From the blog

Why People Become Cynics: I Want Buzzfeed to Like Me!

Nobody admits this was the reason they became cynical. But whether people admit it or not, it’s the driving force behind many cynics–peer pressure.

The pressure doesn’t have to come from friends or professors. It can also come from “the culture” at large. Everything from TV to Twitter to the Salon articles that cool girl in your psych class posted on Facebook.

It’s easy to see why peer pressure can turn people into cynics:

  • It’s pervasive. Peer pressure in the real world is no different from when you were twelve and that big kid at the playground is telling you to smoke a cigarette:

Everybody’s doing it!

All the other kids are against you. That must mean the playground has already had the argument on smoking, and your side lost. So come to the winning side!

The same thing happens with general culture. The impression from The New York Times, from Vox, from, well, pretty much everywhere is that everyone else thinks evangelicals are ridiculous. Everyone except you. So why not come to the winning side and jeer the evangelicals with the cool kids?

Everybody’s doing it…

  • The myth of inevitable progress. If the big kid at the playground has already talked your friends Billy, Johnny, and Frank into smoking, that shows his view is destined to win. As people see the wonders of cigarettes, they will inevitably gather into a tsunami of nicotine bliss.

Don’t miss the wave!

In daily life, that rhetoric is summed up in a single line: We now know…

The genius of the line is sneaking the conclusion into the premise. The beliefs that exist right now aren’t merely fad or fashion: they’re part of inevitable progress.  History is moving in a sweeping arch that we can see and predict. Don’t be on the wrong side of history like those stupid evangelicals! Make fun of them!

  • The wider world. The big kid’s final argument is that you’re only against smoking because you’re sheltered. You’ve never seen the real world, with its smooth, toasted pleasures. Otherwise you would know smoking is awesome.

It’s actually pretty embarrassing you don’t know that…

For years, the clearest example1 is John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Because both were “satirical” news shows, they seemed sophisticated, street-wise, and edgy. I never felt like I could criticize the Colbert Report or The Daily Show, because it was the “smart take” on the news. Instead, I had to pretend to like it. And that often meant making fun of evangelicals.

Objectively, all these reasons are stupid. That’s why nobody admits they became cynical because of peer pressure. But rather than labor the points about how a bubble of elites aren’t the arbiters of right opinion, or how The Daily Show was basically Rachel Maddow with jokes,2 I’ll leave you with two quotations.

The first is by St. John Chrysostom, a patristic theologian who most evangelicals would love: “Is it not excessively foolish to seek the good opinion of those who you would never wish to be like?”

The second is from your mother when you were in grade school: “If all the kids at school were jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?”

What are some other common peer pressure sources out there?


1  I guess it’s “was” now.  I’m old…

2  This article expresses my feelings on The Daily Show perfectly.


  1. I appreciated your comments on the “myth of inevitable progress.” This is such an easy trap to fall into and pervades so much of life. Thank you for blogging.

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