Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Survival Value of Hope

Do you believe in meaningful coincidence?

In my regular reading, watching, listening, I don't run across the word "tyranny" very often. Yet one recent cafe afternoon I read a sentence ending with that word, and looked up from the book to see someone wearing a t-shirt with that word on it (something like "Anti-Tyranny Squad.")

I don't know what that means exactly. But yesterday, through my waking-up thoughts came the name of John Brockman, who I met many years ago. And last night while writing the post below on the Climate Crisis, I followed a link to an online article I'd bookmarked, which sent me to the site I referenced, the Edge, run by the same John Brockman.

I don't know what that means exactly either. Then later, as I was doing email business, I followed a link sent to me to one of the proposals on, where second round voting would determine which 10 ideas will be presented to the Obama administration. It sent me to the idea on "bridging the empathy gap." I'm happy to vote for one of what I've been calling skills of peace. But while I was at the site...

I looked at other ideas, and followed the green energy one to the "Stop Global Warming" blog. The top post happened to focus on comments by Bruce Sterling. It had been only minutes since I'd written here that I tended to see the Climate Crisis future sort of the way Bruce Sterling does. (As you probably know, he's a noted science fiction writer who also writes nonfiction on the web and elsewhere, about the future, design, etc.)

That blog post linked me to his latest (and ongoing) comments at the granddaddy of all community blogs, San Francisco's The Well. This time, I know what this coincidence means. It means I have the latest Bruce Sterling comments to quote: (with my paragraphing and emphases.)

" Last, and slowest, and worst, there's the climate. The planet's entire atmosphere is polluted. Practically everything we do in our civilization is directly predicated on setting fire to dead stuff. Climate change is a major evil.

It's vast in scope and it's everywhere. The climate crisis would be a major issue even for a technically with-it bright-green secular Utopia, where every single citizen was an MIT grad. Of course our world looks nothing like that. Nor will it.

The people fighting climate change -- they look like Voltaire combatting Kings and Popes. They're still eighty percent witty comments. They have a foul, hot wind at their backs, but they don't yet have the battalions. Communism, capitalism, socialism, whatever: we've never yet had any economic system that recognizes that we have to live on a living planet.

Plankton and jungles make the air we breathe, but they have no place at our counting-house. National regulations do nothing much for that situation. New global regulations seem about as plausible as a new global religion.

None of this a counsel of despair. Seriously. We dare not despair because in any real crisis, the pessimists die fast. This is a frank recognition of the stakes. It's aimed at the adults in the room.

Let me put it this way. People don't have to solve every problem in the world in order to be happy. People will always have problems. People ARE problems. People become happy when they have something coherent to be enthusiastic about.

People need to LOOK AND FEEL they're solving some of mankind's many problems. People can't stumble around in public like blacked-out alcoholics, then have some jerk like Phil Gramm tell them to buck up. When you can't imagine how things are going to change, that doesn't mean that nothing will change. It means that things will change in ways that are unimaginable. "
Which all ties in with the idea I keep trying to get across: hope isn't some vacant emotion. It's motivation, it's living, it's activity, a way of life. Hope for the future is enacted in the present. The only future that exists now are the futures we envision and work to create or prevent. For us, that future is present. In our living moments, it's the only future that's real.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I ’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

- Emily Dickinson