From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others' apparent motives or ambitions, or a general lack of faith or hope in the human race or in individuals with desires, hopes, opinions, or personal tastes that a cynic perceives as unrealistic or inappropriate, therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It is a form of jaded negativity, and other times, realistic criticism or skepticism. The term originally derives from the ancient Greek philosophers called the Cynics who rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in accordance with a simple and unmaterialistic way of life. By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean a disposition of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions. Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions, and authorities that are unfulfilled. It can manifest itself as a result of frustration, disillusionment, and distrust perceived as owing to organizations, authorities, and other aspects of society.
The classical Greek and Roman Cynics regarded virtue as the only necessity for happiness. They sought to free themselves from conventions; become self-sufficient; and live only in accordance with nature. They rejected any conventional notions of happiness involving money, power, or fame, in the pursuit of virtuous, and thus happy, lives. In rejecting conventional social values, they would criticise the types of behaviours, such as greed, which they viewed as causing suffering. Emphasis on this aspect of their teachings led, in the late 18th and early 19th century, to the modern understanding of cynicism as "an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others." (dictionary.reference.com) This modern definition of cynicism is in marked contrast to the ancient philosophy, which emphasized "virtue and moral freedom in liberation from desire" (Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy. More than just critics, early Cynics were public advocates of cosmopolitanism, freedom of speech, a woman's right to choose her mate, constitutional law, and--as the name indicates--emulating the simple behaviors of dogs.
Cynicism in contemporary times
Modern cynicism has been defined as an attitude of distrust toward claimed ethical and social values and a rejection of the need to be socially involved. It is pessimistic in regards to the capacity of human beings to make the correct ethical choice, and one antonym is naiveté. Modern cynicism is sometimes regarded as a product of mass society, especially in those circumstances where the individual believes there is a conflict between society's stated motives and goals and actual motives and goals. Unlike mere depression, cynicism can be said to be more active; in his bestselling Critique of Cynical Reason, Peter Sloterdijk defined modern cynics as "borderline melancholics, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and yet retain the ability to work, whatever might happen ... indeed, this is the essential point in modern cynicism: the ability of its bearers to work - in spite of anything that might happen." Peter Sloterdijk, (1987), Critique of Cynical Reason) One active aspect of cynicism is the desire to expose hypocrisy and to point out the gulf between society's ideals and its practices.
Social cynicism results from excessively high expectations concerning society, institutions and authorities: unfulfilled expectations lead to disappointment, which releases feelings of disillusionment and betrayal.
In organizations, cynicism manifests itself as a general or specific attitude, characterized by frustration, hopelessness, disillusionment and distrust in regard to economic or governmental organizations, managers and/or other aspects of work.