Thursday, October 15, 2015


Transience, and more specifically, meditation on it, can fit with several philosophies.

It can be a part of developing Stoic imperturbability. Or, it can be part of seeing the moment-by-moment chance for satori of Zen.

More modernly, it can fit existentialism in many ways. That includes challenges to be authentic, asserting one's radical freedom, and more. Or, in Camus' absurdism, it can provoke one to reflect on his "ultimate question." Or to say "mu" to his idea of meaninglessness.

Or per my Neo-Cynicism, it can lead one to ask, "Why don't I challenge the convention behind this particular transient moment?"

In any case, the world of newspapers has led me to reflect on transience more and more in recent times.

Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas famously said of the Super Bowl, "If it's the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?"

Indeed, "news" strikes me the same way.

Most national and international news stories in print (print online counted) are simply small rollings of the ball forward from the previous versions of the story. It's similar in broadcast media.

But, to fill inches of paper, minutes of airtime, or clamorings of website electrons, we see these balls moved slowly uphill and call them "news."

The reality is that the first journalism, newspapers, WAS the "social media" of 200 years ago. It was in part something for people to gossip and mong rumors about, and it was in part actual gossip and rumor mongering.

Life is transient. And, though I despise the term "content" when it comes from a pulp writing mill, it's true that a lot what is called "news" is little more than filler.

Now, plenty a sociologist might argue otherwise. They might say that local news is lubrication for the grist-grinding of local sociological mills. But, is that much more than a fancier way of calling a newspaper "social media," with both connotative and denotative meanings?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Is the world ready for some neo-Cynicism?

Update, March 13, 2015: The original essay, at the link, was one of the semifinalists in 3 Quarks Daily's politics and social science writing contest. Might sound strange to some to enter a philosophy essay into contest in those categories, but if you'll read on, maybe you won't think that way by the end.

By using the capital-C word, I'm indicating the ancient philosophy, not the psychological attitude.

Is the world ready? More important, is the world needing this? My answer here, at Massimo Pigliucci's new philosophy webzine.

That answer is a "yes," with details of how I think we should update Cynicism for today. Click the link for more.

For people unfamiliar with the basics of the philosophy, beyond perhaps knowing that Diogenes masturbated in public and told Alexander the Great to get out of his light, the Wikipedia entry has a good summary of base points:

1. The goal of life is Eudaimonia and mental clarity or lucidity (τυφια) – freedom from τύφος (smoke) which signified ignorance, mindlessness, folly, and conceit.

2. Eudaimonia is achieved by living in accord with Nature as understood by human reason.

3. τύφος (Arrogance) is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions, unnatural desires, and a vicious character.

4. Eudaimonia or human flourishing, depends on self-sufficiency (ατάρκεια), equanimity, arete, love of humanity, parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life (διαφορία).

5. One progresses towards flourishing and clarity through ascetic practices (σκησις) which help one become free from influences – such as wealth, fame, or power – that have no value in Nature. Examples include Diogenes’ practice of living in a tub and walking barefoot in winter.

6. A Cynic practices shamelessness or impudence (Αναιδεια) and defaces the Nomos of society; the laws, customs, and social conventions which people take for granted.
The “flourishing” is of course a commonality with most other ancient Greek philosophies. Point 2 gets back to Massimo’s Stoicism essay on showing some commonality, and is my point of departure, with a different assessment of human nature, for neo-Cynicism.

Points 3-6 then spell out how to achieve this … and why — that the challenging of convention, asceticism and related practices are designed to produce mental and emotional clarity.

In my comments on the piece in response to others (at least to others who get the difference between the philosophy and the small-c psychology), I responded to one person who asked about what a neo-Cynicism might be for, and not just against, my one-word answer?


My version of neo-Cynicism should be seen, in part, as being a more pessmistic outgrowth of humanistic psychologies of the 1950s and 1960s.


And, for the second time, one of my essays for Massimo has been picked up by 3 Quarks Daily.


In essays in the future on this blog, some of them will focus on developing the project of Neo-Cynicism in my personal life.