Hope

I have written for other forums brief essays on the future of humanity in the light of what we know about life, human evolution (including evolutionary psychology) and the human situation in the 21st century. A list of all the essays is at the foot of the page. The following is amalgamated, summarised and adapted by Keith Thomas from Derrick Jensen’s book Endgame (2006) and his article in the June 2006 edition of Orion magazine. It's 90% Derrick's words and 99% Derrick's idea.

The most common feeling I hear from close acquaintances in private is that the planet is in deep, serious, possibly irreversible trouble. Many of these people are fighting desperately, using whatever tools they have—or rather whatever legal tools they have, which means whatever tools those in power grant them the right to use, which means whatever tools will be ultimately ineffective—to try to protect some piece of ground, to try to stop humans from tormenting some group of plants or animals. Sometimes they’re reduced to trying to protect just one tree.

But no matter what we do, our best efforts are insufficient. Those who exert the legitimized power are committed to activities and ways of living that are destroying the planet.

Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of Earth's biospheric systems and processes—the destruction of nature.

To start, there is the false hope that somehow the system may change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or Jesus Christ. Or the government. Or the Greens. Or peaceful mass demonstrations. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.

Does anyone really believe that Gunns is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone really believe that Monsanto will stop Monsantoing because we ask nicely?

But it isn’t only false hopes that keep those who go along enchained. It is hope itself. Hope, we are told, is our beacon in the dark. It is our reason for persevering, our protection against despair (which—we tell each other—must be avoided at all costs). How can we continue if we do not have hope?

We’ve been taught that hope in some future condition—like hope in some future heaven—is a worthy and uplifting response to our present predicament. We move in circles where 'keeping our hope alive' is treated as a reverential achievement and where saying anything that is taken as reducing our hope is treated as mental abuse or heartlessness.

Hope is in fact a curse, a bane.

There is a Buddhist saying “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails,”—without hope there is no fear—hope leads us away from the present, away from who and where we are right now and toward some imaginary future state.

Here’s a definition of hope: hope is a longing for a future state (a time or set of circumstances) over which you believe you presently have no influence or ability to influence; it means you are essentially admitting you are powerless, and acquiescing in the continuation of that powerlessness.

I’m not, for example, going to say I hope I eat something tomorrow. I just will. I don’t hope I’ll take another breath right now, nor that I’ll finish writing this sentence. I just do them. On the other hand, I do hope that the next time I ride my bike to work I don't get a puncture. To hope for some result means you have given up any agency concerning it. Many people say they hope the dominant culture stops destroying the world. By saying that, they’ve assumed that the destruction will continue, at least in the short to medium term, and they’ve stepped away from their own ability to participate in stopping it.

I do not hope old growth forests survive. I will do whatever it takes to make sure our dominant culture doesn’t destroy them.

When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to hope at all. We simply do the work. We make sure forests survive. We make sure quolls survive. We make sure Murray Cod survive. We do whatever it takes.

When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping other people (politicians, businesses) will make it easier for us to change, when we stop hoping that economic growth will solve our problems, when we stop hoping our latest plundering of nature is all we need to fill our inner void with happiness, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free—truly free—to honestly start working to resolve it. I would say that when hope dies, action begins.

A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope: you realise you never needed it in the first place. In fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or something else to solve your problems—you ceased hoping your problems would somehow get solved through the magical assistance of God, the government, the WWF, valiant tree-sitters, or even the Earth itself—and you just began doing whatever it takes to solve those problems yourself.

When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear. And when you quit relying on hope, and instead begin to protect the things, the systems, the processes and places you love, you become far more powerful and effective.

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List of the essays on the future of humanity:

Essay 1: Human = reindeer
Essay 2: Hope (this page)
Essay 3: I=PAT
Essay 4: Evolutionary psychology and climate change
Essay 5: Conservation - the passing of the word and the idea
Essay 6: The 2008 economic crisis and evolutionary psychology
Essay 7: The purpose of life and evolutionary psychology

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Page up-dated 23 July 2009