February 7, 2021:

A teacher in middleschool labeled a story I wrote "cynical" because it categorized great power competition as essentially pointless.

My purpose was to suggest the world would be happier and better if the powers were to cooperate rather than engage in trivial games of one-up. Seemingly she read it differently.

Today I'm curious about the term "cynical". At the time I took it in its commonplace association with jaded. She saw the story as "cynical" because it represented the competition it described as socially unuseful, that is, without positive purpose apart from some sort of shallow national prestige, where the resources invested would have been better spent on, say, ameliorating poverty.

Now I encounter the term in a more specific philosophical sense, referencing the ancient Cynics, especially Diogenes of Sinope.

Diogenes performed socially transgressive actions and verbally challenged social convention because he saw convention as arbitrary. Not random, but without moral or logical coherence justifying its existence. Thus his reply when someone reproached him for the shocking social no-no of eating in the Agora: "But I was hungry in the Agora!"

My middleschool teacher was perhaps correct in a more philosophically literal way than she may have known. In that period when my identity was formed, I rebelled more and more openly against conventions which seemed to me to be arbitrary, or oppressive, or evil. My "cynical" story was an early expression of that evolution. Where at that time the main oppositional ideology available to American teenagers was the hippie/utopian idealism of "turn on, tune in, drop out".