Naive Cynicism, the Optimism of Youth and the Power of One


March 2, 2017 by John Crapper

Being surrounded, it seems, by so many naive people it’s easy to become cynical.  That is especially true when one ponders if and when we will ever do what is needed to effectively tackle the problem of climate change.

In the Manifesto of the Church of the Holy Shitters I talk about three main groups of opposition to taking action on climate change.  They are gatekeepers, silver-bullet types and cynics.


A gatekeeper’s purpose is always the same: to control information, block change and hold on to their power and vested interests. They act as status quo security guards, blocking outsiders from infiltrating their ranks or changing the system.
Their job is

a) telling you what to think,

b) telling you what to do and

c) telling you which choices you have.


Silver-Bullet Types

Silver-bullet technocratic scientific types are “we’ll solve climate change so “don’t worry about it” people. There is always a new innovation on the horizon promising inexhaustible cheap energy. There is no reason to worry. We are at the cusp of climate change’s resolution.


Cynics are expert pessimists. Their argument can be boiled down to one succinct sentence: Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.

They stand ready to give all kinds of reasons why it won’t work. They tell you everything they think is wrong with your ideas.

Well,  I just read an article appearing in Harper’s Magazine written by Rebecca Solnit entitled The Habits of Highly Cynical People.  In that article she stated the following:

We live in a time when the news media and other purveyors of conventional wisdom like to report on the future more than the past. They draw on polls and false analogies to announce what is going to happen next, and their frequent errors — about the unelectability of Barack Obama, say, or the inevitability of the Keystone XL pipeline — don’t seem to impede their habit of prophecy or our willingness to abide them. “We don’t actually know” is their least favorite thing to report.

Non-pundits, too, use bad data and worse analysis to pronounce with great certainty on future inevitabilities, present impossibilities, and past failures. The mind-set behind these statements is what I call naïve cynicism. It bleeds the sense of possibility and maybe the sense of responsibility out of people. (emphasis mine)

Her concept of naive cynicism gave me a new way to look at the cynics amongst us and personally gave me a healthier perspective as I get ready to do battle against the war posed by the Trump administration against our environment.

After reading the article I realized that spending time researching and writing about climate change and attempting to get people focused on the issue, just how easy it is for me to get discouraged, depressed and fall into the trap of naive cynicism.  It got me thinking about a couple of instances  in my past where, now that I have the clarity of hindsight, I feel I actually did make a difference.

The differences I made were not immediately realized nor were they exactly as I had envisioned or planned but upon reflection I feel they still made a significant impact just the same.   I’m going to take you back to my Vietnam War days.  That was another time when I was determined to get people focused on an issue. It was also a time when I had the optimism of youth.


After graduating from high school in 1969, while the draft was still in effect, I joined the Army.  Thirty days after graduation I was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky going through the rigors of basic training. Four months later, after a brief fourteen-day leave, my army boots were on the soil of Vietnam. There I was an all American, patriotic true believer.

Because I had enlisted for three years I was guaranteed the military occupational specialty (MOS) of my choice. Since I was only a high school graduate I had limited choices, so I chose clerk typist not wanting to be a Rambo-style war hero.  It was a good choice because it resulted in me never being in direct combat.

When I was close to the end of my twelve month stint, I applied for a six month extension of duty contingent on getting one of my preferred locations: Saigon, Vinh Long or Nah Trang.  I got Nha Trang, a coastal city in the central highlands and was assigned to a Military Assistance Command Vietnam Advisory Team.

Official MACV uniform patch.

My particular team had responsibility over all of the Central Highlands. The advisory function of the team was to spearhead, coordinate, and implement a program known as the Vietnamization Program or the American effort to turn combat operations over to the South Vietnamese Army allowing American troops to withdraw.  I worked in intelligence and had access to and intimate knowledge of this program as it pertained to essentially one-fourth of the country.

The Vietnamization Program never functioned as it was billed. Being there for such a long time, (27 months in all)  and being intimately in the “know” of how things were really progressing, I became disgruntled with the war effort, the hypocrisy of the “sales job back home”  and the business interests profiting from it day in and day out.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War uniform patch.

