Cynicism and skepticism in the run-up to global conflict

  • Jim Slusher

    Jim Slusher

Posted2/24/2022 1:00 AM

We talk often around the Daily Herald about the importance of distinguishing between cynicism and skepticism. The distinction seems especially timely in these dangerous days on the apparent brink of global conflict over Ukraine.

And it occurs to me that the two concepts are also relevant to another word responsible journalists consider critical -- trust.


To the cynic, trust is a personal concept, applicable only when a statement or action concurs with -- or can be bent to satisfy -- the person's own beliefs and values.

To the skeptic, it's an attainable consideration, perhaps best understood in Ronald Reagan's famous call to "trust but verify," that requires examination with the potential to conflict with one's own beliefs and values.

A cynic assumes knowledge of an adversary's psychology and motives in justifying an opinion.

A skeptic takes an adversary's possible psychology and motives into account on the way to forming an opinion.

A cynic has no doubt about being right.

A skeptic has no fear of being wrong.

It is very easy to be a cynic. It takes more work and thought to be a skeptic.

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The difference gnaws at our democracy constantly. It is especially threatening, though, now, at a time when the consequences aren't just uncomfortable holiday meals but the potential for social and economic upheaval worldwide.

Keep that in mind as you follow the news.

We are navigating a time when it is especially critical to seek truth, not the victory of a political agenda.

Elsewhere today, our guest contributor Keith Peterson describes the challenges of "pouring the truth" through holes in the "Great Fire Wall" Russian President Vladimir Putin strives to build up around his narrative of political events. It's important to recognize that political forces in our own country and elsewhere in the West can be equally averse to the penetration of ideas contrary to or incompatible with their own.

One hopes that when peace and prosperity are at stake, our leaders would rise above personal ambitions, pride or the simple lure of cynicism about others so they can work cooperatively to find solutions to problems

They don't always. Sometimes they actively strive for the opposite.

This, of course, is no time for that kind of thinking or action. So it falls to a disciplined populace to hold them accountable.


This applies to news sources as well. The Daily Herald, and all responsible news outlets, can contribute to the discipline of critical examination, but of course none of us has a singular and infallible hold on truth.

The best we can strive for is to be critical and not cynical thinkers ourselves and to open as many holes for truth to pour into as possible.

We count on you to do the rest -- hopefully as critical skeptics and not self-satisfied cynics.

• Jim Slusher,, is deputy managing editor for opinion at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.

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