What precisely is a cynic?

Have I ever mentioned that Jenny likes to keep me on my toes?  The truth is that we love to debate and have on many occasions taken positions opposite our own just to enjoy a vocal and intelligent deliberation.

So it was with some level of amusement when, after posting Inspirational in which I said "I'm the consummate cynic," Jenny sent me an email with a quote from Oscar Wilde.  Here's the text of the email.

"The definition of a cynic is one who knows the price of everything…and the value of nothing."
  – Oscar Wilde

If you've watched the Random Thoughts for any amount of time, you've undoubtedly noticed that I have quoted Mr. Wilde on multiple occasions.

This, however, will not be among those quotes.

For you see, this is not a quote of Oscar Wilde at all.  It is, on the other hand, a common incorrect paraphrasing of a line from Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde.  The rejoinder in the play is that a sentimentalist — not a cynic — places an absurd value on everything and knows the price of nothing.  In fact, here's the actual quote from Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan.

A sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn't know the market price of any single thing.

Obviously Mr. Wilde wasn't describing cynics — only sentimentalists.

But that doesn't address the larger question of what a cynic is and why I consider myself a cynic.

To be certain that I'm clear on why I call myself a cynic, perhaps the definition of the word will help.  Merriam-Webster defines the word cynic in the following way.

1 capitalized : an adherent of an ancient Greek school of philosophers who held the view that virtue is the only good and that its essence lies in self-control and independence

2 : a faultfinding captious critic; especially : one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest

Can you guess which of those definitions I am applying to myself?

You got it!  Definition number 2 — a faultfinding captious critic who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest.

I define myself that way because I believe that people are solely interested in personal gain, that ultimately, when you peer behind the action to understand the cause, you often find less than honorable intentions.

But I am referring to people as a whole (i.e., the herd mentality of humans) and not to individuals.  I do believe that an individual can have honorable intentions, and I believe that not all individuals are bad.  But I also believe that people as a whole are inherently unstable, self-centered and selfish, and motivated by the desire to get ahead by screwing others.

So when I say I am the consummate cynic, I mean I believe that people in bulk are usually up to no good.  And I'm usually right.

Hell, I know I'm usually up to no good…

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