Cynicism Is An Unpleasant Way of Telling the Truth

Eel Feather writes (Or wrote a few months ago…. Sorry Eel, it got lost in the shuffle):

But I’d like to bring an issue up with you, about that
Hellman quote. I’d never heard of Lillian Hellman, or
noticed that quote on cynicism. It’s a little
embarrassing to admit that I have never paid attention
to it before, but for some reason today, I did. And I
find that I completely disagree with it: cynicism is
_not_ an unpleasant way of telling the truth. It
certainly can be — but then again, it can also be a
perfectly pleasant and kind-hearted way of telling the
truth. So unless Hellman’s quote was taken out of a
greater context that qualifies it with such a caveat,
then it is wrong — or at best, misleading. It does
cynicism a disfavor by labelling it as unpleasant.

G. B. Shaw’s quote — even when standing alone —
seems a far more enlightening and reasonable opinion:
“The power of accurate observation is often called
cynicism by those who have not got it.”

Sure, Shaw’s quote is insightful but try fitting it on a masthead! I disagree with Eel Feather on this although the definition of cynicism has changed a bit since Antisthenes. Cynicism to me has always been about not bothering to sugar coat any opinions. I think I would need an example of somebody using a “pleasant and kind-hearted” way of telling the truth and still have that opinion be viewed as a cynical. Thoughts?


  1. Cynicism Is An Unpleasant Way of Telling the Truth … because when you are cynical you are lying … It’s an irony …

    So being Ironic Is An Unpleasant Way of Telling a Cynicism … J/K

  2. You didn’t fail hunny, their standards are just to high.

    Hell, I’ve only just woken up and it’s all I could come up with.

  3. Axl: Where does lying fit in with cynicism?

    PS: Have you finished that album yet? It’s getting on for a year per song now… It had better be the best damn album I’ve ever heard or you’re gonna be the one wearing a bucket on your head 😉


    I’ve always equated ‘cynical’ with ‘distrustful of information and motives‘, as opposed to ‘sceptical’ which I equate with just ‘distrustful of information’, and have always thought might be more fitting name. A lot of things on here seem to me to be brought about by idiots who are at least genuine in believing whatever crap it is they’re spewing.

    For example, I’m sceptical of dowsers but cynical of mediums because I think dowsers genuinely believe dowsing exists, whereas mediums know damn well who’s shaking the table.

    PS: I’d be more than happy to offer my fitting long taglines into mastheads service, should you fancy a re-jig.

  4. It’s being picky, but the phrase “sugar-coat” is so… vague?
    Cynicism is the refusal to succumb to “tact”.
    Instead of leading every horse we find to a pool of water through cryptic messages and euphemisms, we carry a bucket to them.

    Admittedly heavy cynicism can be compared to throwing the water on the horse, but if a horse is really hot then he might appreciate that.

  5. I think it is a perfectly good quote.

    The quotes people find really catchy are seldom completely true when you think about them for a while. They are designed more to be rhetorical devices, -easy one line answers to complex things that will render your debating oponent speechless.

    So they are often rather a verbal kick in the groin than an actual simple answer to or explanation of anything.

    I think the trick is to use them but not believe in them. Or you will be like that medium yourself. 🙂

    (Some quotes ARE brilliant tho. Or maybe I’m simply not able to see through them)

  6. I looked at the comments thus far hoping for something profound but these seem a bit weak. Not that I am some great writer but if you look up cynicism, or better cynic, you find very useful information. For being cynic lovers you sure seem to like to avoid the truth and apparently just say whatever comes to mind.

  7. I dunno Storm, don’t you find it devalues the quote when it has a logical flaw? I know I do – a quote like that is supposed to sum up a point in a simple thought, surely? How can it be of value if it the summing up is wrong, or demonstrates that the concept being summed up is wrong?

    There are exceptions, of course, but I can’t recall any that aren’t humour or of the category where their point is made by the irony of the flaw itself, ie “All generalisations are bad”.

  8. Great, I’ve been looking forward to discussing this…

    Cynicism holds a somewhat negative connotation, I think. Most words have multiple meanings, and while I think Schmoo’s definition (distrustful of information and motives) makes sense on the face of it, I think there’s a more negative aspect to it. A cynic is kinda like a skeptic with a bad attitude. I looked these definitions up:

    Cynic. n. A person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.

    Cynical. adj. Showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, esp. by actions that exploit the scruples of others. Bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.

    The Shaw quote demonstrates this: If you explain that religion is bunk, the religious will accuse you of being a cynic; of being a cold-hearted, pessimistic, sneeringly distrustful & contemptuous person — when all you’ve done was to make an accurate observation.

    When faced by the mindless drones of religion, being a cynic might be a good thing. In fact, considering how prevalent religion, superstition, magical thinking and general idiocy is, being a cynic should almost be the norm for anyone with a couple of neurons left to rub together. All these religious numbnuts could turn a stoned Mary Poppins into a pessimist.

    That being said, I think it is a bad strategy for a cynic to defame their own state of mind by saying that it is inherently unpleasant. Cynicism isn’t an unpleasant anything. It is merely the desire, and the willingness to look behind the curtain. This desire to explore, to probe, to test, to learn is subjectively considered unpleasant by the brainwashed masses who enjoy the intellectual laziness of religion.

    Cynicism isn’t inherently, objectively unpleasant — or bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic — and I think saying so does us all a disfavor.

  9. I would say that only those who aren’t cynical would consider a cynic “distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.” A cynic would consider another cynic to be logical. So, to a non-cynic the truth coming from a cynic would be very unpleasant.

  10. I’m skeptical of anythng Eel Feather says, I’ve had arguments with him before about comments I’ve made, seemingly because he doesn’t understand what I am saying… sorry to be such a cynic

  11. Sorry I’m so late coming to this thread… I teach college & it’s Review Board season.

    As I understand it, cynicism has come to have a specific meaning in our current lexicon, one that connontes an assumption of basic selfishness behind human eneavor, as well as a propensity for apathy.

    A cynic might question the motives behind the urge, say, to self-publish for example, as purely narcissistic. A skeptic would think that probably self-interest is part of the picture, but would likely also attribute it to a desire to connect with a larger community of thought & interest, to create dialogue, and to even maybe change someone’s mind, and have some kind of positive effect on the world.

    I thought this was interesting:

    I could be wrong. I teach painting.

  12. I’m skeptical of anythng Eel Feather says, I’ve had arguments with him before about comments I’ve made, seemingly because he doesn’t understand what I am saying… sorry to be such a cynic

    — Dan

    Well gee golly motherfucking wiz, I’d hate to make the same mistake of not understanding what you’re saying twice, so I’ll have a stab at this one — you’re trying to make a primitive ad hominem attack by wrapping it in a banal comment on skepticism/cynicism — and being utterly, pointlessly fucking non-constructive.

  13. So, what you’re saying is, basically you’re just a troll with nothing to contribute — I guess I’ll just have to try remember that.

    Well, thanks to those who did make an effort. I’d sorta hoped this thread had stayed on the front page a tad longer — I figured it might have made for an interesting discussion.

  14. I’m so very very sorry Eel Feather. You’re right, I’m a hopeles low-life who hasn’t made an effort with anything… and um.. no, actually I’m not going to bother qualifying anything I just said because I don’t think you’re worth the use of my brainpower. Ciao Mi Hombre

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