Within this article plan to find twelve main reasons widespread cyncism exists among university students. I’m going to show how everything from religious studies, to marxism, to philosophy, astrophysics, cosmology, economics, rhetoric, political science, and darwinism inevitably, when presented in the typical university fashion, will make you cynical about everything — and full of doubt about your world, government, family, and faith.
Beginning with Religion, it’d be well to quote Bertrand Russell on the same subject, then I will elaborate on what he said.
B. Russell – In Praise of Idleness – ‘Youthful Cynicism’ – ‘Religion’
“The trouble here is partly intellectual, partly social. For intellectual reaons few able men have now the same intensity of religious belief as was possible for, say, St. Thomas Aquinas. The God of most moderns is a little vague, and apt to degenerate into a Life Force or a ‘power not ourselves that makes for righteousness’. Even believers are concerned much more with the effects of religion in this world than with that other world that they profess to believe in; they are not nearly so sure that this world was created for the glory of God as they are that God is a useful hypothesis for improving this world. By subordinating God to the needs of this sublunary life, they cast suspicion upon the genuinness of their faith. They seem to think that God, like the Sabbath, was made for man. There are also sociological reasons for not accepting the Churches as the basis of a modern idealism. The Churches, through their endowments, have become bound up with the defence of property. Moreover, they are connected with an oppressive ethic, which condemns many pleasures that to the young appear harmless and inflicts many torments that to the sceptical appear unnecessarily cruel. I have known earnest young men who accepted wholeheartedly the teaching of Christ; they found themselves in opposition to official Christianity, outcasts and victims of persecution, quite as much as if they had been militant atheists.”
It can’t be stated much clearer than that. As far as the west is concerned, even with Christians, God has lost nearly all form of deity he once contained. God was once the all powerful, loving being to be served and worshipped by all, but nowadays he’s been lowered to more of a servant than a deity. God’s supposed to make you happy, and all Christian books you see nowadays are all about personal success and kind of tack God and Jesus on the side. I also agree with Russell on how this stream of thinking eventually leads, when thought out, to a conception of God as more of a Life Force. I found this view advocated by Napoleon Hill in ‘Think and Grow Rich’, the most praised success mindset book probably in existence. With modern praise of the capitalist, and the successful, what better mindset to examine than the most praised mindset in America? Let’s examine Napoleon Hill’s overall view of ‘Infinite Intelligence’.
Napoleon Hill’s system begins with desire. You create intense desire through the principle of auto-suggestion. This auto-suggestion infuses the sub-conscious with your desires, and this sub-consciousness, combined with imagination, brings into physical reality whatever you desire.
What Hill believes happens is after you, through auto-suggestion, get your desires into your sub-consciousness, they are transmitted to ‘Infinite Intelligence’ just like a radio tower sends waves through an invisible medium. So, according to his view, your sub-consciousness is like a radio-tower which will broadcast your desires to ‘Infinite Intelligence’ or God. At this God analyzes your desires and transmits back to you an effecient method to accomplish the desired goal. This received transmission comes back to a person via ‘hunches’ which are noticed by a person via the imagination.
This view was held by many great men and thinkers, including Woodrow Wilson, Alexandar Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison.
I’m not saying this view is off. In fact, I believe in it myself. The only thing I don’t care for in the view is the fact that God is this servant boy. We pass on what we want to him and he passes back how to make our dreams a reality. Like Russell said, “They seem to think that God, like the Sabbath, was made for man.” This view can probably be easily reconciled though, if proper thanks is given to God in prayer. I believe it to be justice to thank God for such a priviledge. I feel the parable found in Luke 17, verses 11-19, of the ten lepers who were cleansed by Jesus, but only one thanked God, is a suitable parable to illustrate.
Another interesting thing is found among religious people, especially Christians. You’ll find many who accept the teachings of Christ, but wish to dispense of the metaphysical abstractions found in orthodox Christanity. These people, though they are very moral and responsible people, are viewed upon as ‘lost and dying’, ‘infidels’ who have lost the faith. They’re on their way to destruction – to burn eternally in hell fire, even though they submit to Christ’s teachings. (This issue eludes me). Professors tell their students that this mindset is more the religious fanatic simply wanting a person to suffer this end or wanting to be superior to someone else based on a blind faith that cost them nothing to achieve. Whether I hold this view or not, I know it’s held by most college age individuals after hearing their professors discuss the religions of the world.
