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A cynic's brief dismantling of cynicism. What the hell?

Lighten Up



This space and its scant column inches (that's old school, print edition-speak, FYI) is often populated by bitching and moaning. It's our job as columnists to opine, which more often than not, for me at least, entails presuming I know more than I do about a certain issue or concern, then audaciously spouting off my wise solution to whatever I deem sorely lacking or royally screwed. The city's traffic woes? I'll happily wag a finger at our local leadership's lack of vision for inclusive mobility options. Failure to build a bike/ped lane on the Legare Bridge? Colossal idiocy. Our regional complacency regarding sea level rise? Forget it, we're sunk. Charleston's pathetic myth of desegregation? Don't get me started.

And then the real game begins when commenters unleash their own (usually banal — whoa now, just kidding!) shallow opinions right back. Vitriol volleys. Troll tango. It may garner clicks for City Paper, but this snark-shooting rarely hits the target of making Charleston a better, saner community. It just makes half of us pissed, while the rest of us pat ourselves on the back for being so damn smart.

So for this column at least, (it's the New Year, fresh start and all) allow me to opine a minute about my own, and my colleagues', opining, and specifically about the pitfalls and seductions of cynicism. It's all too easy to shortcut thoughtfulness and reach instead for snarkiness, and when I can tap into some clever wordplay to sharpen the bite, then it's also kind of fun. But that's low hanging bitter fruit. Kind of like confusing alliteration for being literary — guilty as charged.

Cynicism, says Maria Popova on Brain Pickings, her densely rich rabbit-hole-of-wisdom website, "often masquerades as nobler faculties and dispositions, but is categorically inferior … It is a contracting force … inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive." My wishful thinking is that, if wielded with sufficient wit and persuasive puns, it might also be corrosive to the corrupt powers that be (hello County Council), and then perhaps, ultimately be constructive. Which, of course, assumes certain elected officials have critical reasoning capacity and a semblance of an open mind. And there I go again, sliding down the cynical slope.

According to Roget's Thesaurus, the opposite of cynicism is confidence, faith, trust, and certainty. And in the wake of the post-November 2016 reality and 2017's devastation, "optimism" doesn't even rank. But I beg to differ. I believe the opposite of cynicism isn't hope or faith or trust — words and concepts that have lost a little muscle, at least in my vernacular — but it might be "celebration." An active word. A now word. A light-the-sparklers, make-some-noise word.

Cynicism is a negative huff-and-puff; its antidote requires taking the time and effort to think straight and see crooked — to see not the obvious and often outrageous flaws, but instead celebrate a subversive worthiness, the damp spark, a tarnished beauty. Not celebration à la a snowflake Pollyanna or in some fake news version of flimsy hope, but in a desperate, and smart, attempt to defuse the fear mongering and belittling of others that fuels our current Trumpian zeitgeist.

Looking beyond the gloom and doom and all-too-obvious shortfalls for that which should be celebrated, which may inspire hopefulness, may seem like a waste of time (Bring it on, commenters!) when so much hard work and heavy lifting needs doing. But at the yet-unmarred beginning of another spin around the sun, we've got the leeway, perhaps, to spend a minute or two. So here goes: my short litany of local celebration-worthy cynicism-busters, which, by the way, shall not mention Southern Charm.

•Weekly free downloads courtesy of the Charleston County Public Library
•Rows of kale, collards and banana trees at Chicora's Fresh Future Farms
•Parking garage rooftop views
•The feisty spirit of Emily Abedon standing up to Steve Bannon when our embarrassing gubernatorial candidates fawned at his bigoted, hateful, stinky feet
•Sustainably caught fish from Abundant Seafood
•The Burke drum line
•Any light anywhere (that I'll never be able to afford but adore the artistry of) by Urban Electric
•Worthwhile's window displays
•Ditto Out of Hand
•Ohm Radio
•The Daily Don Instagram feed (OK, not necessarily local, but definitely celebration worthy)
•The Halsey's little back video cavern featuring dreamy Michael Moran woodwork…
•…The passion that some guy named Jeremy Tunstill has for creating school lunch menus for CCSD, complete with humorous cover emails about his kid playing an armpit version of Mary Had A Little Lamb
•Enough Pie's audacity
•Watching Boss (and the LAPS instructors) at the MLK pool teach swimming lessons
•Gobs of voracious young readers at YALLFest
•Holy Spokes
•Discounted day-olds and dollar macaroons at Brown's Court
•School teachers
•Exploring at Caw Caw
•A Tradesman growler
City Paper readers, and others, who keep me honest and go easy on a New Year's column that may seem a little light, but hopefully share my sense that light may be what we need.

What's your list?

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