Should we talk about hope? I believe we must.
Should we talk about hope? I believe we must.
After my last post and after a few weeks in which I was feeling despair and sometimes felt close to resignation, I now have had a week that was full of hope - not that I felt particularly hopeful, but rather in the sense that hope has come up as a topic in various discussions and also in what I read or talks I listened to. And I realised it has been a rather persistent topic for quite a while now.
For example, yesterday I listened to the TED talk by Lyla June, who talks about land management techniques of indigenous peoples in North America and that they have been able to live in a positive and generative relationship with the land. In essence, we know how to do it - humanity has a way of living as part of nature, not apart from. Most of us just forgot about it. This is also the hopeful message I'm getting from reading books like Sand Talk or Braiding Sweetgrass - in the latter, Robin Wall Kimmerer often describes how the way of life of indigenous peoples not only preserved nature, but was an active part in shaping nature in a healthy way, for example through harvesting techniques that did not only guarantee what we nowadays call sustainability (not to take more than can regrow), but that actively benefited the plant by, for example, thinning out growth and allowing for the remaining plants to be healthier.
Yesterday, I also watched a part of the live stream of a conference titled 'Hope in the Anthroposcene' (programme and recording). In this academic conference, various people shared examples of ways of living and being that provide a way out of the polycrsis (or metacrisis for some) we find ourselves in. This was the pitch of the conference:
Bad news galore. It is easy to think that humanity currently exists in a time where there is no hope. In the flow of information that many are faced with every day, it is easy to give up. The news is so bad, it makes you want to look the other way. War, disaster, famine, pandemics, polarization, increased inequities, and the warmest year in recorded history. And scientists say this is only the beginning. But is this really the only story out there, and should we not also focus on some of the good news? Or is that naïve and silly, is it just wishful thinking to be hopeful in times of darkness? Join us in a conversation with scientists, artists and thinkers on hope, humanity, and the ability of groups to solve common challenges. And learn about some of the real, tangible, unstoppable reasons to be hopeful.
There were presentations about indigenous knowledge, how various value systems can be reconciled, and on the fact that it is scientifically proven that human generosity is beneficial not only for the human species but beyond (who would have thought?). I was particularly interested in the talk by Rebecca Solnit, whose writing I have come across before in the New Statesman. She wrote an article titled "Why Climate Despair is a Luxury." She repeated some of her arguments in the talk she gave at the Hope conference. She essentially argues that people in "the Global North" cannot and must not give up on the world and resign to despair because we are the ones who are feeling the pain the least. It is our responsibility to keep striving towards a better future and essentially use our privilege to make change happen to the benefit of 'the more than human world' as Bayo Akomolafe would say. To use Solnit's own words (from the New Statesman article):
When you take on hope, you take on its opposites and opponents: despair, defeatism, cynicism and pessimism. And, I would argue, optimism. What all these enemies of hope have in common is confidence about what is going to happen, a false certainty that excuses inaction. Whether you feel assured that everything is going to hell or will all turn out fine, you are not impelled to act. All these postures undermine participation in political life in ordinary times, and in the climate movement in this extraordinary time. They are generally both wrong in their analysis and damaging in their consequences.
Not acting is a luxury those in immediate danger do not have, and despair something they cannot afford. But despair is all around us, telling us the problems are insoluble, that we are not strong enough, our efforts are in vain, no one really cares, and human nature is fundamentally corrupt. Some push their view like evangelists, not merely surrendering to defeat but campaigning vigorously on its behalf. I’ve encountered a lot of them since I began to talk about hope almost 20 years ago.
For those of us whose lives are already easy, giving up means making life even easier, at least in terms of effort. For the directly impacted, it means surrendering to devastation. Giving up on their behalf is not solidarity. And I doubt that anyone in desperate straits has ever taken comfort from the idea that somewhere far safer, people are bitter and despondent on their behalf.
To prophesy doom is to proclaim your own oracular powers. To take a cynical stance is to strive to seem worldly, to position yourself as someone who can’t be fooled – though cynicism is often foolish about what is possible and how the world works. I have rarely seen people lambasted for being wrong in predicting defeat and destruction, while those who suggest something positive might transpire are often mocked and scorned as soon as they open their mouths. Perhaps their detractors confuse being open to possibility with naïveté; maybe they love certainty more than possibility. Uncertainty brings its own anxiety, but it’s one we must come to terms with, because it is the essential nature of the future.
The message is clear: we must not despair, that would be unfair to those who suffer the consequences of the various crises we are facing as human beings. We must remain hopeful. We need to continue contributing what we can where we are. This, in turn, reminds me of a quote from Václav Havel on hope (which I have come across earlier but was also shared during the Hope in the Anthroposcene conference):
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.
For me, the question remains: How much is enough? I could quit my job and become a full-time activist for change. I could quit my job, buy a farm and become a permaculture farmer. In order to do that, I would have to break through a lot of constraints, and hurt a few people who are close to me. Or I could keep doing what I'm doing and within the constraints that my reality gives me do as much as I can. I don't have an answer and that is a question that keeps nagging at me. What are your thoughts?
To finish, a quote from Solnit from the conference yesterday, which I find quite interesting:
We don't need to convert climate deniers but we need to encourage people who believe in climate change that what they do matters.
The Paper Museum
Here is what Bing Chat has to say when asked about what Bayo Akomolafe means with 'more than human world':
Bayo Akomolafe, a widely celebrated international speaker, posthumanist thinker, poet, teacher, public intellectual, essayist, and author, often uses the phrase ‘more than human world’. This phrase is rooted in posthumanist thought and signifies a worldview that recognizes and respects the agency, interconnectedness, and value of all entities, not just humans. It’s a way of acknowledging that our world is composed of and influenced by a multitude of beings and forces, including animals, plants, inanimate objects, and even abstract concepts like systems and processes. This perspective encourages us to think beyond anthropocentric views and consider the complex web of relationships that constitute our world. It’s about recognizing the importance of diversity, interdependence, and co-existence in shaping our collective reality. Please note that this is an interpretation based on the available information and the actual meaning might vary based on the context in which Bayo Akomolafe uses the phrase.
Why have I added this to my paper museum? I like the idea of the 'more than human world' that de-centers humans in the world view and gives value to all else there is. In the Hope in the Anthroposcene conference I wrote about above, Patricia Balvanera talked about different value systems, which she categorises into four categories: living from, living in, living with, and living as. In the example of a river system, this would mean seeing the river as resource, living in a riverine landscape, living with the river as part of a habitat, and experiencing the river as part of us, respectively. I think it is the last category where the 'more than human world' comes into play. While it is 'more than human' it is also part of us and we are part of it.
I took this photo of a mountain panorama last week in a workshop location. The beauty of nature is definitely a source of hope for me.