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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/89

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CYNICISM OPPOSED TO PROGRESS.

ideas of the cynic are like blasts of cold air, out of which people are glad to escape with the utmost promptness. Cynicism does not represent as much intelligence as the constructive tendency, because cynical ideas are allied to feeling and held without reference to any wide generalization of facts. Events take place or combine in a purely intellectual way, or in accordance with laws of necessity and causation. But in opposition to this principle we often find the vague expectation that events can be modified by emotional action, or feeling, or by theories not adapted to experience. The seeming obduracy of inanimate objects, when we try to disentangle their complications by means of anger, shows that emotional action may be quite absurd when applied to affairs of the intellect. A like suggestion of mania is observable in the cynicism which sees in human nature only different grades of rascality. It is a subjective conclusion deduced from exceptional instances.

In addition to the want of effect due to emotional conclusions reached regardless of objective causes, we find further source of error in the very common cynical belief that there is ultimate strength in deception. Bonaparte claimed that much of his success resulted from his ingenious lying, but his power really lay in his reasoning, his knowledge of human nature, his wonderful constructive force, and his grasp of details. These qualities are intellectual, powerful, positive. The success of his lying depended upon intellectual weakness or deficient knowledge in others, and not upon superior power exerted in spite of their relative intelligence. Strategy, like stimulants in sickness, may bridge over a chasm, but, when subjected to the test of time or innumerable repetitions, it is inevitably exposed by unexpected and incalculable events. In fact, deceptive action often has an air of absurdity, humorous as well as geometrical, as seen in Dickens's judge, who, at the Bardell trial, tried to conceal the fact that he had been aroused from sleep—when Buzfuz ceased speaking for a moment—by apparently writing with a dry pen, and then looking as if he thought most profoundly with his eyes shut.

Spinoza was right in his conclusion that destruction and violence are negative. The highest form of conceivable existence, the most real, must be in accordance with principles of reason and harmony. This implies the elimination of discord or destruction, which in its effects upon our consciousness is always negative—that is, tends toward indefiniteness and a vanishing-point. Consciousness is reduced almost to zero during intense pain, because there is simply one sensation, and no sustained or connected line of thought including many ideas.

Reasonable mental actions are usually present, but if we select negative mental actions—hate, fear, envy, anger—we are at once conscious of their exceptional nature as compared with the total amount of time consumed by more rational forms of thought. It is observ-