The Illusion of Stability, the Ease of Complacency, the Improbability of Hope

I spent a couple hours this afternoon catching up on political news and blogposts. Great googly-moogly, is it depressing.

It almost seems like a race to the finish to see how we'll wipe out our species. Global warming and climate change? An attack on Iran that leads to all-out nuclear war? Or maybe we'll get lucky, and only the US Empire will collapse. Significant economic troubles are looming on the horizon that will only be worsened by political instability--while both are in turn made worse still by extreme weather conditions and burgeoning natural disasters.

It's a vicious cycle of global instability that could lead to our extinction. Not something you really want to contemplate, and certainly not something you want to experience in your lifetime. Perhaps we'll face a second Great Depression, a third (or fourth, depending on who you ask) World War, or even a new Dark Ages. It's really impossible to predict, but unfortunately there are far more plausible scenarios in which things turn out horribly wrong.

I've not lived many years in this world, so I only have a couple decades of life to reflect on. Perhaps I underestimate human resourcefulness, our ability to come together in times of crisis, our indefatigable will to survive. But just because we've enjoyed decades of relative stability does not mean that this trend will continue indefinitely. I'm skeptical of the historiography of cycles that people use to comfort themselves when times are tough.

Hope is so difficult today. Sometimes I really understand the appeal of religious faith. There, you have something to hold onto, something immutable and eternal, a force of good guaranteed to win out in the end. Those of us who advocate a this-worldly attitude have no equivalent comforts to offer. As one of my professors likes to put it, our secular creed is a call for sustained effort, for hard work, but with no guarantees except for death.

It's tough to care about the world, about humanity, through this lens. It's easy to say fuck it, I'll just try to make life as pleasant as possible for myself and those I'm close to, the rest of the world be damned. Why bother?

I don't know the answer to this question. I haven't given up quite yet, but I already feel cynical beyond my years. On many days, I still have a short-sighted hope, for my own life-prospects at least. But then there are days like today, when I survey the world around me and it's all turned to shit.

So, I ask you, my few but dearly-appreciated readers:

How do you keep hope alive?


Steven said...

Will I get in trouble if my answer could be construed as solidarity? I think I keep hope alive (for myself anyway) by believing that there are some songs worth singing, words worth writing, deeds worth doing. They won't save the whole world, they won't end all suffering (these are probably impossible aims anyway), but that doesn't mean these things aren't worth doing, and doing beautifully. Hopefully the few who are comitted to such things can share with one another and appreciate each other's contribution. It might not stop global warming, but it's still a lot for one person to do, so I think it's enough.

anotherpanacea said...

Optimism of the Will and Pessimism of the Intellect.

Also, novel aesthetic experiences, narratives, and ideas, which is to say: the next summer blockbuster, the next Harry Potter novel, and the next avant-garde French philosopher.

The way I look at it, the human race doesn't have to last forever, but it lasted long enough for the Red Sox to win the World Series, so anything is possible.

Steven said...

Will people ever let the White Sox/Red Sox/Cubs thing go. It's not a curse when you are very poorly run organization most of the time! We wouldn't call Valuejet "unlucky" that their planes fell out of the sky... why cut the Red Sox a break. The point is, if there is anything to be cynical about, it's the culture around sports. As much as I love to watch sports, there is nothing so mind-numbingly idiotic as the culture (fans, media, promotion, association etc.) that surrounds it.

anotherpanacea said...

This is pretty much my point, except for loving to watch sports.

I tend to think that anything is possible if you keep at it, even salvaging a losing streak or a nation riven by genocide. Whether it's Paul Kagame, Jermaine Dye, or Manny Ramirez, someone shows up and pulls off an unlikely stunt. Thus do we hope: for the next generaton to do what we could not.

specter_of_spinoza said...

Thanks, guys. Sorry I haven't been posting anything lately. I intend to respond to some of the things on your blogs as well, as soon as I get a moment.

I guess, for me, it comes down to a matter of (chemically-modified) temperament. I feel really optimistic about my own prospects, and I feel like going into higher education is probably the best thing I can do--and that which is most fulfilling for me.

I particularly like the idea of optimistic will and pessimistic intellect. Unfortunately, those things are often beyond our control. Most of us can't do as James did and will ourselves out of depression. Luckily, we live in the era of Prozac and psychotherapy.

Steven said...

The worst part of how depressing the world seems to me is the false promise that we've uncovered. I talked about this with regard to the Challenger anniversary, but it might be worth repeating (probably not). We were sold a brighter better tommorrow, with flying cars and places to live on the moon (of course, you'd want to ask yourself why you would want a flying car or a home on the moon). After the early nineties, when everyone was listening to Nirvana, and Peral Jam, and Radiohead and stuff, I really thought we had a generation that was going to be cynical and different. But the late nineties bought our generation off. Money was everywhere, we were the last superpower, and our global mission seemed to be beating up jerks lke Hussein and Milosevic.
Now it seems are adult life may be spent in "dark times". I think we have to work extra hard to become citizens of the world and citizens of our age, because the promise of our age and the reality of our age are going to be two extremely different things.

Emmaleigh said...

I'm all about some escapism. I read too many books and watch too much television. The odd drug/booze fueled night helps.

Mara said...

Sometimes it seems living in New Zealand that perhaps we will miss (or dodge) the collapse of the rest of the world. That somehow our isolation and our anti-nuclear, green-thinking, politically semi-neutral, arent-we-a-friendly-bunch, mind set will enable us to magically avoid what the rest of the world is doing. But New Zealand is not so green or perfect as we would like to make out to the rest of the world (and to ourselves). Our ecological "footprint" is larger than the US. We send our secret service into Afganistan/East Timor/insert many other world hot-spots here. And we cannot avoid the fate of the rest of the world simply by hiding our head in the sand and repeating "We are better/greener/nicer than everyone else".

My overall complacency was in part to my inbuilt (drilled in since birth) belief that our future will be bright. That great ideas, beautiful things/places/images/thoughts, and technology will save us. I don't think it will. And i don't know what to do now that i know this.

As a side thought - Whats with the US's fasination with drugs to make everything better?