Of what relevance today is the Cynic legacy of Socrates, or that of Jesus

The cynic legacy attributed to Socrates or even to Jesus has contemporary relevance by operating as signals or reminders of dire yet overlooked problems in society but criticisms not grounded on sound solutions become mere useless ranting. The cynic movement went through periods of decline and revival that evolved the idea of cynical philosophy. This may have a different conceptualization at present but the relevance of cynic legacy remains. The cynic legacy should be rediscovered in the modern context to reinforce its modern day relevance. Cynic Legacy

The development of the cynic movement has been attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Anthistenes, who was a student of Socrates (Eddy, 1996). The movement emerged because of its distinction from contemplative philosophy as primarily driven by both rhetoric and physical action instead of isolation and reflection (Kennedy, 1999). Although, there is no consensus over an encompassing description of the movement, there are four common aspects of the movement. The first and second are criticism as the primary expression or tool of cynic philosophers and delivery of criticism using rhetorical techniques delivered to the public as audience (Kennedy, 1999). The third and fourth are deviation from convention to make a statement and divergence from materialism (Eddy, 1996). Typical cynics were shabby or unkempt with longish hair, untrimmed beard, money pouch for begging, and a staff. They are often seen in public places addressing people with their loud and strong speeches.

Cynicism has been used to describe Jesus in efforts to capture him in history. The physical appearance of the typical Greek cynic and the pictures of Jesus in literature attest to similarities. Jesus exposure to the culture of Lower Galilee, described as Hellenistic (Eddy, 1996), was attributed to the adoption of Jesus of the cynic philosophy. The lifestyle and activities of Jesus also led to his classification as a cynic. Jesus was a wanderer and encouraged movement from one place to another to learn and share ideas. The teachings of Jesus were socially relevant. He advocated a life of simplicity and was critical of the materialism during his time. Jesus was often seen in highly populated places addressing the public with his critical speeches. There was also strong opposition to the consideration of Jesus as a cynic. However, evidence that Jesus is not a cynic is also disputable. As such, Jesus can be considered a cynic, albeit his cynical practice may have differences in form when compared to Socratic cynicism. It is the similarities in ideas that hold modern day relevance.

Contemporary Relevance of the Cynic Legacy
A legacy of the Socratic cynicism or that of Jesus cynicism is the philosophy of action (Kennedy, 1999) and change. The contemporary society can be described as wallowing in a culture of complacence to its detriment. An example is the financial crisis that turned into a recession. The majority opinion is that relaxed regulation of the subprime market allowed excessive engagement of firms into risky investments or activities that actualized the risk. The attitude favoring high returns in a short time at high risks by investors, business firms and households also reinforced risky practices by financial and banking firms. The cynic legacy of doing instead of just thinking is an alternative to complacence. An attitude of action aligned with the cynic legacy can lead to careful investments in promising ventures such as green technology or in firms with strong drive to making life better. This can also find expression in lobbying andor protesting for Congress to reform laws to provide sufficient regulation. The aggregate of advocacies in action creates change, which if driven by the problem-solving approach can mean positive change. People take notice of the need for change and their role in change if the message in expressed in an unconventional manner such as protests and marches expressed in various media. There are many creative ways of protesting including the nudity and being caged by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other similarly outrageous but attention-grabbing activities. These are extreme modes of getting through to a complacent public.

Another cynic legacy is advocacy of social issues (Eddy, 1996 Kennedy, 1999). Advocacy is having a deep understanding of an issue and strong concern over an issue to drive solution-driven action. Advocacy in the context of social movements presupposes that the issue is of significant social concern. The perspective is oriented towards other people or society in general. In ancient Greece, the strongest concern was the control of the aristocrats over politics and resources making governance susceptible to corruption. During the time of Jesus, one issue was the abuse of the Pharisees in exacting offerings and the government in collecting taxes. Now, similar issues remain but operate in the context of complex contemporary situations. Taxation is an issue of accountability, especially with a statewide and federal deficit, which is attributable in part to spending on the offensive war on terrorism. A barrage of other social issues that require public awareness to translate into action is covered by cynic philosophy. Again, the publics attention is better drawn via extreme or radical modes of expression.

Still another cynic legacy is representation of marginal groups (Kennedy, 1999). The purpose of cynic philosophers in making a public spectacle is not only to catch the attention of the majority but also to express the interests of the minority. In ancient Greece, cynics lambasted the aristocracy for being a majority in wealth at the expenses of the peasants and workers. Jesus openly spoke against the discrimination of women and people with disability. Now, minority is multidimensional encompassing gender, race, and age. Health care is a social issue for marginal groups, especially immigrants, with the expected health care reforms. The Obama administration received a barrage of criticism via the media from commentators coming from various fields. While the republicans may have taken advantage of the issue, criticisms of the health care reform served as pressure to ensure that interests of minority groups are also addressed.

Modern Cynic Philosophy
The contemporary understanding of cynic philosophy has deviated from the cynic legacy of the Greeks and that of Jesus. Cynicism now is considered as mere tirades for personal interest and complaining without providing solutions or complaining but without participating in efforts to find solutions (Mazella, 2007). This is not necessarily without basis. People have grown tired of the usual mode of protest or marches that turn out to be politicized. The public has also developed immunity to media criticisms based on concerns for ratings. Now, the cynic philosophy has evolved into a destructive and non-progressive movement that may have done more harm than good. Displeasure over cynic tirades may even be one reason for complacency. While modern day cynic philosophy may have become more or less useless, the cynic legacy of Socrates and his students and from Jesus still offers some good.  

The cynic legacy, which refers to the Socratic philosophy or that attributed to Jesus, has relevance in the modern period by calling for action and change, advocating social issues, and representing marginal groups. While the cynic legacy has received its share of criticisms then and now, its core ideas remain important even today. It has evolved today to become more of a bane than a boon. However if cynic philosophy were to regain its relevance, this should be rediscovered in the present context. Outrageous speeches and shabbiness were used to achieve the purposes of cynic philosophy in the ancient period. Now, outrageous can be more creative or innovative to achieve the same goals of building awareness to find solutions.


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