Now and then I think of an aphorism that’s so self evident that surely some guru must have said it by now. Perhaps someone did before 1990, but Google finds nothing for “cynicism is consent.”
So I’ll say it. Cynicism is consent.
Currently I’m having a small, polite dust-up with the Cincinnati Enquirer about a false headline on a story. When I tweeted about it, I got this tweet from a leading urbanist thinker whom I very much admire:
“You expect a headline writer to understand subtlety? Hah!”
To which my response is: Not unless I force them to.
I cannot begin to describe how much better public transit would be if people who feel cynical about it would complain constructively instead of languishing in the dead-end expressed by that tweet. And yes, you have to do it over and over. Patiently.
As a consultant with 20 years under my belt in this business, I have seen enough of “what really goes on behind closed doors” that if I wanted to express cynicism, I’d be way more qualified than most folks to back it up. But you’ll notice I don’t.
As with many issues, public transit in America is neglected because of apathy, not opposition. The opponents are not the problem. The apathy of supporters is. And cynicism is a big part of that apathy.
Cynicism often dresses itself up as wisdom and worldliness. Often it sounds like the voice of older folks warning young ones against idealism.
But in the end, the cynic who presumes the worst is as useless as the pollyanna who presumes the best. Because to assume either of those things means that there’s nothing for you to do, which means you are consenting.