It's "trendy." But that also might be my age. I'm thinking that kids from the ages of ~15-22 (+/- ~5,) are disproportionately more idealistic that the majority of the older population, no?
Immediately following college, cynicism is worn through that adjustment period when they all come crashing down to reality. It's a lot to handle, and cynicsm is an easy fit (just as intense a POV as idealism, but in the opposite direction.)
I find it dissipates some after the initial shock wears off, but depending on just how idealistic one was before, it'll be harder to shake, if s/he manages to shake it at all.
It can be harmful if it cultivates a tendency toward apathy and/or nihilism, which I have seen. But more often than not, I think it's pretty harmless and decreases in severity when the need for progress (or a job!) becomes apparent.
Some manage to wear it for the rest of their lives, or you'll only see it resurface when in stressful situations.
I think it's on the rise, but only because there's nothing severly tragic going on in the world, sans maybe Darfur and Africa. When we were having a world war every 15 years or fighting the spectre of communism, everything else in life "got the volume turned down". Now we are in an era of peace and propserity, so everyone is seeing some things and aspects of our social realm as negative and dark. there will ALWAYS be something to be negative and cynical about, even if we lived in a utopia. people will find something wrong with it, somehow.
Do you think that cynicism is on a cultural rise and harmful?
I think that a lot more people are able to communicate more easily than a generation ago, so that it's a simple matter to run out and find a ton of it should you look. I also think that it's easy to look back 5, 10, 20 years and put on the nostolga glasses, and this applies to every generation looking back upon the last generation.
Cynicism is a tool for survival. Like hopefulness or superstition, it calls upon a set of beliefs to acquire comfort in an unpredictable and frightening world. Cynics choose to remain disillusioned as a way of protecting themselves from the destruction disillusionment could bring to their sense of inner calm.. Before, they believed that what they saw is what they would get. Now they know better.
Now.. cynicism, like the aforementioned tools for survival, has its faults. In a cynic's quest to filter out the illusion, he will most likely miss out on some good things that were real and carried much possibility.
I'm not sure if it's on a cultural rise, but, as cited in the previous paragraph, it can be harmful to the self and possibly your kids if you preach jaded negativity to them (that is not to say all cynics do this!).
Personally, I don't see this era as a generation of peace/prosperity, not at least in the U.S. Maybe in China? I think globally, most modern societies are effected, and it's not to say that there aren't families living in poverty over there. If it were such a prosperous time, then so many families would not be out of a job or struggling just to keep one right now, and the economic disparity wouldn't grow even larger. Not to mention the constant fear that we often hear on television/news media, as well as traveling through airports. It's ridiculous.
I don't think this is a cultural manifestation of collective self-fulfilling prophecy due to cynicism either. I think it's about those who do have the power to control/influence how people treat one another, which becomes a trickle down effect.
I also see optimism as an individual perspective. Some people tend to be more optimistic than others, regardless of external circumstances. On a social level, I think optimism in an environment is a result of people in society feeling as though they are respected/valued as individuals. From where I'm from, it doesn't quite seem as though cynicism is on the rise, just utter frustration with the state of the economy.
I think that a tipping point has been reached in which cynicism has replaced optimism, I think its more serious than simply pessimism struggling with optimism.
The reason I ask about culture is that I tend to think that people can be more or less optimistic as a consequence of their resilience and that can be a product of their family life but second to the family culture is probably the greatest influence upon development.