My dear fool: In the last several weeks, I
have found myself at a rather unsatisfactory junction. My career as
a member of the campus’ fourth estate is over, and less than
a month separates me from the great beyond. I am pensive about the
state of the world around me. Personal issues have been plaguing
me.

Janna Hutz

So, recently, I sought Christopher Hitchens’ advice to the
“young and restless” in his “Letters to a Young
Contrarian” — apparently a contemporary classic among
young progressives, free thinkers and fellow journalists. I thought
to myself: Surely the celebrated essayist would be equipped to
inspire me toward a more confident worldview.

I was acutely mistaken in my assumption. All that I could
observe in Hitchens’ prose were the cynical polemics of a
bitter man. As I read, I cheerlessly began to see a parallel
between Hitchens’ excessive skepticism and the ubiquitous
cynicism that has infected the rhetoric of budding campus
politicos. I pursued the edification of my idealism. I happened
upon the disillusioning principles of the worst type of person
— the cynic.

My critique of Hitchens stems not from his widely discussed
abandonment of the Left. It is not about his apparent adoption of
philosophies not congruent with mine; none of this concerns me. I
actually respect the haughty Brit’s style; the flair with
which he writes impresses me greatly. Yet, his journalistic
eloquence masks a cynicism that I find unpalatable. My reading of
the Hitch’s discourse on the pedagogy of the contrarian was
affected greatly by my four years living in an environment, sadly
marred by pretension.

As I grew increasingly aware of politics, I began to conjecture
about the paradoxical failures of progressiveness on a progressive
campus. And as naïveté gave way to prudence in my
associations with groups and movements, an answer began to
crystallize in my mind. It is difficult to say how long I have
considered cynicism to be the architect of division within our
community. But, my revelation was certainly vindicated upon my
acquisition of Hitchens’ book.

I believe that you, the cynic, are responsible for the collapse
of the progressive ideal of this community. I’ve observed how
you have tactlessly belittled your adversaries in public, pointing
only to their shortcomings as silly justification for debate. I see
your distrust for their motives, your contempt for those who waver
only slightly in their support for you. I see that you are both
sides of every spectrum. You are everywhere.

Cynicism á la Hitchens is a pungent dish. His trenchant
ad hominem attacks breed only discord, not progress. He does not
truly believe in the progressive individual — only the
malcontent. Must the contrarian model be the only solution to
social ill? Unfortunately, I know a great number of prominent
personalities who say yes. I have never been fond of name calling,
and will thus refrain from following that cheap route. But you know
who you are — you cynics who channel your passion solely
toward undermining the causes you simply don’t agree with. I
know your ways, and I must say that they disgust me. You are the
ones that perpetuate polarization between conservative and liberal.
You are the ones that make peaceable alliances impossible. Your
cynical exercises are far worse than plain ignorance, in my humble
opinion.

Some have told me that a certain degree of cynicism is
necessary. I tell them to stuff it. True
“open-mindedness” is lacking at the University. Cynics
foolishly equate this notion with intellect, judging fellow peers
with startling callousness. This misguided conviction inspires in
me a mixture of bemusement and outrage. Tell me, friend — why
is cynicism necessary?

I wonder what the future will hold for the University —
this bastion of so-called “progressiveness” among
institutions of higher learning. The difference between liberalism
and conservatism in our country is being rapidly eroded in
practice. However, members of each political sect are being driven
apart, due mainly to a sad shortage of respect for one another.
Through this, the problem leaks to virtually every other point of
controversy. We are considered to be among the nation’s
“elite” students, but I don’t feel very
elite.

My proposed solution to the problem is the removal of the cynics
from every seat of power. This is where my “fight” lies
— with you, the self-righteous cynic. You hide behind
façades of idealism, sophistication, worldliness. Yet, all
you are is a petty skeptic. I oppose you not on the grounds of your
political beliefs or your personal philosophies. My problem with
you is your attitude. Attitude and action are inherently linked. If
the former is tainted with negativity, the latter will duly reek of
it.

So, it appears that the “Art of Mentoring” moniker
of the series Hitchens’ book belongs to is quite the
misnomer. Under the guise of contrariety, Hitch preaches cynicism
— the only thing I am ardently skeptical of. Wilde once said
the cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the
value of nothing.” He was quite a wise fellow.

I entreat all detractors to offer me a legitimate
counterargument. Since I am convinced none exist, I will wager a
pint at your preferred bar. As I’m sure you will appreciate,
Mr. Hitchens, the offer is open to you, as well.

— Contrarily Yours, Neal George Pais,
“mailto:npais@umich.edu”>npais@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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