At the risk of being accused of declaring "I told ya so", I must admit that three online articles made my day today-two of which I posted in Truth to Power's Daily News Digest, and one which I posted on the website itself. The first was by one of my heroes, Chris Hedges, in which he stated "We owe Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney an apology. They were right about Barack Obama. They were right about the corporate state. They had the courage of their convictions and they stood fast despite wholesale defections and ridicule by liberals and progressives." His article is a litany of how Barack Obama, using "hope" to get elected, has revealed himself as Bush III and how voting in national elections accomplishes nothing in a society rotting in putrifying political and moral corruption.
Joe Bageant, a man after my own heart who's hunkering down in rural Mexico making tortillas, pens a scathing article, "Americans Are "Hope Fiends' Because Honestly Looking At The Present Situation Would Destroy Just About Everything We Hold As Reality". In it he states that hope is political pablum for an infantilized nation. He too, reluctantly voted for Obama because he thought Obama just had to be better than Bush, but now Joe is crying on his tortillas and saying things like, "Hope is magical thinking, believing that somehow, some larger unknown force is in motion to set things right."
And a journalist for whom I hold the greatest respect, Robert Jensen, writes an article on getting rid of "hope" and "faith", inspired by his interview of Abe Osheroff, long-time activist and documentary film maker. It opens with a short vignette by Jensen:
After a recent talk about the struggle for social justice and the threats to the ecosystem, a student lingered, waiting to talk to me alone, as if he had something to confess.
"I feel so overwhelmed," he finally said, wondering aloud if political organizing could really make a difference. The young man said he often felt depressed, not about the circumstances of his own life but about the possibilities for change. Finally, he looked at me and asked, "Once you see what's happening -- I mean really see it -- how are you supposed to act like everything is going to be OK?"
Boy do I know this one. I lived with it regularly as a professor of college history and psychology as I laid out in molten lava the state of the world which they had been programmed to ignore while drowning in the propaganda of realizing the American dream through getting a college education.
Jensen proceeds in the article to talk about how unacceptable it is among progressives to be anything less than upbeat. And he continues:
Some organizers respond to such concerns with upbeat assurances that if we just get more people on board and work a little bit harder, the problems will be solved -- if not tomorrow, certainly within some reasonable period of time. I used to say things like that, but now I think it's more honest, and potentially effective, to acknowledge how massive the obstacles that need to be overcome really are. We must not only recognize that the world's resources distributed in a profoundly unjust way and the systems in which we live are fundamentally unsustainable ecologically, but also understand there's no guarantee that this state of affairs can be reversed or even substantially slowed down. There are, in fact, lots of reasons to suspect that many of our fundamental problems have no solutions, at least no solutions in any framework we currently understand.
Some have challenged me: Why give in to such despair? My response: If honest emotional responses based on rational assessments lead committed activists to feel despair, why try to bury that? It's better to grapple with those emotions and assessments than to respond with empty platitudes.
The damage to the ecosystem may mean that a large-scale human presence on the planet cannot continue much longer. The obsession with self-interest cultivated by capitalism may be so deeply woven into the fabric of contemporary identity that real solidarity in affluent societies is no longer possible. The deskilling and dependency that comes with a high-energy/high-technology society has eroded crucial traditional skills. Mass-media corporations have eroticized violence and commodified intimacy at an unprecedented level, globally.
None of this is crazy apocalypticism, but rather a sober assessment of the reality around us. Rather than deny the despair that flows from that assessment, we need to find a way to deal with it.
Jensen cites a couple of gems from Osheroff that must not be dismissed, such as, "But personally, I'm not hopeful because I think hope is a kind of religion, and religions don't work. If you're hopeful you're going to suffer disappointments, whether it's politics or your personal life. You can care about things, you can want things to happen, you can work to make things happen without being hopeful." Make things happen without hope?
So now we come down to the crux of the issue: What is the definition of "hope"? For an answer to this question, I'm reminded of James Howard Kunstler's incessant vitriol about hope. After he has thoroughly bashed the notion of hope, he usually moderates a bit and defines it as something that comes from within the person, rather than from the exterior. Similarly, in Jensen's interview of Osheroff, the latter notes the capacity of humans to be decent, kind, and compassionate. I've noted this as well in my 2009 review of Rebecca Solnit's book A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster in which the author emphasizes that in crisis situations, humans more often tend to cooperate rather than resort to violent or destructive behavior.