February 14, 2017

Hope and Pessimism

Hope and pessimism are dialetically related, twins of the same womb of human frailty, and counteracting medicines for the human soul. In an ideal society they exist in a tenuous balance. I have come to the conclusion that the modern America I live in is addicted to an idea of hope without pessimism. We want to believe that it is already possible to do whatever we want, whenever we want, without constraint. This is the hope of fools, blind to history, the hope of addicts and hedonists blind to the limits of pleasure, the hope of utopians blind to tragedy. It is the hope of settlers blind to others in the landscape, seeing in that land only reflections of their dreams and nightmares. They thus interpret the land, and its peoples resistance to settler attempts to impose those dreams, as willful evil or primitive savagery. Similarly, they interpret the failure of these dreams as a personal moral failing, rather than a permanent feature of existence. Hope thus unconstrained by its opposite naturally devolves into amnesia, fantasy, and a desperate drive to feel and appear happy. It manifests itself in more extreme versions as a morbid fear of death. It looks anxiously to the future when all human limits will be removed, while manifesting a contempt for the past and an inability to remain present. I do not mean to condemn hope outright. Without it we perish, for it enables visionaries to dream of better tomorrows. But the way it manifests itself in American political discourse is as an unbearable and unsustainable naivete, a belief that one can have progress without sacrifice, patriotism without tragedy, and prosperity without end. On the right, it manifests itself as the manifest destiny of white christian america, the alleged culmination of history and humanity. All others are considered savages, primitives, expendables, terrorists. White prosperity comes to be seen as the ultimate moral good, and anything that threatens it induces a series of moral panics. On the left it bubbles up as the idea that we are all progressing easily and naturally towards a liberal ideal, and that all we need do is tinker with a few things and wear a few safety pins to get there. The left's fetishism of King as a prophet of this liberal progress ignores King's own well-developed sense of struggle, tragedy and pessimism. In conclusion, I would like to see Less false hope and More hopeful pessimism.


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