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Davis, California

Monday, April 15, 2024

Cycles of cynicism

Over the past year of writing this column, I’ve had the opportunity to examine a wide variety of political and social injustices, as well as see the action or, in most cases, the lack of action that results. Seeing and experiencing all of these things has caused me to formulate a hypothesis describing this process, sort of a grand unifying political theory for the millennial generation, if you will. The theory itself revolves around a never-ending cycle of cynicism, and my aim in describing it here is to disenfranchise my readers to an extent that will make any and all political action seem as futile as it truly is.

The cycle of cynicism was set in motion long before anyone of our generation was even born. In my opinion, the cycle’s ambiguous, yet its defining origin can be placed somewhere between the beginning of Vietnam conflict of the late 1960s and the Watergate Scandal of the early 1970s. Both of these events served to shatter the American people’s faith in their government, and gave rise to an overall feeling of distrust and separation from our government and its institutions. American politics were no longer categorized by the idealism and cooperation present in the minds of our founding fathers, but rather by the perpetual conflict between “us,” the American people, and “them,” the political elite who are chosen to govern our great nation.

While neither of these events directly affected the individuals that make up our demographic, they established the political climate into which our generation was born. Our parents’ generation carried with them the political scars of Nixon and LBJ, and passed on their cynicism to their children. The cycle had begun.

As time passed, our cynicism and apathy caused us to take little interest in the politics of our time, and contributed to an overall feeling of helplessness and futility that has become synonymous with our method of political thought. In short, our generation feels as if politics are a distant and complex institution, in which the individual is completely incapable of achieving any kind of positive change. It is this type of thought that grants the cycle the potential energy it needs to maintain its perpetual motion. If politicians feel as if the general public has stopped paying attention, what stops them from making unethical or unpopular decisions in the future?

This very question sums up the idea of the cycle, illustrating its unstoppable and irreversible nature. If politicians are unchecked by the will of the American public, they will continue to make poor decisions and further alienate the citizens they have sworn to serve. This alienation only justifies the overall feeling of distrust already possessed by many Americans, and causes them to pay even less attention to the actions of their government.

This cycle of cynicism is not limited to American politics, but has infiltrated almost every governing institution we have come to encounter. For example, the UC Regents, who have been the unwilling target of a number of my columns, have alienated our student population to such an extent that we feel cooperation is no longer possible and therefore take little interest in the politics of the UC system. Our ASUCD senate is yet another example of officials who have betrayed our trust, and as a result been rewarded with a sense of apathy that ensures their actions will go unchecked.

The cycle is moving faster and stronger than ever before, and the ever-popular ideas of cynicism and apathy are slowly entering the hearts of our entire generation. At this time, you have probably come to expect some witty comment or redeeming statement about our political status, however I will afford you with neither. I too am a victim of the cycle, and fear that our generation’s cynicism has become too severe for even me to correct. This being my farewell column, you can be sure that my weekly ranting has come to a halt, but that the cycle will remain in motion.


JAMES NOONAN hates to be negative, and therefore will say nothing more. He can be reached at jjnoonan@ucdavis.edu


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