Two Flavors of Cynics

There are two definitions of the word “cynic“.  There is the modern definition, which says a cynic is someone who believes people are motivated by selfishness, and tends to assign impure motives to everyone.  And then there is the classic Greek definition that a cynic is someone who rejects all else in the pursuit of virtue.

It’s ironic that the latter definition means “idealist”, which is the opposite meaning of the former definition.  Language is funny.

But I was thinking that some cynics–in the modern sense–are really disillusioned idealists.  I have a friend who is like this.  This person is someone who  wants people and institutions to live up to ideals, but is too smart to willfully be blind to the fact that they don’t.  So, they are cynical about them because they are so disappointed they are not trying to reach the ideal.

Not all “modern” cynics are like this. Some of them never even consider the possibility of things living up to the ideal–they just expect everything to be motivated by self-interest.  To these cynics, the concept of an ideal is absurd–there are no ideals; just fables people make up to sugarcoat their true motives.

These are two different personality types; even though both could be considered “cynics”.  I am not claiming credit for realizing this–it’s probably something I heard somewhere a long time ago and can’t recall the source. But it occurred to me the other day while thinking about my friend, and it seemed the kind if thing we could have an interesting blog discussion about.  So, I ask you readers: does this seem like an accurate description of people you know?

What's your stake in this, cowboy?