The Meaning of Cynicism

March 4, 2015 9:00 am

Search my beloved name anywhere on the internet and you will find me associated with cynicism. Benjamin, the cynical donkey in Animal Farm, is the oldest of the animals or words to that effect. I am hurt and somewhat befuddled by resistance to mention that one of the final images of that classic novel, a novel that I was indeed delighted to be conceived within, involved me running behind the disappearing vehicle carrying my treasured friend, Boxer. Painful as it is to remind the reader, Boxer was sadistically sold to a glue-maker on exchange of various preservatives  by the one per cent in power who dictated life on the farm. Having worked honestly to service a debt-financed windmill on the farm’s peripheral territory, Boxer became sick and was deemed no longer economically viable. When he sought damages for his injured leg Boxer was dismayed to learn that employer safety regulations had recently been impeded under pressure from Squealer, the persuasive pig whose weekly tabloid column was supplemented with a regular appearance on a TV quiz show. If you review footage of this traumatic moment in my life (I recommend footage from Halas and Batchelor’s 1955 feature-length cartoon) then you will note that I am so distraught my braying sounds positively hoarse (no pun intended Boxer).


My question of course is simple: does this sound like a cynic to you? The emotional breakdown over the death of one’s closest friend is not, my dear reader, a signifier of the cynic. If you wish to understand the nature of cynicism, as I understand the term, then avert your attention to those who sold Boxer down the river. You have been discursively duped. (Let’s hope any impending injuries at work do not coincide with shortages at Prittworld.) What I possess is a cynicism detector, an ability to see through the patent exploitation of a political class that, in the novel, cared as much for the average animal as your leaders care for you. Naturally the political classes will seek to re-define language in order to deflect their own sociopathic greed for humans. Don’t let them: the contempt for other people is infused in current UK government policy.

David Cameron

The cynic is not somebody who challenges bedroom tax; it is somebody who reacts to a multi-million pound bail out by dispossessing the poor of space and income. Recently your leader, David Cameron, who looks increasingly porcine with each public appearance, spoke about the need to pay off debt to protect one’s children. I am not being cynical when I point out the debt that millions of British children have already incurred as a result of Conservative policy. Firstly, tuition fees (which may have started with New Labour) increased during Cameron’s government. This is a debt. It is one that he did not need to pay when he went to university (even though he could have afforded it) and one that will affect young people for several decades. Share of the national debt is estimated (by the national debt clock) at some £78, 000 per person. This is not exclusively a Conservative problem of course, any more than it is a New Labour one; nevertheless, it is a problem with the neo-liberal economy, born during the tenure of Cameron’s spiritual heroine, Margaret Thatcher. Cameron famously criticised New Labour for over-regulating the financial sector and so my ears tremble to think what the debt would have been had Cameron’s predecessors had any electoral appeal.


These are not the words of a cynic, rather an old, wise donkey whose cynicism detector senses the unmistakeable air of manure when he hears it. If you want a vision of the future under Cameron, imagine yourself running behind the fading image of a best friend as he or she is retired to the glue factory by a regime whose own friends were spawned in the privileged world of middle class entitlement. Perhaps you know a health worker, a transport worker, a caterer or a retail worker. Imagine their long, troubled face appearing at the rear window as they are sped off to another five years of crippling exploitation, corporation debt and wage repression. The cynic booked that lift; everybody else should be trying to stop it.

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