We have become a nation of cynics with constant tweets about "fake news," near universal disbelief of political and corporate leaders, and growing distrust of institutions, governmental, religious, educational, business, press. This distrust and disbelief is destroying our union as a people and our souls as persons. And cynicism is breeding despair and disengagement.
We need a revival of hope, a sense that we are all in this together, a remembrance of the teachings of great souls and the purpose of institutions established through great courage. We need to make a case against cynicism, not for it.
But the cynicism for which I want to make a case is the way of ancient philosophers who were attacked as "cynics" or dogs by the uneducated. A title Cynics accepted as "watchdogs" and "hounds" of truth.
Cynicism in Ancient Greece and Rome was founded by students of Socrates, became prevalent in the age of uncertainty between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and influenced Stoicism and Christianity as ways of life in distinction from those who curried wealth, power, and fame. It taught a way of happiness or human flourishing though reason attuned to nature, through indifference (adiaphora) to riches and authority, love of humanity especially those left out, free speech to power (parhesia), countercultural living or shamelessness (anaideia), and training exercises of body and soul.
Some scholars, historians and archeologists, demonstrate the link between the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and those of the Cynics--especially his having no place to lay his head, his traveling with only a knapsack on his back, his communion with nature, his relationship with the poor and the socially discarded. (See John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus and Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography.)
"None of this meant that a Cynic would retreat from society. Cynics were in fact to live in the full glare of the public's gaze and be quite indifferent in the face of any insults which might result from their unconventional behaviour. The Cynics are said to have invented the idea of cosmopolitanism: when he was asked where he came from, [the Cynic] Diogenes replied that he was "a citizen of the world, (kosmopolitês)."