18/01/2017 11:18 GMT | Updated 17/01/2018 05:12 GMT

Empathy For The Devil - How To Survive Cynicism In 2017

Forget the Euro, dollar, pound or even the Smackeroony - cynicism is the new currency being traded across the world.

And cousin, business is a-booming.

If society is a stick of rock then the word cynicism is written through it on every strata - from kids on YouTube to flat-capped fogeys ranting about Islams at the bus stop.

Somewhere along the line we decided we'd had enough.

Maybe we got lied to so often we decided everything was lies, maybe listening to vacuous celebrities turned us deaf, maybe we simply lost the courage of our convictions.

Or maybe we just saw Del-Boy falling through that bar one too many times.

Whatever happened, cynicism went viral and then went to the DNA of what makes us human - shutting us off from empathy and removing the drive to do, to change, to evolve.

Cynicism breeds a bitter contentment with our lot - everything is rubbish so why bother trying?

It's not a case of right and left anymore - or even right and wrong. Labels and insults have taken over from engaged thinking - Brexiteer or Remoaner, racist or cuck, cowards, chancers, liars and losers - there's a brand for everyone.

And meanwhile, money remains in charge - power remains in charge.

It's up to us to change that - and it starts local. With us. Individually - making a choice. A choice to hear without sneering, comment without trolling.

Artwork by Colin Muir

To echo the sentiments of the late, great Joe Strummer - cynicism isn't getting us anywhere.

Greed isn't getting us anywhere.

Fair enough, the usual fate for anyone who tries to suggest that there is another way tends to be ridicule, a torpedo up the wazzoo or being mounted on planks of wood, but you've got to start somewhere.

So maybe tonight you don't get involved in a row over whether Rogue One is a Clinton-inspired attack on Christian values or how the Earth is flat and the Jews are to blame.

I'm no better - I know I spend far too much time being wound up by social media humblebrags before doing precisely the same. We need to be seen doing things now instead of just doing them - harvesting likes and serving up memes is more important than substance.

I'm not vowing that I'm going to start volunteering at foodbanks or delivering lukewarm meals to befuddled pensioners - I'm just admitting that my cynicism isn't the armour I thought it was.

It's a straitjacket.

And social media is the padlock.

George Orwell wouldn't have laughed at social media - he would have wept. It's far more invasive, insidious and bleak than anything he could have dreamt of.

Group think is in charge - you are free to agree, but not to dissent. And even if you do, the dissent itself is useless - a snowflake in a blizzard - and is itself part of the machine, an agenda which began as soon as the first man cast a shadow.

Control. Power. Dominion.

Even this column is part of the sideshow keeping us busy while jackal-faced suits dismantle communities brick by brick, pound by pound.

So what do we do? What can we do?

It's a choice - choose to care.

About what? Anything you like - rescue a dog, hatch a human, write a book, run for council - care, share, create, connect, organise, act.

In the end we're all just filling up our lives - cramming in things and sensory flares while the sand leaks out of the hourglass and Pratchett's Death prepares to pay us a visit.

Yes, nothing matters in the end - we're all just bags of atoms and hopes and fears being recycled through the eons - but that doesn't mean that we give up.

Why would we? Where's the fun in that?

Healthy cynicism can be productive - questioning those in positions of authority, their words and their actions is essential - but this empty cynicism that is running rife now is destructive and leads only to the abyss.

I read an article recently about a new growth industry in Japan - Handsome Weeping Boys.

It does what it says on the tin really - firms hire out weird-looking chaps to go round offices and make people cry.  I don't mean they turn up dressed as Jammy Savile and sing Justin Bieber songs till people crack - they are more like empathy generators.

Their job is to get people back in touch with their emotions - showing them videos of pets dying, playing soppy music, crying on cue.

It sounds crass, tacky and as subtle as a girder to the temple, but if that's what it takes then I'm up for it.

Tomorrow I'm starting my own firm - Gurning Scottish W*nkers. Again, fairly self-explanatory.

I'm going to travel round offices, village halls, schools and workplaces reading out my columns and chuntering profundities like a self-anointed prophet of the new age.

It's going to be ghastly, but it beats sitting in my own filth while watching 28-year-old footage of a trench-coated man plunging through a bar to the sound of empty laughter.

Song of the blog: Billy Bragg - Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards


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