Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A Cynical Argument for the Liberal Arts, Part Two

For anyone following along from Part One, here are the quiz answers: CcCCCcCc. The twitter example is a good one to use for illustration. A teenager, who upon the most cursory inspection, is no threat to any airline, makes a joke in poor taste about 'doing something big', and addresses it to American Airlines. She is arrested. Other teens follow suit. I don't know what happened to all of them.

In order to do Cynical analysis, we have to ask what is the 'realm' and its 'coin' that is being debased. Here, the realm must include the principles: government (US, EU), ordinary people, the airline, twitter, and terrorists. The 'coin' is the signaling power that twitter has to make terrorist threats. The teen debased that coin by making it worth less as a terrorist-signalling device. As a Cynical critique by the teen, this is very successful because it functionally points out the absurdity of using twitter as a means of getting warnings from terrorists. Why wouldn't the terrorists just flood twitter with constant threats and so overwhelm the system that law enforcement don't have time to set up speed traps? There's even an obvious solution: set up a terrorist-registration site, where anyone who wants to make an actual threat must first supply a major credit card, resume of bad behavior, and so on. Only one this registration is finished, will threats be considered real. This barrier would keep the kids out, and any terrorist bent on making a threat would probably welcome this system so he wouldn't be mistaken for a teenager making a joke. Everybody wins.

Cynicism is an epistemological solvent. In its extreme form, it's like aqua regia, disolving truth-carrying signals. It happens all the time, usually out of self-interest, as counterfeiting is. An example is the ongoing erosion of the literal meaning of "literal", which is more and more misused, so that it will eventually end up with very (verily=true) and really (real) as debased signals of real in contrast to rhetorical. I have elsewhere used real-real as a new substitute, which has the advantage of being able to add more 'reals' as needed.

The original Cynics assaulted the social signals that allow polite discourse, but not to their own benefit. Contrast this to Cynical investment bankers intentionally creating bad investments to sell and bet against. The difference is an internal critique that is parallel to the external one. The quotes are from The Cynic Enlightenment (CE)

External (social) critique:
[U]pon hearing Plato define man as "a featherless biped," Diogenes grabbed a chicken, plucked it, threw it in the circle that had formed around Plato, and declared, "Here is your man, Plato" (CE pg 10)
Diogenes doesn't simply describe the absurdity it of the definition (which would be a little-c cynical act), he goes the extra mile to demonstrate, actually debasing the coin (Plato's way of knowing). Note the cleverness of the Cynic in 'hacking' the definition of the signal. There is an element of cheating to it, which is a signature of Cynical acts.

Internal critique:
A constant presence in the marketplace of Athens, like Socrates [Diogenes] played the role of social gadfly, rebuking citizens for their follies. But he did so in a more outrageous manner than his famous contemporary. He could be seen masturbating in public places (when rebuked he signed, "[Ah if only] it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly!") [...] (CE pg 9)
This is an incisive attack on inner signals. Diogenes is saying that if we could manipulate our desires and emotions with the same vigor as we can social signals, they too would be debased. In fact, by living simply, the Cynics demonstrated this.

Higher education is ascribed external (social) and internal (self-knowledge) goals. Yesterday, had this to say about a Gallup report in "Gauging Graduates' Well-Being":
A new survey of 30,000 college graduates gives higher education leaders a chance to make their case that college isn’t all about jobs and income. 
The evidence from the largest survey of its kind is, however, mixed about whether colleges are doing enough to help students’ well-being in life, according a new measurement designed by Gallup and Purdue University.
Next time we make introductions all around. Higher ed, meet Diogenes; Diogenes, please...stop whatever you are doing in the corner.

Next: [Part Three]

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