On Robin Hanson and Meta-cynicism

Robin Hanson has another post up where he discusses the need to disseminate cynical views. He points out that idealism is public and cynicism is mostly private.

It seems to me that idealistic views dominate official views, especially views visible to many and expressed by the powerful. (After all, power is far, and far is ideal.) Idealism dominantes most official speeches, especially for funerals, weddings, award acceptance, politicial stump, and movie hero speeches. Idealism also dominates most ads, product brochures, vision statements, legal rulings, textbooks, and song lyrics. Cynical views are found in private conversations, e.g. at a bar or water cooler, in porn, from stand-up comedians, in movie villan speeches, and in political rants about certain sorts of “them.”

He clarifies that he is talking about cynical beliefs, not cynical moods by linking to his essay "The Cynic's Conundrum" that attempts to distinguish between cynical beliefs and a cynical mood. 

Cynical beliefs are either that people have relatively "low" motives, or that people are hypocritical about their motives. (Even when "high" motives dominate conscious thoughts, the cynic can claim that low motives better explain overall behavior patterns.) Similarly a cynical belief about a social institution is that while it may claim to serve high functions, it actually serves low functions.
A cynical mood is rude, unhappy, and complaining, presumably about low motives and functions. Cynicism is contrasted with idealism, a good-natured emphasis on sincere high motives and functions.

Two explanations are advanced for cynical moods. Each explanation explores a tie between cynical beliefs and cynical moods. Through these explanations, they suggest that teaching cynicism might not be the best idea.

The idealistic explanation of cynical moods is that the cynic has unusually high motives or insight. He is better able to see behind false appearances, and he is more shocked and disapointed to discover the low motives of others. Because he is unwilling to be hypocritical, he is less popular and so he succeeds and leads less. Most people dislike cynics because cynics expose most people's hypocrisy.
With this explanation, it seems that correctly teaching a person cynical beliefs will turn them into someone with a cynical mood. The idealistic explanation of cynical moods implies that exposure to cynical beliefs needs to be weighed against the usefulness of the cynical information. There are further costs to being a young cynic.

The cynical explanation of cynical moods is that the cynic has unusually low motives or ability. He can better see low motives because he has them in spades, and the cynic complains to belittle the success of others. That is, if he cannot win in some area then the cynic will complain that the game is unfair, or that those who succeed are not really very praiseworthy. Most people dislike cynics because cynics are losers.

This view suggests that teaching cynical beliefs to those who are predisposed to hear it is likely to be a waste of resources. This view suggests that the students who are susceptible to cynical views are not the type of people who will get anything useful done with them.

The trade off between sociability (idealistic beliefs) and expressing the truth (cynical beliefs) needs to be carefully considered. There are social norms imposed on people who promote unpopular true ideas, so the scales need to be leveled by changing these social norms.  While it is very difficult to change social norms that are built up over time, in Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely gives a few examples where long held social norms are replaced by market norms once money gets involved. Maybe the same thing can be done for cynical beliefs using a mechanism that Robin is already very familiar with. TGGP makes a similar point in the comments of Robin's post when he points out that betting markets impose market costs for holding idealistic views and thus lead to more true beliefs in the long run. Those in favor of cynical beliefs but not cynical moods should focus more on promoting the social norm of betting money on ideas.