin and all - in a single gulp.

In the not so distant past, for example in the Eastern Bloc, cynicism meant disbelieving and ignoring - it meant cooperating only when forced to cooperate. Nowadays, cynicism goes with blind docility and slavish obedience - the authorities play upon the public like a musical instrument.

The public are cynically aware of the facts, but it makes no difference. The modern public - as individuals and en masse - will soak-up and go-along-with anything and everything the leadership class dream-up to pander, exploit, titillate and torment them.

And the leadership class are exactly the same about each other, and about themselves.

Cynicism about cynicism = credulity.



JP said...

Unsure we are any different from the residents of the Eastern Bloc 1954-1989. From what I can tell, the average Joe disbelieves and ignores "state ideology" (PC) just as much as the former Eastern Bloc residents disbelieved and ignored Communism. In both cases there was a limit to how much you could disbelieve/ignore, as in both cases too overt a display of disbelief would have career consequences at a minimum.

Like the erstwhile residents of the East, for us revolt is futile and escape is impossible. In their case, the state built walls to prevent people "voting with their feet". In our case, the total triumph of PC makes this largely unnecessary. If there were a non-PC state somewhere, people would go there, but there isn't. America used to be the refuge of freedom, now it is the engine of PC oppression.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - From what I have heard, the Eastern Bloc was serious about their cynicism - not cynical about it. Nobody believed the garbage - least of all the apparatchiks who were implementing it. They believed what they heard from trusted personal contacts - not what they read in Pravda.

jabberwocky said...

I find this post somewhat inconsistent with your previous narrative. If it is the case that we are degenerating, what would lead you to believe that the majority are any longer capable of skeptical thought, let alone the luxury of cynicism?
From my perch, what I see and read makes me believe that credulity abides, at least in the US. As long as the bread and circuses last, the system will hold.
It is so discouraging to witness what comes out of all of our previously respected institutions.
Your Christian message of courage, and refusal to despair is essential. As a life-long atheist, I thank you for that, but please don't expect too much from most people. They know not what they do.

Matias F. said...

I think the situation in the West now is very different from the Eastern Bloc. Even people that are very cynical in one topic (e.g. mass immigration) that politicians, the mass media and professors are lying about, still believe and want to believe in most of the rest, like democracy, equality, the advances of science etc.

So their cynicism is totally ineffectual because they take seriously at least 80 % of contemporary nonsense which leaves them no time make sense.

JP said...


Most of those who "believe" in (give lip service to) democracy and equality do not actually believe in them in practice.

For example, they are perfectly happy when a court reverses a "bad" outcome at the polls. "Elections only count when they produce the result we want, and then The People Have Spoken" - a cynical approach indeed.

Nor would you ever catch them living among their social or intellectual inferiors, or sending their kids to schools filled with the children of their inferiors. So much for equality.

JP said...


I am not so sure that credulity abides in the USA. It is somewhat of a "good news and bad news" situation.

A significant majority of the people realize the government and the media are lying to them and operating to their disadvantage. Thus trust in these institutions is at an all-time low. You have only to read the mocking comments attached to any news story to appreciate this.

That's the good news, sort of.

The bad news is that those who believe - or pretend to believe - in the system control all the institutions of power and systematically exclude all others. Some of these people are genuine "true believers" in PC idiocy - a great many suburban, office-working white women are in this category. Others are merely cynical exploiters of the advantages of belonging to the nomenklatura and mouthing the party line. Their actions - especially where they live and send their kids to school - are often greatly at variance with their stated beliefs.

That's the bad news. The minority of lunatics runs the asylum...