If I had to categorize all the reasons why people do not act on the facts they know, live a sustainable or eco-positive lifestyle, cynicism is definitely the biggest reason. There are many things I say about cynicism, but there is one feeling predominant. Cynicism is easy, it’s a reason to be lazy. But that does not make it morally right. Today I’ll tell you why I think cynicism is easy, but wrong.
Here’s a how a typical conversation about most of my behaviour goes. The subject can be about many things: not flying, being vegan, boycotting fast fashion, not owning a car, buying organic food, buying second-hand, etc. Anything that is not the norm. People find out that I do not behave like most people and they realize that they do. It’s always the same, they say: ‘I respect you for doing that, but it won’t make a difference. The world is a mess and it will never get better’. It’s a dead end in a conversation, because I immediately know that someone who says these things is unwilling to change themselves, they’re lazy.
Since there are about 7,7 billion people on this planet right now, the individual talking to me thinks that therefore one person does not make a difference. Firstly, this is not true, since your behaviour has direct consequences on others. Since I have gone vegan a lot of people around me have moved towards veganism too. And choosing to stop eating animals, will save lives, literally. The average person eats 552 animals in their lifetime! But also, the argument that one person does not make a difference is just a very easy argument. It’s a reason for these people to continue business as usual, because they’re cynical. If it does not matter and all people on this planet are evil and do not want to change, why should I then change? It’s an image of humanity I do not support. I believe almost all humans are inherently good.
Image of Humanity
If someone’s cynical, they think all people on this planet are evil and do not want to make the world a better place. However, if you ask them about their self, they will say they are good people and try to do the right thing. That’s very contradicting. If everyone thinks like that, everybody believes that they are a good person their self, but everyone else is evil. It’s contradictory. Everybody is alike and wants to do good.
So, cynicism is wrong in that way. Other people are just like you, we all want a better world. But there’s another part in cynicism. It’s the fact that these people divert the responsibility to everybody else. I’ve heard cynical people say: ‘The government has to prohibit the sale of meat, then I will stop eating meat’. The absurdity there is unbelievable. So, you have morals, but you’re expecting someone else to do the work for you. As I said, it’s easy and lazy. It’s a way to avoid responsibility, there’s always another party that has to make the change. But if you can make a change, which most people in the Netherlands can, because they’re privileged, you have the responsibility to do so.
What they’re saying is: if people around me don’t change, then I won’t either. But that means that the world will always stay the same. Luckily, there are individuals who are not cynical and have ideals. They are the people changing the world, because they are the pioneers who then make ideals mainstream. I believe the vegans, the people buying ethical fashion, people supporting organic food cooperatives, etc. are the people changing the world today.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.Margaret Mead
Okay, so cynicism is easy and lazy. And even though I sort of understand that you feel like you alone cannot make a difference (which as I said, is literally not true), I still do not understand how people can choose to not act on their morals. You’re betraying yourself and that’s something I will never understand. If you believe we humans should not kill, then why do you eat animals? When you believe slavery is wrong, why then do you buy fast fashion? If you believe climate change is a problem, why do you have a bank account at ING? Once you have the information, why will you not act on it but divert to cynicism instead. It’s easy, but wrong.
And besides that you’re betraying yourself and your morals, you can’t justify it to anyone else either. The fact that most people in the Netherlands today eat meat, does not make it moral. The fact that most people in the Netherlands buy fast fashion, does not make it moral. We have to think for ourselves and make our own choices. And of course, blind spots are okay. I mean, I probably do things too that are not moral, but I just don’t know (yet). But once I do know, it’s immoral too not act on it. And most people know that eating meat or buying fast fashion is horrible. So yes, cynicism is easy, but wrong.
*There may be other reasons for people not to act on the things they know, for example when someone does not have the resources. That is not what I am talking about today. Besides the fact that in the Netherlands this is almost never the case (6,8% of all people live below the minimal living income, so that argument does not go for most people) and most sustainable behaviour is cheaper on the long term. Today I am talking about cynicism as the reason to not act, and that alone is wrong.