So, you're a cynical asshole. Now what?
“Cynical Asshole” is often a badge that cops like to wear proudly. Most favor that title because they believe that being a cynic makes them vigilant against the evil that lurks in the world, or street smart, or in-tune, or enlightened, or…”woke”.
And true, being cynical does place a good officer on guard against people’s motives and allows them to see past bullshit and question another’s truthfulness, but being a cynical asshole isn’t the best badge to wear, especially when dealing overly sensitive people in 2020. So, what is the remedy?
Well, what if I said that stoicism is an evolution out of cynicism, and learning to be more stoic would be more beneficial. Wouldn’t that be a better badge to wear since stoicism has a had a positive resurgence into today’s culture as a philosophy worth following? If you’re already a “cynical asshole” then you’re not too far from becoming a respectable stoic. Let us unravel this a little bit.
The ancient school of stoicism was found by Zeno of Citium around the 2nd Century B.C. Zeno originally had been a student of Crates of Thebes (368 B.C.), a cynic who was a student of Diogenes of Sinope (380 B.C.), the founder of the school of cynicism. Diogenes was a profoundly extreme individual in his school of thought. He believed that in order to be happy, one must live virtuously in agreeance with nature, much like stoicism. However, what he valued as natural differed from the stoics.
Diogenes and the cynics did not believe in a civilized lifestyle as being natural, they believed more that an animalistic and minimalistic lifestyle is most natural since humans lived as animals in past lifetimes, and the installment of civility only complicated matters of nature. The stoics, as Epictetus later pointed out, believed too that although minimalism is a key to happiness (being able to live happily with less and not placing too high a value on external things) they also believed in law, order and civility as being natural.
And like I said before, Diogenes was profoundly intense in his school of thought. He lived half-naked in a tub with almost no possessions. He urinated, defecated, and masturbated where he pleased, ignoring any and all social norms or standards at that time. (You don’t suppose that you would have ever seen Marcus Aurelius live like that, do you?) And yet, Zeno found the school of Stoicism based off what the cynics believed. So how did that come to be?
Well, as modern-day stoic, Massimo Pigliucci, explains it from the accounts of his studies, Zeno had been shipwrecked on a voyage from Phoenicia to Piraeus. During his layover he went up into Athens and sat down in a bookseller’s shop, and began reading Xenophon’s book, Memorabilia (Xenphon’s account on the life of Socrates). He was so pleased after reading it that he inquired where men like Socrates were to be found. Crates of Thebes, a cynic himself, happened to overhear Zeno’s exclamation and offered to be his teacher.
While studying under Crates, Zeno also went on to explore other philosophies to include Platonism and Megarianism. With his indoctrination into different schools of philosophy, Zeno took what he felt to be the best ideals from each and thus created what was to become Stoicism. The ideals Zeno took from cynicism specifically, laid the ground work for stoicism, those being: valuing a simple life over a complex one, accepting the world as it is with no wishful thinking, virtue is the way to a good life, and last but most important, philosophy needs to be practiced.
Stoicism stresses the search for inner peace and ethical certainty despite the apparent chaos of the external world around us, by being able to control one’s personal conduct i.e. their perceptions and opinions of external matters, and by emulating the underlying orderliness and lawfulness of nature through four main virtues: wisdom, justice, self-restraint, and courage.
So, what does this all mean? Well, the cynics believed that civilization has been tainted by the perverse, ulterior motivation other humans bring into it, thus not seeing the need to be a part of civilization and becoming social outcasts. But the stoics having recognized the need for civility and social interaction simply have altered their perception into thinking although there is evil in the world, those who commit it were fated to do so, and that one cannot control what others do or why they do it, only control how one reacts to it. Resulting in the stoics learning to embrace the evil amongst society.
This is where we can make ourselves as cops better with one easy step, the power of perception. It is so easy in law enforcement to become cynical. We see horrible things and deal with very difficult people, and it’s only reasonable to rope everyone into the same corrupt mold and become calloused to civilization and ask ourselves. “why do I even bother trying?”.
General George S. Patton once said, "watch what people are cynical about, and one can learn what they lack." And being a cynical cop in today's world shows a lack of humility in my opinion, a virtue that I believe is absolutely paramount in being any good at the job.
But if we alter our perception, utilize virtue, and learn to embrace the complications of other humans, only then can we learn to be a little more humble in our reactions to those who are difficult, and ultimately learn to destress ourselves. And once we learn to destress ourselves can we begin to look less like an “asshole” and more like a stoic. Being more stoic doesn’t mean ignoring or being naïve to evil, it just means acknowledging it and embracing it more benevolently. Only then can we begin to attempt to cure evil
Aurelius, M. (1997). Meditations (Dover Thrift Edition ed.). (W. Kaufman, Ed., & G. Long, Trans.) Mineola, New York: Dover Publications. Retrieved 2018
Pigliucci, M. (2019, November 8). Stoicism's Origin Stories. Retrieved from Medium.Com: https://medium.com/stoicism-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life/stoicisms-origin-stories-e84af98203b2
The Daily Stoic. (n.d.). Stoicism and Cynicism: Lessons, Similarities and Differences. Retrieved from TheDailyStoic.com: https://dailystoic.com/stoicism-cynicism/