There is a distinction made between hope and optimism. Optimism is a belief that things will work out for the best. Optimism has been proven wrong so often that it doesn't carry much weight. I am optimistic that it won't rain on Saturday. I am optimistic that the Democrats will hold the Senate in the fall. I could be wrong about both, and if I am, I will be mildly chagrined. No crisis of faith.
Now when it comes to Hope, a much more substantial emotion. Hope is the conviction that things will improve. It is a belief about the nature of the world and progress. St. Paul says that hope is one the three things that last forever, along with faith and love.
People point out that it is hard to hope, what with the disastrous turns history makes, as well as seeming permanence of some people's conditions. It is hard to hope for progress on a planet which is being poisoned and cooked. Some question Parker's statement that "the arc of the Universe bends toward Justice." They see in it a presumption of privilege, or an excuse for sitting back and letting the inevitable do the work of justice for us.
|The Michigan Labor Legacy Monument --|
the incomplete arc
The fact that history is so often tragic leads some to what they call "existential hope", or what I call "hopeless hope." Hope is a moral obligation, and even a psychological compulsion, in the face of almost certain failure. Hope is a mental state, disconnected from material reality. It is like "love" in the face of violent rejection, or "faith" in the face of what seems God abandoning you. It is mustering the will to act "as if" there is hope in a hopeless situation. For me, I think it is a kind of vanity, a heroic pose, which is off-putting. In a world in which almost everybody struggles on their daily lives for something better, it seems odd for sophisticated philosophers to say that there is no real basis for hope. What does that say to the family in Central America who sends their children North? Or the single mother minimum wage worker who is works 3 part time jobs? They hope for real things.
For me, our hopes must be rooted in some understanding of a real process, beyond our will. While I do not think our hope for justice is inherent in the movements of the stars above and the tectonic plates below, I think that our hopes have a material basis in human beings and in the process of human cultural evolution.
It is said that "Oppression breeds resistance".
|A wall mural in Belfast|
The other material process upon which I base my hope is in the directionality of human cultural evolution. I have been influenced by Robert Wright, "NonZero" on this. As much as human beings are prone to resolving differences with violence, they also tend to end violence with the creation of more complex systems which rely on less violent means to resolve differences. Somehow, violence ends with an "win-win" cultural elaboration. The secular state resolves the European religious wars. More complicated, less violent.
Oppression breeds Resistance; Rebellions force accommodations and increased social complexity. There is a human element here. The more clarity about oppression, the greater the resistance. The more resistance, the greater the rebellion. The greater the rebellion, the larger accommodation and the more progress. Humanity advances through the push and pull of contending forces.
I call this "radical hope." It is hope that is born of a dialectical view of history. I believe both that "the arc of the universe bends toward justice" with Parker, in that processes beyond our simple human wills are at work. I also believe with Obama, that we have grab that arc and pull it hard toward justice.