Many people hold a cynical attitude about Cynicism. They hold that it’s nothing other than an unwarranted, exaggerated, mostly negative attitude, non-constructive way to live, feel and think.
And, as Scientia Salon puts it “if they think they’re talking about Cynicism the philosophy, with a capital C, they’re dead wrong“.
I propose to go much further than simply rehashing cynicism.
Cynics, kynikos, means “dog-like”. The main idea was for humans to live according to nature… And thus reject the “nomos” (the way things are managed), when it does not fit nature. In extreme form, it meant living like dogs (that Diogenes embraced, and so did the enemies of cynicism).
The question arises: what is it, to live according to nature? Rousseau thought it was to live like angels. Sade replied that Rousseau had no idea what he was talking about. Voltaire (a friend of Sade) told Rousseau that “jamais autant d’intelligence” had been deployed to make us all stupid, and he felt like “marcher a quatre pattes” after reading his book.
French sailors, fresh from believing Rousseau, discovered Tasmania. The French has dressed au naturel, as they expected that the Natives, being the most primitives on Earth, would be happy and welcoming. Instead, the Tasmanian tried to kill the French in a massive premeditated ambush, and the sailors came back to France, announcing Rousseau had been found incorrect.
So is the nature of man that of a dog, or wolf? Is the famous Roman “Homo Homini Lupus”, true?
Well Ancient Greeks knew dogs, but not baboons. Baboons technical name is “cynocephali” (dog-heads). In more ways than simple appearances, they are half-way between dog and men. As I grew up in Africa, I observed baboons in the wild, or captivity. I was struck by their humaneness.
Recently the great apes were re-labelled as “Hominidae”, to remind us of their humaneness. However, in one important way, baboons are closer to man than to any other species. Both man and baboons have evolved to make a living in the savannah, instead of among the trees. This brought to bear on the species the same evolutionary pressures, hence the same solutions. Particularly in the realms of defense, attack, group-think (and specifically what I call intellectual fascism).
To do so, to live in the savannah, where they go drink everyday, in a killing gallery, baboons had to evolve not just an omnivorous way of life, but super-predatory ways, all the way to the fascist, military instinct some insist could NOT possibly be human. As they move about, baboons form well organized armies, and the fierce military spirit to go with them. The larger, the noisier, the more horrific the army, led by seemingly crazed leaders, mad with uncontrollable hatred and rage, the better, to put all predators to flight.
Back in Africa, it seemed to me that no philosophy that did not understand baboons could pretend to understand man. Thus a philosophy of origins had to encompass baboons. Conversely, baboons are easier to understand than people: people hide behind complicated cultures and their various make-belief “creators”, whereas baboons do not have this sort of arrogance.
The zoologist Buffon pontificated that baboons were “too obscene to describe”. Baboons were an experimental model contradicting Rousseau. A progress from the Greeks, I would respectfully suggest, would be to graduate from dog to baboon, as a philosophical paradigm, a simpler model of Homo Sapiens.
Once one has understood that people are super-baboons, one has made a gigantic step forward in the true nature of humanity, and its “nomos”. As we bring the greatest crisis in 65 million years, it’s high time.