Then you have Islam killing off all people who won’t accept their irrational beliefs. Intolerant bigots claiming to spread the word of God by fire and sword to the infidels. Then you look upon masses of people accepting this belief based on instinctive impulses, wishing to be superior to others without having to do any real work — or looking for a ‘divine’ excuse to kill or inflict harm upon those whom they never liked very much. Mainly venting their economic oppression and blaming America or any other successful nation for their problems. These divine revelations seem to be concocted quite conveniently when they need an excuse to do something immoral.
I don’t need to elaborate more on religion. An in-depth study on the world’s religions, and the things people have done under the influence of religious fanaticism, will leave anyone sceptical on religion and superstition.
If religious studies do not leave a person cynical about the world the next is the despondency found when looking at man’s overall place in a huge universe. Study some astrophysics, astronomy, and cosmology. Throw in a little political science and they find themselves as only a small gnat, under a giant government, to whom they are powerless, and all they can even imagine as only a remote spec in the entire scheme of things. They come to view their own life as a mere triviality – a mere vapor here today and gone tomorrow. It’s funny, because when you study most history and culture, this perspective of looking at life so trivally is very modern. Not to say various wise men have not spoke on it (Solomon for instance in Ecclesiastes).
Russell – In Praise of Idleness – Youthful Cynicism – ‘Beauty’
“There is something that sounds old-fashioned about beauty though it is hard to see why. A modern painter would be indignant if he were accused of seeking beauty. More artists nowadays appear to be inspired by some kind of rage against the world so that they wish rather to give significant pain than to afford serene satisfaction. Morever many kinds of beauty require that a man should take himself more seriously than is possible for an intelligent modern. A prominent citizen of a small city State, such as Athens or Florence, could without difficulty feel himself important. The earth was the centre of the Universe, man was the purpose of creation, his own city showed man at his best, and he himself was among the best in his own city. In such circumstances Aeschylus or Dante could take his own joys or sorrows seriously. He could feel that the emotions of the individual matter, and that tragic occurrences deserve to be celebrated in immortal verse. But the modern man, when misfortune assails him, is conscious of himself as a unit in a statistical total; the past and the future stretch before him in a dreary procession of trivial defeats. Man himself appears as a somewhat ridiculous strutting animal, shouting and fussing during a brief interlude of infinite silences. ‘Unaccomodated man is no more but a poor, bare, forked animal,’ says King Lear, and the idea drives him to madness because it is unfamiliar. But to the modern man the idea is familiar and drives him only to triviality.”
A person must watch out when they come to view themselves as a powerless nothing. Unfortunately this strong influence comes forth from our universities and finds itself embedded in the minds of most young people.
Are we still not cynical? There’s always more to be pessimistic about. How about the limits of man’s knowledge and his powers of reason?
B. Russell – In Praise of Idleness – ‘Youthful Cynicism’
“In old days truth was absolute, eternal, and super-human. Myself when young accepted this view and devoted a mispent youth to search for truth. But a whole host of enemies have arisen to slay truth: pragmatism, behaviourism, psychologism, relativity-physics. Galileo and the Inquisition disagreed as to whether the earth went round the sun or the sun went round the earth. Both agreed in thinking that there was a great different between these two opinions. The point on which they agreed was the one on which they were both mistaken: the difference is only one of words. In old days is was possible to worship truth; indeed the sincerity of the worship was demonstrated by the practice of human sacrifice. But it is difficult to worship a merely human and relative truth. The law of gravitation, according to Eddington, is only a convenient convention of measurement. It is not truer than other views, any more than the metric system is truer than feet and yards.
‘Nature and Nature’s law lay hid in night;
God said, ‘Let Newton be,’ and measure was facilitated.
This sentiment seems lacking in sublimity. When Spinoza believed anything, he considered that he was enjoying the intellectual love of God. The modern man believes either with Marx that he is swayed by economic motives, or with Freud that some sexual motive underlies his belief in the exponential theorem or in the distribution of fauna in the Red Sea. In neither case can he enjoy Spinoza’s exaltation.
