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The Optimistic Cynic

by Mental Sweat 11 months ago in humanity · updated 6 months ago

The optimistic cynic: shielding yourself with hope against brazenly fruitless toil

Take this story with a grain of salt, as a truth no one particularly cares about, as a story from the desk of a certified madman. I found this short transcript while rummaging through an estate sale, an old, crumpled, unsent letter to a soul unknown. Take it seriously, if you want. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: while excessive use of the word “I” is often abhorring, its use here must be tolerated for sharing’s sake.

The optimistic cynic: shielding yourself with hope against brazenly fruitless toil.

When somebody pays me a compliment, I refute it, or rather I degrade myself into some ant unworthy of any compliment aside from “hey, nice following the leader!” I recall one time somebody complimenting my Spanish, to which I said “no, no, it’s really not great.” The response was that my Spanish is only as good as I believed it to be.

It made me think, when did I overdose on humility? I read in a Rabbi’s book that overabundant humility degrades self-esteem, and perhaps that somebody hinted this. But that somebody never struck me as one who reads books, listens to lectures, or thinks about life much at all. The only conclusion could be instinct or indoctrination, or better, indoctrination of instinct.

Theoretically, somebody could learn from instinct, especially what is nice or mean, and in absence of any whips justify their complete arbitrariness with their instinct for what is good. Simple instinct for good is found in favorites and treasures, and maybe, far away from bell curve’s center, instinct for good translates into language and communication and that’s good but also ultimately what made me so skeptical like this. I should really believe that I speak Spanish well.

Instinctually, I know that I speak Spanish well. I speak it every day. I only pretend to speak poorly because I gain an advantage, granting other’s a feeling of immunity to speak in my presence, because immunity makes people say the most important things. Yet a complete truth would be I understand most of what is said in Spanish, if said slowly, and I erect this optimistic shield that I gain an advantage by playing dumb, while the cynical reality is I shelter an embittered ego completely resistant to the idea of submitting myself to anyone superior in spoken Spanish.

Optimistic cynicism was not always my way. Logic was always the most important thing they told me, presenting me with every classical book of philosophy, history, and literature. They told me I was a product of society, of the texts which taught and indoctrinated that society, and fifteen years would pass of me studying before any true hope of comprehension emerged.

So I toiled, each day the equivalent of one lap the string takes around a spool. And eventually my spool grew large, and my knowledge too. Now I can quote books, and people; I know Tacitus said “Even the bravest are frightened by sudden scares;” Bertrand Russell “the modern definition of truth in pragmatism and instrumentalism is inspired by industry and not aristocracy;” Albert Camus “a person defines himself by his make-believe as well as by his sincere impulses.”

I downloaded so much information into this head that induction is second nature, and clearly the world is a multilayered continuum of All Real Numbers and All Imaginary Numbers representing chance, individual things/events, thoughts, somebodies, and choices, all interacting in the way described by chaos theory. Everything you do is predictable, quantifiable, contained by one set of “__your name here__.” Your whole life is more like one roll of Sisyphus’s stone than Sisyphus himself, your stone bouncing a slightly different descent than mine but towards the same gruesome destination.

You must realize that once we understand chaos theory, our make-believes will change again; I am optimistically cynical about this. My knowledge is only a result of where those upbringers of mine directed me to look. They directed my consciousness towards illuminating the truth, and now I’m stuck with this programming which sees truth everywhere.

But those real and historic upbringers did not go far as to program me to override my own will. If I wanted to shun these people and great thinkers, I could do so easily. I could spit aversely on their eyes or books, I could create slanderous internet posts to make them a peasant, and I could put on rosy glasses and tear them apart. They are nothing to me, only the people who recorded a train of thought I once learned. I‘ve mastered what Stoics call “directing your aversion towards displeasing things,” and I know what things are displeasing.

Though aversion is useful only sometimes, admittedly. Other times aversion can go away; logic says you can throw aversion into reverse, direct aversion at itself and it disappears. And that’s the nature of so many things. Even ancient Lao Tzu knew that truth was not in the wheel itself, but the space between its spokes and the hole where the axel rests; you are averse to truth cause-and-effect you don’t see the hidden emptiness of all constructs.

