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Cynic? I Prefer the Term World’s Most Jaded Optimist

by Fionna Farrell

Opinions Editor


Last year, The New York Times published an op-ed titled “Gen Z is Cynical. They’ve Earned it.” Whether from the NY Times or the NY Post, a two-sentencer can only bode the most Serious Business. I figured I could read about Tiger Woods later; it was time to vindicate myself from the tude-crimes of my generation. Whether or not they’re aching to admit it, this is much of what any twenty-one year old wants in life—to be accepted, understood, and diplomatically pitied by their elders. And for tummy to stop hurting.

Illustration by Maia Hadler, Art Director

Understandably, the article does not so gingerly dip its toes into the shallow end of America’s cesspool. No, like the older brother I never had, the Times has a way of throwing us right into the emotional deep end. You know the drill; there is no amuse-bouche in this endless-course meal of American suffering. Over the past three years, there has remained not a demographic left untouched by the devastating and dispiriting effects of the pandemic. And gun violence. And the precipitously-increasing cost of living. And many other things I’m missing and therefore don’t care about. If you wake up happy nowadays, it’s out of temerity or ignorance, or their cocktail that goes down like jager and mayonnaise.

For everyone, in a way, has had their lives stolen from them over the past few years. For Gen-Z, we just happened to miss the most important moments, like leaving prom at 10:48 p.m., before “Dreams and Nightmares” was even played. Fortunately for my date, I did get to go to prom. However, I did miss out on many of the triumphs and pitfalls of the latter-semester college freshman experience. I had not yet not had the impulse to check the weather at a party, but I had also not yet speckled a Barrows-dweller’s Fleet Foxes record with tequila barf. Even if that would have been for the best.

Because of the youth that has been snatched out from under us, It is no surprise that these years have left us, in particular, the most tattered husks of human beings. Not that it’s a competition (it is). In many ways, it has always been the young who are looked towards as a source of hope, often by those who are too weatherworn and/or lazy to give it to us. But, deep down, I don’t chagrin the old for letting the weight of the world fall on us during these dire times. I am a young adult in 2023—I am tired too. I would pass the torch—now more of a stick engulfed in flames—to the beta gen-Alphas without blinking an eye.

I am eternally grateful, though, that a lot of my generation does not seem to think like me. For, however much the adults hurl the c-word at us, and however many layers of despair, irony, and anti-post-comedy inscrutability our humor has become saturated in, Gen-Z has a way of being resilient that is beyond my waning belief in most things. I wake up every day and don’t understand how people my age are so hopeful. Then, I fall asleep and have a dream about all of my teeth falling out or being ripped apart by a seal before going to class.

Only tangentially along these lines, how can the adults, and the adulter-adults, call us cynics when BuzzFeed wrote an article called “Millennials Are Sharing Things They Actually Like About Gen-Zers”? Who is the real cynic in this picture? I’d say it should fall in the group whose every thought needs to be preceded by the word “actually”; while millennials are lost in the ambiguous murk between wanting to complain and self-actualize themselves through doggo memes, Gen-Z at least knows how terrible the world is. And we want to fix it, too. Not just because the Times writers and congresspeople pat our little altruistic, screen-inclined heads—because our lives and our futures depend on it.

Furthermore, maybe Times writers are too cocky to open up a dictionary or devote themselves entirely to Antisthenesian philosophy. Shame on them! The dictionaries that matter define “cynic” as someone who believes people are wholly motivated by self-interest. As divulged earlier, I may not be the sparkling image, or the loudest voice, of my generation, but I don’t believe this for a second. I don’t believe most of my reasonably-intelligent peers believe it, either. Tirelessly smacked-on with the labels “Misery Imbiber” and “Hope Inscriber,” it is not each other that Gen-Z finds themselves so disillusioned with. How would we ever find solidarity in common causes if this were the case? Rather, we are disillusioned with authority, with corporations, with entities that dare condescend to us while they piss all over our dreams, even if some of those had included adding “entrepreneur” to our instagram bios. It takes a lot of courage to be transparent in 2023, which few people seem to be—Gen-Z wades through the opacity of the modern world and of an uncertain future with a degree of brazenness that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, in even my harshest dinner-table disagreements or the tweets of right-wing pseudo-everythings.

We are too hopeful to be cynics, and not necessarily by choice. Cynicism isn’t what's keeping us alive—it’s the jaded sort of optimism that has seen our world, and still has the courage to hope for a better one. Would I be saying these eye-gougingly maudlin things if I were a real cynic? Am I only saying them in an ironic way? I’m not so sure. But I did take the time to write all this, so I think I believe at least part of it, beyond the parts that were about myself. I hope a cynic isn’t reading this. I hope you can go outside, and remember that life is a gift and you can’t return it. Even in this eternal soul-crushing shitshow, we all have to start somewhere, for each other and for ourselves.

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