As you probably noticed, before I went away, I was feeling a little burnt out on having public opinions. I mean, really, what was left to say about Katrina or our misguided idiocy in Iraq or our failure to find Osama bin Laden or whatever that hadn’t already been said?
The thing I like about Blogistan–that everyone shares their opinions on the exact same things–is also the thing I hate about it.
And sometimes it feels very much like you’re just shouting into the wind.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about hope. I’ve been trying to formulate some ideas about hope, but I haven’t really come up with anything coherent.
Hope is, on its surface, an utterly stupid thing. It only thrives in uncertainty and most people hate uncertainty.
Let me try to get at this another way. I’ve also been thinking about life versus not-life and how many of us focus all of our attention on not-life, on denying or vilifying the very accoutrements of life. Think of how much our culture trains us to turn our backs on life.
Just think for a minute how often you hear that the things you enjoy are “bad” for you. Too much TV, too much food, too much sex, too much sitting on the couch. If you walk, you should be jogging. If you jog, you’re hurting your knees. Your own self is not good enough; hack it open, break it apart, expand this part, reduce that part.
But over all, don’t trust your own experiences. If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right. If you aren’t sufficiently suffering, you don’t deserve help.
We reward suffering and punish enjoying life.
Think of how many churches teach you to turn your back on life and put all your faith in being rewarded in the afterlife. Of course, the afterlife and not-life walk hand in hand.
“Choose life,” the anti-abortionists say. But how many actually have? How many have not placed their hope in some place they believe to be better than this? Some place not life?
I think of this, too, with the abstinence-only crowd, how anti-life that world-view is. How it denies pleasure, denies connection, denies life itself.
It’s this twisted world-view that sees pleasure as inherently evil and children as the proper punishment for sex.
But clearly, the default is pleasure and happiness. The default is pregnancy and children and fucking, fucking, fucking.
None of these things is evil. And yet, of course, those things are not always desired. And so we take active steps to prevent them. We stop the pregnancies; we use birth control; we are careful about when we have sex and with whom; we wait until we are married; we don’t have sex at all.
But that–abstinence–is not the default. It’s the most extreme choice we can make.
Self-discipline we call it, this learning to deny ourselves pleasure and happiness, learning to deny ourselves life.
The certainty of the not-life crowd has no use for hope. Everything is already known.
On the other hand, life and hope are intimately entwined. If one chooses life, then one always has hope. This time, things might be better. And why not? Nothing is certain. There are always exceptions.
The scariest way most people choose not-life is to say “If I might have to sometimes say ‘no,’ I refuse to ever say yes.”
I think that’s my problem with operating on a metaphor of economy.
Is it “worth” it to invest money in public education, for example? Is it “worth” it to make college education as widely available as possible?
In a purely economic sense, no. Most people don’t make the most of their opportunities, so continuing to supply them with opportunities is a “waste.”
And yet, clearly, that’s not sound social policy.
Life versus not-life. Whether you’re going to invest in the present or whether you’re hording your resources for the future.
The problem with the future is that it’s such a slippery thing. The present is, instead, always with us.
Hope, I think, straddles those two places in ways that make both those of us who live in the present and those of us who live for the future uncomfortable because hope lives both places.
Hope says, “I can make a choice now that will change things, and in ways I can’t know.”
Operating from a position of hope is hard, then, because hope requires uncertainty. It exists only because most of the time it is dashed.
And yet, those times when hope triumphs are magnificent enough to make hope very worth-while.
Anyway, obviously, this is going someplace. I don’t know where, yet, but it’s churning around in my brain. So, we’ll be back to it, I sure.