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2010

Finding A Cure For The Insidious Cancers Of "Hope" And "Faith",
Thursday, 04 March 2010 06:30
by Carolyn Baker

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.

I want to underscore this because I am repeatedly called "pessimistic", "fear-mongering", or my very favorite, "cynical." The latter is my favorite because I like to point out that the word "cynic" actually comes from a Greek word that referred to a dog chewing a bone for hours non-stop, the point being that the cynics in ancient Greece held onto an idea and "chewed" it incessantly until everyone except their fellow cynics were sick of them. Why is this important to me? Because the real cynics, in my opinion, are those joined at the hip with "hope" who refuse to look more deeply into the psychological and political history of a candidate like Barack Obama and as a result, are flummoxed in 2010 that he has become the reincarnation of George W. Bush, Jr. As I've said before, it's the "high definition" definition of insanity-following the same pattern which yields negative results ad infinitum but expecting that the next time, the result will be different.

And then there's "faith" which is a cousin to hope and also a cousin to religion. Faith is usually about violating one's rational mind in order to feel better or to appease the gods or some tyrannical human authority figure. It is erroneously used synonymously with "trust"-erroneous because trust is about relationship whereas faith is about obedience. Therefore, I must agree with Bageant that it is indeed infantilizing.

So what is the cure for hope and faith?

The first aspect of the cure, quite simply, is total honesty. The statements by Hedges, Jensen, Osheroff, and Bageant, are replete with white-hot honesty. And whenever we get brutally honest, we are confronted with emotions-most of which are unpleasant. That said, let's start with the most basic reality of all: Industrial civilization is in the process of collapsing which means that as a result, there is absolutely no return to normal, and our lives are also in the process of being permanently altered.

Recently, two subscribers to my website's news digest reported that when they took my book Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse to their local public libraries to ask the libraries to order a free copy, the response was, "We just simply can't have a book like this in our collection." This is the response one might hear upon requesting that the libraries include pornography in their collections. Is my book pornographic? Yes! In this culture at this moment, naming and understanding the reality of the collapse of civilization is nothing less than pornographic in the minds of infantilized Americans.

And one even witnesses the empire-programmed addiction to hope in the most well-intentioned activists. Hope is not the same as having a vision, but I believe we must be cautious about confusing the two. As my readers know, I am deeply involved in the Transition movement which offers a vision of a positive future, but that vision will only become real as a result of our commitment to make it happen. Moreover, any vision of a positive future must be open to addressing and feeling the feelings around the consequences that so few wish to contemplate, namely, that the human race is committing suicide.

If we are willing to think with much more adult minds than the two library staff persons mentioned above, and if we are willing to grapple with the reality of collapse, with what attitude, mindset, or sensibility do we persevere in the face of it? And...is persevering the most important issue? If it isn't, what is?

I submit that after honesty comes the willingness to accept reality. That means stopping all pretense and delusion that we can prevent collapse. News flash: Collapse now has a life of its own, and I am convinced that whether it's 10 million activists in the streets of every country on earth or the hundredth monkey principle on steroids, collapse is an inevitable part of our future. It cannot be prevented because it is well underway. It has its own trajectory and its own velocity, but it can be slowed, and the effects can be lessened.

However, before we get distracted by how to slow it down, we need to deal with the next quandary which is much less appealing, namely, our despair. As Jensen states above, rather than deny or minimize our despair, we need to find a way to deal with it. But if you can't take a Joanna Macy "Despair and Empowerment" workshop, what can you do?

You can certainly read my book, Sacred Demise and complete all the exercises in it, but you can also read poetry, make art and music; you can not only talk about your feelings about collapse with other people, but talk about your values and priorities-what is important to you, what is your individual purpose in life, what is your shared purpose together? And of course you can keep doing what you're already probably doing if you're reading this article-getting deeply involved in your community to help it become resilient and self-sufficient.

Above all, you need to spend a significant chunk of time every day-I suggest a half hour twice a day-in contemplation. If you have a meditation practice, wonderful. If not, develop one. It should be a time of stillness and restoration. It should be a time of listening to the inner wisdom of the soul/psyche-a time when thoughts and feelings are not censored but simply allowed and witnessed-and perhaps later, journaled about. While it is true that no one can navigate collapse alone, it is also true that while navigating it, the relationship with oneself may be the most crucial of all.

Civilization has robbed us of an inner life to such an extent that most people in this culture are terrified of or perplexed by the notion of one. Yet no matter how many gorgeous organic gardens we can grow, no matter how much food and water we can store, no matter how much we re-skill ourselves, no matter how many dialog circles we sit in, no matter how well we raise our chickens, if we don't have an inner life, then we are perilously at risk of emotional and mental breakdown when the daunting stress of collapse is in our faces, and we won't be able to answer the most important question as we navigate it: Who am I and who do I want to be during this incredibly challenging time?

Finally, I highly recommend my upcoming online course "Navigating The Coming Chaos" at the Post Peak Living website which runs from April 24-May 15, and there is a significant discount for early registration. This course is an ideal venue for applying all of the options stated above and more.

In any event, it's time to become discerning, pro-active adults-forsaking our "hope" and "faith" in people and distant forces outside us to do for us what we can only do for ourselves and with others of like heart and mind whom we love and trust. The abject betrayal that most progressives in this nation are currently experiencing confirms that any hope that comes from outside us will most likely result in a force to be reckoned with that is much worse than the one our "hope" was intended to avoid.

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