So far we have been considering modern cynicism in a rationalistic manner, as something that has intellectual causes. Belief, however, as modern psychologists are never weary of telling us, is seldom determined by rational motives, and the same is true of disbelief, through sceptics often overlook this fact. The causes of any widespread scepticism are likely to be sociological rather than intellectual. The main cause always is comfort without power. The holders of power are not cynical, since they are able to enforce their ideas. Victims of oppression are not cynical, since they are filled with hate, and hate, like any other strong passion, brings with it a train of attendant beliefs. Until the advent of education, democracy, and mass production, intellectuals had everywhere a considerable influence upon the march of affairs, which was by no means diminished if their heads were cut off. The modern intellectual finds himself in a quite different situation. It is by no means difficult for him to obtain a fat job and a good income provided he is willing to sell his services to the stupid rich either as a propagandist or as a Court jester. The effect of mass production and elementary education is that stupidity is more firmly entrenched than at any other time since the rise of civilisation. When the Czarist Government killed Lenin’s brother, it did not turn Lenin into a cynic, since hatred inspired a lifelong activity in which he was finally successful. But in the more solid countries of the West there is seldom such potent cause for hatred, or such opportunity of spectacular revenge. The work of the intellectuals is ordered and paid for by Governments or rich men, whose aims probably seem abusurd, if not pernicious, to the intellectuals concerned. But a dash of cynicism enables them to adjust their consciences to the situation. There are, it is true, some activities in which wholly admirable work is desired by the powers that be; the chief of these is science, and the next is public architecture in America. But if a man’s education has been literay, as is still too often the case, he finds himself at the age of twenty-two with a considerable skill that he cannot exercise in any matter that appears important to himself. Men of science are not cynical even in the West, because they can exercise their brains with the full approval of the community; but in this they are exceptionally fortunate among modern intellectuals.
If this diagnosis is right, modern cynicism cannot be cured merely by preaching, or by putting better ideals before the young than those that their pastors and masters fish out of the rusty armoury of outworn superstitions. The cure will only come when intellectuals can find a career that emobodies their creative impulses…”
That’s quite a mouthful. As always, Russell seems right on. Funny how he can write on such things so long ago and they are just as relevant today. That’s one of the things I’ve grown fond of in philosophical studies. Unlike my previous studies in computers and programming, this type of knowledge always remains. As nearly everyone knows, anything related to computers is very ephemeral.
You could also get into politics, vote herding, rhetoric… There’s really so a pessimist can rant on. How about economics?
B. Russell – In Praise of Idleness – Youthful Cynicism – Progress
“This is a nineteenth-century ideal which has too much Babbit about it for the sophisticated youth. Measurable progress is necesssarily in unimportant things, such as the number of motor-cars made, or the number of peanuts consumed. The really important things are not measurable and are therefore not suitable for the methods of the booster. Moreover, many modern inventions tend to make people silly. I might instance the radio, the talkies, and poison gas. Shakespeare measured the excellence of an age by its style in poetry (see Sonnet XXXII), but this mode of measurement is out of date.”
If you do a rather in-depth study of economics, you notice almost all indicators measure production of things. Most of these things produced are not really all that useful and all you notice is money, time, and effort of the masses going toward useless, and frivolous activities. You see masses of over-worked people who work for so little and produce so much waste. You see 5% of the population controlling 95% of the money — banks and the credit industry doing horrible things, taking advantage of the mass’s lack of financial education. You wonder why they work so hard for things they don’t even need and make such stupid financial decisions. Even worse when you see how most people willingly accept this as reality and just let these institutions walk all over them. I could go on and on.
The conclusion reached by anyone who goes through the college curriculums out there is as follows: Everything you once thought good really was just wishful thinking (religious studies), people, because they are lazy, will always be deceived and religious fanaticism will always exist. God’s not there anymore – let go of that wishful thinking. Heaven’s a fairy tale, you need to look at things objectively. Everything you thought certain was really not certain (philosophy and scepticism), everything you thought true is now not so (or you can’t be certain anything is true). Politicians and government is full of propaganda, nationalist bigotry, unwarranted patriotism, and lies (rhetoric, political science) — marketers are out to get you and capitalize on your emotions — capitalism and greed (economics,marxism, darwinism – survival of the fittest), everyone is out to get your money… Man is a being mostly run from visceral and primitive impulses (sociology, psychology) and have not (and never will have) the time based on economic circumstances to develop the knowledge to use reason (which is apparently the only way to free our society)… Most of what you see everyone working so hard to produce is frivilous and worthless (economics). Everyone is just wasting their lives and time. You’re a spec in a huge infinite universe (cosmology, astrophysics) and live a trivial existence – here today and gone tomorrow.
I think it’s quite obvious why they’ve become cynical about everyone and everything. Religion is flawed, their economy is flawed, their government is flawed, the views their parents taught them flawed… and they’re just a powerless spec waiting for the fate of instinctive impulse to drive the social herd, along with themselves, eventually to destruction.
I was in this trap for a while, but after I sat in that muck hole of cynicism for some time I knew that mindset had to go. I’ve focused this article on the cyncicism and negativity most young educated people have and where it’s coming from. It’s important to recognize its source and guard your mind from it. Is it just me, or are we going to have to change our ways of thinking if we’re going to live a happy existence? I think it’s time to focus on ways to succeed and the good in this life, instead of all the negative aspects of life.