Saturday, June 4, 2022

Some Words on Hope

The Narwhal quoted police and prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba on her understanding of hope:  

"The idea of hope being a discipline is something I heard from a nun many years ago. The hope that she was talking about was this grounded hope that was practiced every day, that people actually practiced it all the time. . . .  It's less about 'how you feel,' and more about the practice of making a decision every day, that you're still gonna put one foot in front of them other, that you're still going to get up in the morning. And you're still going to struggle, that was what I took away from it. It's work to be hopeful. It's not like a fuzzy feeing. Like, you have to actually put in energy, time, and you have to be clear-eyed, and you have to hold fast to having a vision. 
It's a hard thing to maintain. But it matters to have it, to believe that it's possible to change the world. You know, that we don't live in a predetermined, predestined world where like nothing we do has an impact. No, no, that's not true! . . . I take a long view, understanding full well that I'm just a tiny, little part of a story that already has a huge antecedent and has something that is going to come after that ... my little friggin' thing I'm doing is actually pretty insignificant in world history, but if it's significant to one or two people, I feel good about that. If I'm making my stand in the world and that benefits my particular community of people ... I feel good about that."

Back in May 2020, journalist and author Chris Hedges wrote a similar sentiment:  

"I don't share the mania for hope. We just have to do what's right. . . . It's about dignity; it's about independence; it's about justice. It's about the understanding that we will stand with the oppressed and the crucified of the earth no matter what. When you truly stand with the oppressed, then you can expect to get treated like the oppressed, and finally it really comes down to what constitutes a life of meaning, and everything I've fought for my entire life is worse than when I began, but I don't think that invalidates what I've done. . . . Faith is the belief that the good draws to it the good, even if empirically everything around you says otherwise. It's what Kierkegaard calls the leap of faith, and you believe it even though you don't have physical empirical evidence to prove it." 

  Half a year later, in December 2020, Hedges wrote, 

"We have blissfully checked out. . . . If hope becomes something you express through illusion, then it's not hope; it's fantasy. . . . People interpret their problems as personal problems rather than political or social problems . . . When you don't understand what's going on, the lunatic fringe, which is often laughed at, suddenly seizes power. . . . You can't talk about hope if you can't see reality, and reality is pretty bleak. But that's the starting point. 

Five years earlier, he quoted Vaclav Havel who said, "Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It's not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." 

In 2018, climate scientist Kate Marvel wrote, 

"As a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end. I have no hope that these changes can be reverse. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet. We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. . . . Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending." 

Back in the 60s, the US, all pumped up on expectant hubris after the Russians launched a rocket into space, found enough money to throw at scientists to send a man to the moon. Anything is possible if we have a problem we want to fix. But showing how well New Zealand is doing compared to us or to the US hasn't provoked the same level of testosterone-fueled competition. Who cares what little New Zealand does. It's like if your little sister can do something you can't, like scramble up a tree: instead of provoking a challenge, we just discount that thing we can't do -- she's a loser for caring about climbing trees. That's girl stuff. We provoke action when someone similar to us, but just a bit better, does something impressive. Unfortunately, all the big guys seem to be racing for who's fastest to overload and destroy hospitals.

There's another new study out that shows that mask mandates effectively reduce the spread of Covid. Just like climate change and rocket science, we have the answers, but we lack the will to implement them. To that point, a law firm is raising funds to bring forth a judicial review and Charter challenge to the decision to prohibit mask mandates in schools in Alberta on behalf of children with medically complex issues. If the government won't act, sometimes the courts can force their hand. Sometimes.

And a fellow blogger wrote about our unsettling times and our choice to either accept fossil fuels and the climate catastrophe in their wake or change how we live, dramatically, and augment a less-intensive, saner lifestyle with renewable energy and a new anti-growth philosophy. He quotes James Lovelock: 

"It means deglobalization. It means slow living instead of fast consumption. It means walking instead of flying. It means more people growing food on smaller plots. It means relocalizing life. It means making changes most of us are not yet wiling to talk about, let alone make."

Then he quotes physicist and climate expert, Joe Romm

"We created a way of raising standards of living that we can't possibly pass on to our children. . . . You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior, but it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, 'This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate.'"

If we can't get people to wear a mask to save their own life, we're not going to get them to give up their cars and their travels abroad and carnivorous diet. We're just accepting more deaths from covid and that our grandchildren will inherit a world considerably worse than what we have enjoyed. Our inertia knows no bounds! We're working hard to keep the truth from hitting us square in the forehead. I commented there on any attempts to discuss my concerns about climate and covid with naysayers, including students: 

"They're a growing and formidable force, and I just appear to have lost my mind trying to argue against nonsensical claims. Worse, it feels mean to break their happy bubble of 'can't happen to me,' like a cold-hearted kindergarten teacher coming clean about Santa Claus!"

But, in the words of Dr. Seuss,

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,  Nothing is going to get better. It's not."

It's hard not to be frustrated with inaction and efforts that end up fruitless; it's hard to let go of that expectation of success. Harnessing that energy to move forward, that courage to act to do what's right without any expectation that you'll succeed, is a discipline. It's not dissimilar from forcing yourself to practice the piano when you can hear your friends playing outside. You're going to practice and sound horrible over and over, and nobody will want to listen to you, until suddenly it might start to sound like music. Maybe.


Lorne said...

In my view, we can only exercise the limited sphere of influence we have by being kind and helpful to individuals, doing what small good we can, not in the foolish notion that our actions can change the world, but in the steadfast belief that we can, once in awhile, mitigate a small amount of suffering. That is not hope. It is only what we used to call human decency.

Marie Snyder said...

It certainly feels like it was more commonplace to act with decency automatically, although there are many examples to the contrary. We seem to have small patches of calm between horrors, and we lucked into being born at the start of a very long time of relative peace and harmony, with the bar for behaviour being set higher and higher as inclusion became standard practice, then slipping back down dramatically. In the face of ruthlessness of late, and the inane decisions made by those in power, it's an extra effort for me to avoid just blissfully checking out from it all, to stay in the game and try to convince friends and neighbours that masks actually DO make a difference, or to join a protest with the risk of threats and harm greater that we might have ever experienced before. I feel a huge push to retreat and hide away, enjoying each day. But part of me wants to keep fighting the good fight. It's a daily battle in my brain!