Thursday, April 19, 2012

PR As Cynicism

     "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."
George Bernard Shaw. 
   My last post provoked some criticism again.
    An old friend --who once worked in PR -- but now works in business consulting - accused me of a.) cynicism b.)  “lack of professionalism”.  

    “Your lack of professionalism is appalling.  You make light of all the honest, hardworking folk who toil in the public relations industry and business consulting.  These are people who have spent years and a lot of money in universities and business schools learning how to do things right – then more years apprenticing, working long hours in various companies to acquire their skills.  But you reduce it all to smoke and mirrors. Your attempts at humor are merely cynical."
       Hmmmm....  If you don't want to enures my blather, you can just skip to the video at the end of this post which really answers all this.  Otherwise, read on.....

     Cynicism?    A word like "Freedom" -- which means so many things to so many different people. 
      Who were the original Cynics anyway? 

Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone, and that suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable and by the worthless customs and conventions which surrounded society.

      So…while we tend to use the word “cynic” for those who look for the worst in the best (or at least ordinary), the original Cynics looked beyond social facades, not to mention “worthless customs and conventions” to get at the truth of things.   One of the greatest of the Cynics was Diogene, surely the most famous homeless person of all time.  And the originator of Occupy Corinth.  (OK I made that up.)  We all know the story, as told by Plutarch.

Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to Alexander with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many persons coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, "Yes," said Diogenes, "stand a little out of my sun."[7] It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, "But truly, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes" 

     To reiterate Shaw. 
    "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."

     I am not saying that I am Diogenes.  For one thing I don't want to live in a box.  I am not even sure if I am "real" PR professional because they have to  look beyond – with a keen eye for the ironies of the human condition. My eyes are not all that good.   But a lot of people use the word "cynicism" to mean “shallow negativism” or perhaps “sarcasm” (when the joke is on them). Shallow I may be -- but rather positive actually.  And "sarcastic"?   I prefer "ironic". 
      Now my friend is a corporatist.  He doesn't think he is Alexander -- but he would like to be.  He adores Wall Street because it is full of  a corporate army of “hardworking, educated” people.   And he thinks the one percent earn their wealth and deserve privileges, when in fact many of them inherit their advantages and work no harder than anyone else.    My friend most certainly does not believe, as the original Cynics did, that world belongs equally to all.   Damn those Ancient Greek Commies.
     My friend seems to think that just going to school and toiling at your desk somehow confers moral stature as if a good citizen also had to be a good bureaucrat.  Doing what you’re told as virtue?  As in 1939 Germany, such people make the trains run on time.
    So what if corporate bureaucrats don’t look outside their cubicles? There is nothing to see but other cubicles anyway.   
    As I said before there are many meanings for this word cynicism.  I think that  hard work, education and experience should yield understanding and empower ethical behavior.   Ditto: psychology, social psychology and statistics and the like.

     Yes, for me, consumerism, marketing and advertising and PR are "smoke and mirrors" -- although not just that.   The magical part of PR is at least entertaining and requires some imagination.  The problem is when we are deceived by the show and think it's real.

       Such passivity is banal.  And , as Hannah Arendt says, banality is evil.    Worse, it is boring.
      And exploitable
…….  As the new TV series "House of Lies" tells us.
      There is also a fine line between cynicism and humor.