The Nature of a Cynic

George Carlin, in one of his skits [see below], concluded with “fuck hope,” and went on to explain: “And please don’t confuse my point of view with cynicism -– the real cynics are the ones who tell you everything’s gonna be all right.”

Although Carlin was careful and precise about the use of language, I think he was wrong about cynicism.

Cynicism is in the ball park of pessimism and skepticism, so we must distinguish them. A skeptic is someone who expresses doubt about the truth of some claim. Let us say the claim is that everything will be all right. His attitude is one of uncertainty one way or the other; whereas the optimist is confident that everything will be all right, and the pessimist is equally confident that it will not. So, where does the cynic fit in?

It has to do with what one believes about human nature. There is a position believed by some called “psychological egoism.” This is the position that humans, by nature, are selfish and do everything with their personal interest in mind. If this position is correct, then so-called altruistic actions are only apparently so.  If now everything turning out all right depends on genuinely altruistic actions, then the cynic denied this possibility, and therefore is a convinced pessimist.

We must, in view of this, view the normal pessimist and optimist as both subscribing to the view that genuine altruistic actions are possible; with the pessimist saying that they are not probable in the situation; whereas the optimist saying that they are probable. And the cynic saying that real altruistic actions will not occur — not because they are improbable, but because they are impossible.

If the cynic then tells you that things will be all right, he is speaking ironically or sarcastically.  So, what Carlin is calling a real cynic, is an ironic or a sarcastic cynic.

George Carlin was both ironic and sarcastic at times, but he was never an ironic or sarcastic cynic. He did not believe that human doom was inevitable, only that it was probable.

Disambiguation of Socialism

Just now I came across a video by Thomas diLorenzo, whom I admire about his expose of Abraham Lincoln. In this video he talks about his new book , The Problem with Socialism (2016), which criticizes socialism.  I think his criticisms are worth considering — and I am going to get a copy of his book.  Jokingly,  he says that his talk could be about how to argue with your Bernie Sanders roommate in college.  He defines “socialism”, roughly,  as “state managed means of production.”  This includes both state controlled industries, as in the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela; and what is called Social Democracy, which we have in the United States and Europe.  These kinds of Socialisms are to be contrasted with, what in the United States is called, Libertarianism.

Watch this video, but make sure you also watch the next video by Cameron Watt, who contrasts these kinds of state or authoritarian socialisms with “libertarian socialism” or “anarchism.”  ‘”Socialism” here does not mean state owned or managed industries, but worker-owned and managed industries; and “libertarian” does not mean private ownership of industries, but refers to a political structure rooted in direct democracy in small scale communities, federated into larger units.

Finally, watch Noam Chomsky’s explanation of how the word “socialism” traditionally has been used to refer to worker-controlled work-places, which is the view of “libertarian socialism.”


Bullshit as Unintelligibility

Saying that some claim is bullshit is to negatively appraise the claim. But to appraise or evaluate a claim presupposes that you understood what was claimed. But what is the situation when you don’t understand the claim? There are two possibilities: (1)either there is something amiss with you or (2) there is something amiss with the alleged communication.

Now I don’t know most foreign languages, and when I encounter situations in which people are speaking an unknown foreign language, I know that the problem lies with me. What is said is unintelligible to me because I do not know this language. A similar problem arises when I hear people talking, using a technical language with its jargon, as, for example, physicists or mycologists. (If you do not know what I am talking about, this is because you don’t know what a mycologist is. I have just used some technical vocabulary.) In both these cases, the problem is similar. You don’t understand the language; therefore, whatever is talked about, is, as we say, “Greek to me.” (It’s a foreign language that I don’t understand.)

On the other hand, there are situations in which the problem does not lie with you, but with the communication itself. And this can happen in different ways. One way is to think that someone is speaking in a foreign language — but what you are hearing only sounds like a foreign language — but it is not. Sid Caesar was great at making sounds which seemed like a foreign language — but it was meaningless. Here is an example:

There is also the phenomenon which is called “double-talk.”  Even though it seems to be normal English, it contains nonsense words and nonsensical combination of words.  Here is an example:


A famous nonsense poem is Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”  It sounds English because it is grammatically constructed, but some of the words are pure inventions. Here it is:

Sometimes after an allegedly philosophical lecture, a person may say “It was deep.  I am afraid it was too profound for me to understand.”  My reply could be: “You did not understand because it was intrinsically nonsensical.”

Then there is also the phenomenon of rambling: stringing together unconnected ideas and words. Here is Sarah Pahlin endorsing Donald Trump:

Political manipulation through metaphors and frames (George Lakoff)

George Lakoff explains how metaphors and frames are used by Conservatives (Republicans?) to win elections, including the creation of think tanks and various media to advance their political agenda. He himself identifies with Progressives and Liberals (Democrats?) and gives pointers about how to win elections. It is clear to me that he is a reformer, meaning that he wants to change things through the existing institutions. I am with him in this regard. But he fails to talk about, or even mention, how the very structure of the American government (as presented in the Constitution) fosters oligarchic rule. Pitting Democrats over Republicans is futile; because given the institutions of mass democracy and the institution of one person ruling as President, Governor, and Mayor, oligarchy and corruption will win.

Francis Bacon on bullshit beliefs

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), in his Novum Organum (1620), classifies the sources of false beliefs (i.e. bullshit beliefs) into four categories or idols:
idols of the tribe (idola tribus),
idols of the cave (idola specus),
idols of the market (idola fori), and
idols of the theater (idola theatri).

See also:


C. D. Broad, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon, 1926.

Critical Thinking: Evaluating Claims and Arguments in Everyday Life

I have taught courses in critical thinking under the guise of “logic” as well as under the guise of “introduction to philosophy.” One of the best textbooks on critical thinking was (and perhaps still is) Critical Thinking: Evaluating Claims and Arguments in Everyday Life, by Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker.  I have the 2d edition. Searching the Internet, I found that there currently is an 12th edition [cost, about $190]. But more interesting is that someone in China has placed the 9th edition on the Internet as a pdf file. So, before the copy disappears for some reason or other, download it while you can.


In this post, I am recommending that you read Chapter 4: Credibility and Chapter 5: Persuasion Through Rhetoric. These two chapters could be called “Bullshitting (especially in the News and Advertising Media) by language, pictures, and movies.”