David Landy’s class ended and the class broke into the usual spontaneous chatter. It’s like when the evening news ends and the lights dim in the studio, the camera zooms back from the news desk and the anchors jogs their papers and start silently talking to one another. It’s pretty much the same thing after class; except for the fact the chatter isn’t silent. I turned to Enis and asked something, but before he could answer Coralie’s voice booms across the room, “I’m not a cynic. Jason’s a cynic!” Huh! Me? A cynic?! Joining in the banter, without ever finding out why someone thought Coco was a cynic, I insisted that I wasn’t. “Actually I’m quite an optimist,” I protested.
It wasn’t until later in the evening, with this charge of cynicism still hanging over me, that I realised I was in fact a cynic. My problem earlier in the day was that I mistakenly thought ‘cynical’ was an antonym of ‘optimistic,’ when that’s not at all the case. I’m thinking now that Coco was right. I am a cynic, but this takes nothing from my optimism. The opposite of optimism is pessimism, and I am not a pessimist – however much the world gives us cause to abandon all hope. On the other side of cynicism are credulousness and gullibility; things I often am but desire not to be. In similar fashion I want to be a better cynic, questioning the drives of those actors whose actions affect my life and the lives of those I care about.
It’s impossible now to say at what point I finally succumbed to the grey dog, but I do know when it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t when I cast my vote in 1997 for New Labour and Tony Blair, and neither was it in November 2008 when I partied all night when Barak Obama was elected the first black president of the United States. On each of these auspicious occasions I was quite the fool, rapt in the messianic fraudulence of their times. Watching on as Tony Blair danced along with George W. Bush in the slaughter of Iraq, listening as he lied to our faces, didn’t quite cure me of my innocence. Neither, I must add, did Obama’s continuation of ‘black sites’ and the Guantanamo torture machine.
Somewhere between then and now, seeing governments and power for what they are, seeing also the filth of power and corruption pour out of the Church, I gave up on the whole idea of goodness in power. The rabbis said it (Pirkei Avot I think): “Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs.” I now no longer want to leave unquestioned the friendship and ambitions of the great and the good. Yet I have not given up on faith or politics because I am not a pessimist, not only because I think they deserve it, but because I believe in goodness and justice. I believe in these things as a matter of desperate necessity. The victims need them, and by Jove the victimisers deserve them.