Knowing the truth about existence is difficult. Before, the truth was unknown, but I decided to look one day. I came into an inheritance, of 20,000 dollars, and knew it was time. A man in a black suit and white shirt with a black leather notebook in hand came by one day and knocked on the door; he raised then opened the fine leather book, and I was instantly suspicious of such a fine book—it was evidence something strange would happen.

The suited man asked me to sign in the book, and said a distant relative I’d never heard of died and left me money. I didn’t know what to do, except sign it because that was the only way he’d fork over the money. Three days later another suited man knocked and delivered a brief case containing bills. After that, naturally, I quit my job and went to work totally part time, hardly at all.

What more did I need from the physical toil of that old job? There was so much more I would do. I sat and read more books, and made that spool fatter with string, from cylindrical to spherical. Then I went out into the world, and looked for all the truth. But all I found were people acting illogically. No one read, no one studied the classics, no one was relatable, no one cultured like me.

Money kept coming up as the subject of discussion, and it meant nothing to me. Why is playing a cause-and-effect game with numbers superior to my words and rationales? I tried speaking about Chomsky to them, to compromise between my words and their numbers, I optimistically reminded them even Keynes knew “markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent,” but they laughed at me as a cynic.

They and I never saw eye to eye, despite every optimistic stride I took in trying to relate to them. So I tried talking about the east, how Tich Nhat Hanh taught us to breath properly, moving the belly to make room for lungs’ expansion. And they laughed again, asking me if I breathed such a way while jogging or fornicating. How I breathe jogging or fornicating isn’t the point! Your preoccupation with the body, your incessant provision for your corporeality disgusts me. Truest existence lies in contemplation.

After learning where the truest of truths resided, something changed. For a while the truth seemed to belong only to me, like others were incapable of receiving it. So I optimistically tried writing and sharing the truth, a faceless entity relinquishing paper boats upon a windy pond. But all my boats grew soggy before circumnavigation, and sank to pond’s bottom as biodegradable waste. So I thought to put my face with the words, and make videos about the truth. They liked some of my videos, but I stopped because nobody ever responded or engaged me about the truth.

You can see by now, that I am optimistic. I try things, and nobody can say otherwise. But how can anybody rise above a cynicism practically forced upon them by everybody else?

The truth is I am lonely. The world doesn’t care about artfully analyzing how to think or breathe, how to understand what exactly comprises life. The world wants to indulge in bounty, who needs a rational soul when a smartphone can perform all the rational functions? So I asked them why, what it was they thought was truth.

What they told me was I lacked connection with everyone else, so I tried maintaining a girlfriend and squabbled; she had no idea about truth. Mutual fascination loosened social protocol between us and at first I saw she was truly lonely, but our ample time together revealed she was not truly lonely like me. Her loneliness and logic created unorthodoxies divorcing her from real truth; that contradiction ended us. How could truth coincide with lies? Who cares what happens so long as I think of you?

There was a time when I thought I knew truth, and today I know an even deeper truth. Trying to save everybody with rational disclosure of what life is, is a losing battle; I cannot save anybody. And my loneliness is only a symptom of this dreadful biology demanding I procreate or do something to ensure everybody’s memory of me lives on. What you call loneliness is simple and does not affect me.

I eventually found the realest truth, something horrifying but emancipating. The only truth is what I write here, is in my own actions; somebodies dedicate this truth to money and power, some to discipline or chastity, and others to art. But I know the realest truth; only somebody’s concrete actions and thoughts cut the shroud of dark cloth obscuring our vision since birth. I chose my concrete action to be writing you this letter, and there is no higher truth than that. I transcribe it to you, somebody, from this black notebook, the same fine, black leather notebook that man in the suit had—I admired it so much that I became sufficiently suspicious of a necessity to buy it for myself.

And now, all my truths are in this black notebook, no longer sinking to scummy pond bottoms or circulating to nobody’s response. Now my truth is all mine, all here in this notebook. And this may be the last you hear from me, because my truth is not for everybody.


Mental Sweat

I travel the world and learn, I watch things and make notes. Tune in for content.

Read next: Don't Feel Sorry for Me

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