Lamp 1: The Logical Traps of Contemporary Cynicism

Alex Smith
The Lamp Essays
Published in
4 min readMar 5, 2023

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Contemporary cynicism is one of the most powerful logical traps to exist in contemporary human society. It has become as powerful as ideology to some people in American Society, and it is rooted in a way of seeing the world that, when it informs actions, reinforces itself.

I say contemporary cynicism, because it’s ancient Greek counterpart cannot be further from it’s contemporary definition.

This Ancient Greek Cynicism was largely deviated from the ideas of Socrates and was formerly termed by Antisthenes. The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy Third Edition describes here the thoughts foundational to Antisthenes’s philosophy

“He held virtue to be sufficient for happiness. As knowledge necessitating moral action it could be taught, and once gained it was unshakeable. Education began with the study of the meaning of words. Words corresponded directly with reality, and a proposition was either true or meaningless, contradiction and false statement being impossible.

But the stress was on practical ETHICS rather than theoretical learning. Although 22 Anselm not an ascetic, Antisthenes condemned luxury. Virtue should be combined with exertion, without which real pleasure was impossible (Hercules was the ideal example).

Established laws, convention, birth, sex, race, were unimportant in comparison with the law of virtue, by which the state should be governed. Although many of his views are clearly Socratic, the ancients asserted that his importance lay in giving the impulse, through DIOGENES, to the way of life later called Cynic, and it is likely that STOICISM too was influenced by his practical ethics.”

This would be in essence, not a philosophy, but an anti-philosophy, as it abhorred the idea of following any established tenets other than virtue which is governed by the laws of nature. As it’s described above, it is no surprise that this philosophy is actually one of the originators of anarchism and Diogenes’s version especially.

This philosophy had significant similarities to philosophies professed by Jesus Christ as well as Socrates himself, however the Antisthene’s version would be seen as a more radical shortcut to “virtue” (as one would need to rid themselves of social convention and property) and would shift significantly in definition by the 19th century, by focusing on the negative aspects of what would be defined as human nature.

Despite what certain publications say regarding the original conception and it’s contemporary counterpart, the Cynics were never believers in self-sacrifice for the glory of the state, or believers that hierarchical institutions were valid as laws/policies were abhorred.

The current conception is essentially the perception that human nature is self-interested. Which brings us to the first logical trap of Cynicism:

If one believes that humans are governed by self-interest they will often behave in a way that is self-interested which reinforces the idea to other’s that human’s are self-interested.

This is the circular logic by which contemporary cynicism reinforces itself in a given society. The second logical trap creates a logically inescapable perception of human nature between humans:

If one believes human’s are self-interested, the motivations of each human is logically then tied to self-interest, giving money/resources to a good cause is ascribed to tax benefits, self-aggrandizement, or good feelings, and not ascribed to human nature, which leads further to believing that humans are self-interested. Incentives to action are then bound to self-interest.

These logical traps work in tandem to create a circular “super” trap:

As the diagram above signifies, there is a significant reinforcing behavior of the logic that is inherent to contemporary cynicism. The only impactful behaviors on this line of thinking is sacrifice, martyrdom or doing things for others that would have little way to be interpreted as self-interested.

Martyrdom especially is one of the ultimate arguments against a contemporary cynic mindset, and it is this that I will argue is one which shows that human self-interest is survival-based.

One’s survival (or trauma related to it), I posit, is the only rationale(s) for self-interest and what we confuse to be selfishness based in self-aggrandizement or for the purpose of monopolization of resources, is actually a survival response that can be traced to experiencing scarcity and the trauma produced. This can include Neuropsychiatric disorders produced by one’s upbringing, or the trauma endured by an individual when they lack resources.

It is this that I propose as what “self-interest” is and when reduced to our status as mere mammals in the biological sense, it makes even more sense that our more social and communal behaviors would be restricted due to an animalistic survival mechanism that runs deep within all of us.

It is this which I further posit, justifies that all people deserve love, compassion, and understanding for their decisions, as well as experiences that contribute to their decision-making (although not used as a reason to gaslight oneself in a violent relationship but more on that later).

Self-interest, although a tempting cop-out, only applies to those who are in a state of survival or have experienced survival primarily, secondarily, or even tertiarily through their upbringing.

All this to say, you deserve love.

Cause no matter what:

I. Love. You.

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Alex Smith
The Lamp Essays

Your not-so-average early twenties cishet white male activist with a huge heart and a penchant for dismantling societal institutions :)