Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both. We despair. We hope. That is what governs us.
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Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both. We despair. We hope. That is what governs us. We have a bipolar system. Indeed, the stories we tell ourselves about these poles matter. The stories we tell ourselves about our public past shape how we interpret and respond to and show up for the present. The stories we tell ourselves about our private pasts shape how we come to see our personhood and who we ultimately become. The thin line between agency and victimhood is drawn in how we tell those stories.
The language in which we tell ourselves these stories matters tremendously, too, and no writer has weighed the complexities of sustaining hope in our times of readily available despair more thoughtfully and beautifully, nor with greater nuance, than Rebecca Solnit does in Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities public library.
But there are good reasons. This slim book of tremendous potency is therefore, today more than ever, an indispensable ally to every thinking, feeling, civically conscious human being. Solnit looks back on this seemingly distant past as she peers forward into the near future: The moment passed long ago, but despair, defeatism, cynicism, and the amnesia and assumptions from which they often arise have not dispersed, even as the most wildly, unimaginably magnificent things came to pass.
There is a lot of evidence for the defense… Progressive, populist, and grassroots constituencies have had many victories. Popular power has continued to be a profound force for change. It means facing them and addressing them by remembering what else the twenty-first century has brought, including the movements, heroes, and shifts in consciousness that address these things now. Enumerating Edward Snowden, marriage equality, and Black Lives Matter among those, she adds: This has been a truly remarkable decade for movement-building, social change, and deep, profound shifts in ideas, perspective, and frameworks for broad parts of the population and, of course, backlashes against all those things.
The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.
Solnit herself has written memorably about how we find ourselves by getting lost , and finding hope seems to necessitate a similar surrender to uncertainty. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.
Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.
Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone. Illustration from The Harvey Milk Story , a picture-book biography of the slain LGBT rights pioneer Amid a hour news cycle that nurses us on the illusion of immediacy, this recognition of incremental progress and the long gestational period of consequences — something at the heart of every major scientific revolution that has changed our world — is perhaps our most essential yet most endangered wellspring of hope.
Feminism is just starting, and its manifestations matter in rural Himalayan villages, not just first-world cities. Although our cultural lore traces the spark of the Arab Spring to the moment Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in an act of protest, Solnit traces the unnoticed accretion of tinder across space and time: You can tell the genesis story of the Arab Spring other ways. The quiet organizing going on in the shadows beforehand matters.
So does the comic book about Martin Luther King and civil disobedience that was translated into Arabic and widely distributed in Egypt shortly before the Arab Spring. So the threads of ideas weave around the world and through the decades and centuries. Many do so from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown. What we call mushrooms mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but less visible long-term organizing and groundwork — or underground work — often laid the foundation.
Changes in ideas and values also result from work done by writers, scholars, public intellectuals, social activists, and participants in social media.
It seems insignificant or peripheral until very different outcomes emerge from transformed assumptions about who and what matters, who should be heard and believed, who has rights. Our hope and often our power. Even things that seem to happen suddenly arise from deep roots in the past or from long-dormant seeds.
Some activists are afraid that if we acknowledge victory, people will give up the struggle. A victory is a milestone on the road, evidence that sometimes we win, and encouragement to keep going, not to stop.
The problem seldom goes home. Most of the great victories continue to unfold, unfinished in the sense that they are not yet fully realized, but also in the sense that they continue to spread influence.
A phenomenon like the civil rights movement creates a vocabulary and a toolbox for social change used around the globe, so that its effects far outstrip its goals and specific achievements — and failures. She writes: Amnesia leads to despair in many ways. The status quo would like you to believe it is immutable, inevitable, and invulnerable, and lack of memory of a dynamically changing world reinforces this view.
Illustration by Isabelle Arsenault from Mr. Meanwhile, Solnit argues in a poignant parallel, such amnesia poisons and paralyzes our collective conscience by the same mechanism that depression poisons and paralyzes the private psyche — we come to believe that the acute pain of the present is all that will ever be and cease to believe that things will look up. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history.
A dedicated rower , Solnit ends with the perfect metaphor: You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant for our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future. Hope in the Dark is a robust anchor of intelligent idealism amid our tumultuous era of disorienting defeatism — a vitalizing exploration of how we can withstand the marketable temptations of false hope and easy despair.
Complement it with Camus on how to ennoble our minds in dark times and Viktor Frankl on why idealism is the best realism , then revisit Solnit on the rewards of walking , what reading does for the human spirit , and how modern noncommunication is changing our experience of time, solitude, and communion. It takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and compose, and thousands of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy and solace in this labor of love, please consider becoming a Sustaining Patron with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good lunch.
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Hope for the best
This is a book written at the time of the younger US President Bush with some updates and pitched at the political left broadly conceived as an antidote to despair and hopelessness. Although she thinks of despair as a problem particularly prevalent to the political left, I think you could with one exception read her book inside-out from other political perspectives. Perfection was the Eden, that Paradise, that Man and Woman were cast out of due to their disobedience. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed.
Hope in the Dark
Pinterest Rebecca Solnit. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.