In any real crisis the great enemy is cynicism. (Drawing by Shawn Cheng from The Yale Herald.)
Cynicism assumes there are no answers. Cynicism assumes all sides are crooked, that everyone has evil motives.
I got a healthy dose of cynicism when, in anger over the latest Justice Department atrocity, I told ZDNet readers some harsh truths.
What in the world makes you think it would be any different with a Democrat? Other than it was different when Democrats last held power? Users paid for bandwidth, servers paid for bandwidth, and arguments over money just didn’t occur in the center — traffic simply moved. There are fools who wish to move back to the bad-old pre-Internet days, when pipe owners ruled and nothing moved. I can argue with fools.
But there is no argument with cynicism.
Cynics have appeared at every point of crisis, and their arguments
have always been wrong. It is only in gathering together belief in
something that any progress can occur, in any direction. Leadership is
little more than a willingness to battle cynicism, to offer an
alternative, and to inspire people to follow.
Cynicism can’t lead anywhere. It is surrender. Cultures which have given in to cynicism simply drift. Entropy wins.
But in a crisis, cynicism rises to enormous heights. Cynicism
provides a haven from the fight, between those you know are wrong and
those who want to fight back. Cynicism is the easy way out.
What is interesting, looking back at past American history, is how
the campaign before the great crisis is the period where new beliefs seem
most powerful. The Dean campaign was a lot more fun than this one. The Goldwater campaign was a lot more fun, even for
Republicans, than the Nixon effort which finally won. The Al Smith
campaign of 1928 was a lot more fun for Democrats than the Roosevelt
campaign which finally won. The great labor and farm struggles of the
early 1890s meant more to the people involved than the slow reform
efforts which followed. And the rise of the Republican Party in the
1850s was a time of hope, in stark contrast to the despair and death of
the war which followed.
That’s the way it always is. Belief, as in the Howard Dean campaign,
offers hope, offers simple choices, and draws everyone in. The harder
work of opposing the old way, once it is begun in earnest, is a slog by
The reason for that is simple. In the first case the enemy is clear.
In the second it’s muddled, because at the enemy’s side always stands
that larger guardian against action, the great evil, the real enemy in