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Excerpt from Endgame

Hope (p. 329)

From chapter "Hope"

It isn’t merely 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 light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. It is the beam of light that against all odds makes its way into our prison cells. It is our reason for persevering, our protection against despair (which must at all costs, including the cost of our sanity and the world, be avoided). How can we continue if we do not have hope?

We’ve all been taught that hope in some better future condition—like hope in some better future heaven—is and must be our refuge in current sorrow. I’m sure you remember the story of Pandora. She was given a tightly sealed box and was told never to open it. But, curious, she did, and out flew plagues, sorrow, and mischief, probably not in that order. Too late she clamped down the lid. Only one thing remained in the box: hope. Hope, the story goes, was “the only good the casket held among the many evils, and it remains to this day mankind’s sole comfort in misfortune.” No mention here of action being a comfort in misfortune, or of actually doing somethingto alleviate or eliminate one’s misfortune. (Fortune: from Latin fortuna, akin to Latin fort-,fors, chance, luck: this implies of course that the misfortune that hope is supposed to comfort us in is just damn bad luck, and not dependent on circumstances we can change: in the present case, I don’t see how bad luck is involved in the wretched choices we each make daily in allowing civilization to continue to destroy the earth.)

The more I understand hope, the more I realize that instead of hope being a comfort, that all along it deserved to be in the box with the plagues, sorrow, and mischief; that it serves the needs of those in power as surely as a belief in a distant heaven; that hope is really nothing more than a secular version of the same old heaven/nirvana mindfuck.

Hope is, in fact, a curse, a bane.

I say this not only because of the lovely Buddhist saying, “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails”—without hope there is no fear—not only because hope leads us away from the present, away from who and where we are right now and toward some imaginary future state. I say this because of what hope is.

More or less all of us yammer on more or less endlessly about hope. You wouldn’t believe—or maybe you would—how many editors for how many magazines have said they want me to write about the apocalypse, then enjoined me to “make sure you leave readers with a sense of hope.” But what, precisely, is hope? At a talk I gave last spring, someone asked me to define it. I couldn’t, and so turned the question back on the audience. Here’s the definition we all came up with: Hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency. It means you are essentially powerless.

Think about it. I’m not, for example, going to say I hope I eat something tomorrow. I’ll just do it. I don’t hope I take another breath right now, nor that I finish writing this sentence. I just do them.On the other hand, I hope that the next time I get on a plane, it doesn’t crash.To hope for some result means you have no agency concerning it.

So many people say they hope the dominant culture stops destroying the world. By saying that, they’ve guaranteed at least its short-term continuation, and given it a power it doesn’t have. They’ve also stepped away from their own power.

I do not hope coho salmon survive. I will do what it takes to make sure the dominant culture doesn’t drive them extinct. If coho want to leave because they don’t like how they’re being treated—and who could blame them?—I will say good-bye, and I will miss them, but if they do not want to leave, I will not allow civilization to kill them off. I will do whatever it takes.

I do not hope civilization comes down sooner rather than later. I will do what it takes to bring that about.

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 salmon survive. We make sure prairie dogs survive. We make sure tigers survive. We do whatever it takes.

* * *

Casey Maddox wrote that when philosophy dies, action begins. I would say in addition that 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 the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free—truly free—to honestly start working to thoroughly resolve it. I would say when hope dies, action begins.

* * *

Hope may be fine—and adaptive—for prisoners, but free men and women don’t need it.

Are you a prisoner, or are you free?