Researching Cynicism

Thursday, 9-October-2008

A research project at the London School of Economics (LSE) has measured Britain’s cynicism level (it’s high) and intoned that cynicism may be bad for democracy. (Observer, September 14, 2008) The study makes a distinction between cynicism and distrust. People who think politicians are merely liars will distrust them but will probably continue to vote. The truly cynical don’t vote. They may boycott products or join pressure groups (this is bad for democracy?), or they may resort to direct action or violence (which are apparently similar enough to group together).

My own miniscule and unscientific personal survey of U.S. public opinion reports a similarly high level of cynicism. But that’s what happens to people when they’re systematically lied to, messed with, discounted, and ignored until it’s election season, at which point they’re lied to, messed with, discounted, and bombarded with personalities and distortions and phony issues.

Cynical doesn’t begin to cover it.

Help is at hand, though. The LSE project is developing a cynicism index, called the Cyndex, which will let politicians and assorted other communicators measure the impact they’re having on various subsets of society and use it to make themselves more believable. The project hopes to make the Cyndex available commercially.

It’s enough to make a person really cynical. Really, really cynical. 

– Ellen Hawley

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