This compelled me to dive into the history of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia and gradually turned me against the war.   Ultimately, I joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) while still stationed in Nha Trang. ( As a funny quirky aside, there were so many soldiers joining VVAW that the Army was actually selling VVAW patches in the Post Exchange (PX) on Nha Trang Airbase.  Never pass up the chance to make a buck!)

On one of my 30-day leaves home,  I made contact with the writers of the Veterans Voice, the monthly publication put out by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.  I informed them of my position in MACV and said I would write to them about what was happening in my unit.   I gave them permission to print whatever I wrote.  The information I provided consisted of evidence of our team providing inflated South Vietnamese Army readiness numbers in order to show higher ups progress in connection with the Vietnamization program.

This resulted in an investigation into the activities of my MACV Advisory Team and threatened the career of the commender in charge.  When he found out he  knew who had caused the investigation.

That evening, in front of witnesses, he pointed a 45 pistol at me saying, “I know it was you and I’m going to kill you.”, then immediately stormed out of the bunker. He was later found by the First Sergeant, along with 3 other  non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) with his jeep filled with hookers stuck in the ocean with a cache of loaded weapons.  He was quietly shuttled off the next day for stated rest and recuperation (R&R) but the real reason was  for psychological evaluation.

Before his return, thanks to a First Sergeant that really liked me, I was transferred to work in the next higher command.

I’m convinced what I did helped expose the hypocrisy of the war and hastened its end.

Another time when I think I made a difference was shortly after being discharged from the Army.   Returning home for me was returning to live in Independence, Missouri.  Once back home I quickly joined the VVAW chapter based in Kansas City.

Shortly after joining, I was involved with planning a covert operation to take over the observation deck of Kansas City City Hall located directly across the street from the main police station.  Four of us, with equipment to secure the deck and food for three days succeeded in our mission.  Within minutes of our success a helicopter was circling our position with guns pointed at us and minutes later the story broke over the airwaves.  It hit the top of the news in K.C. and received substantial national coverage.

As a result, the city council agreed to give us a forum in their chambers to present our case against the war and further agreed to take a vote on whether to formally come out against the Vietnam War.   We agreed to the terms of the deal, a date was set for the forum and we vacated the observation deck.

At that forum I gave the keynote speech. Afterwards the city council voted as promised and the motion to put Kansas City on record opposing  the Vietnam War was voted down.  The event was covered live in Kansas City, was the front page story in the Kansas City Star and received mention in national news coverage.

Once again, looking back, I’m convinced my actions helped expose the hypocrisy of the war and hastened its end.

The Harpers article mentioned above is well worth the time to read.  The lengthy article concluded:

What is the alternative to naïve cynicism? An active response to what arises, a recognition that we often don’t know what is going to happen ahead of time, and an acceptance that whatever takes place will usually be a mixture of blessings and curses. Such an attitude is bolstered by historical memory, by accounts of indirect consequences, unanticipated cataclysms and victories, cumulative effects, and long timelines. Naïve cynicism loves itself more than the world; it defends itself in lieu of the world. I’m interested in the people who love the world more, and in what they have to tell us, which varies from day to day, subject to subject. Because what we do begins with what we believe we can do. It begins with being open to the possibilities and interested in the complexities.

Now that I’m in my mid-sixties I can’t lean on my “optimism of youth”  to keep my spirits lifted and my drive intact.  But thanks to this excellent article I now have the concept of naive cynicism to be aware of, watchful for and guarded against in my personal attitudes.

I’ll be damned if I’ll let naive cynicism bleed the sense of possibility and responsibility out of me.  I’ll continue to believe in the “power of one” and continue to give a shit. I’ll continue to believe that we can take the steps necessary to solve climate change because I know


How about you? 

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Our climate is changing. I'm humorously serious about addressing it. I'm convinced my ego is the main culprit. My religion, Holy Shitters, demands I humble myself and celebrate the fact my shit stinks.
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