Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cynics: "An Ancient School"

Your humble correspondent, widely considered a cynic, has always taken solace in thoughts like this:

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.
-George Bernard Shaw

And from what a friend said many years ago: “judgment built on experience, which allows one person to size up a situation rather quickly, while another less experienced person cannot, is what the latter mislabel cynicism.

I agree with that, even though it sounds a bit self-serving. None-the-less, there is much to be said for been there, seen that. This is pretty basic stuff.

So you could have knocked me over with a feather when I recently read a review of “Cynics,” by William Desmond in the Weekly Standard.

It begins thus:

“The third-century B.C. philosopher Diogenes the Cynic was, arguably, Western civilization's first Marx Brother. He is known not for metaphysical treatises but for wisecracks and pranks.”

Who’d have guessed a formal branch of philosophy would be devoted to such things?

I was entranced. Herewith other amusing quotes:

“There were also literary Cynics, since the movement bred a robust satirical tradition. The great second-century Syrian-born satirist Lucian, who scorned the itinerant Cynic philosophers of his own day as idlers and leeches, praised Diogenes and carried on his mission of puncturing pomposity and complacency and conventional belief with playful, absurdist wit.”

“He does take up Nietzsche, who bluntly said that Diogenes was superior to Alexander the Great and that Cynicism is "the highest one can reach on earth."”

“…far from Diogenes' populist, earthy, slapstick streak.”

So while I lack Bowdoin credentials, and other similarly lofty bona fides of the anointed, please make sure you treat me with the respect due a Cynic with a capital C the next time we meet.

Or at least buy me a Frosty’s donut so I don’t starve.

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