Anecdotage #2 On the uses of despair

This morning Chris Hedges let loose another one of his doom-laden fusillades, this one about the grotesque bromance between the Trump and neo fascist Christian evangelicals as personified by Pat Robertson et al. He shows us an alternate US reality, followed by thirty million pissed off Americans that is, in shocking ways, a mirror image of the murderous Caliphate deliriously desired by the jihadists known variously as ISIS, DAESH, ISIL. In keeping with Hedges’ take no prisoners approach, he ends with a warning: If we do not act, American fascists, clutching Christian crosses, waving American flags and orchestrating mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance, united behind the ludicrous figure of Donald Trump, will ride this rage to power. If this were just one troubling article, I might cope. But it’s not. Right now, there’s a barrage of bad to downright horrible news that would send someone more optimistic than I am down the rabbit hole of despair. One of the most troubling, for me, is that we have already overshot the carrying capacity of our planet and can no longer assume that the worst of Climate Change, pollution, and the Sixth Extinction will, somehow, not happen until we’re safely dead. The WWF, not exactly a revolutionary body, recently published a massive document about the state of the planet that plunged me into an emotional abyss that I cannot crawl out of. Meanwhile, the powers at the root of our current crisis, Extreme Capitalism, flourish. I am in absolute Despair. And I welcome it.

Except that, wait a minute, isn’t Depair a bad thing? Something to be avoided at all costs? If you listen to the Scientific establishment, liberal politicians and old white men of prestige and power, like Al Gore and Obama, they will certainly insist that there’s still Hope. That we can, all evidence to the contrary, survive and even thrive in a world where the centre is not holding, where terrible things are slouching towards us even as we hide behind liberal slogans like HOPE! and our cushy western lifestyles. But there is always the Trump to blame, and Gore follows the herd here, as he always does. His so called inconvenient follow up to the first Inconvenient Truth moment back in 2006, is full of moral outrage and sentences like this: It is wrong to deny Hope to future generations, this is a moral crusade like the woman’s suffrage movement, etc etc.

There he is, eleven years later, doing what he’s always done: making us feel that at least some of the powers that be are on our side and fighting for us. They are doing everything they can. We can go home and live our lives; they will look after us and this problem called Climate Change. We don’t have to worry too much; they have it under control.

So, if we just get outraged enough, if we just believe enough, everything will work out, somehow. If you believe that, you’re a fool and a patsy. Because if there’s anything that is clear, it’s that men like Gore are simply shills for a system that is going to destroy humanity and the planet with every living thing on it. He and his kind know very well that Despair is something to be avoided at all costs because as soon as someone is in its grip, you can’t manipulate them anymore. People in Despair no longer believe in your messages of Hope; they know better. They have embraced our terrible reality and learned to live with it. They are dangerous because they can see clearly and they have that thing called courage, the first of the virtues, the one without which all the others are moot. Despair makes you courageous in ways that Hope never can. Only Despair delivers a clear and present vision of what must be done. Only Despair shows the way forward in a time of dread. Only Despair delivers the courage to actually do and live your life differently. To take risks that would seem unaceptable to those living with eternal, false Hope. Just talk to the young voters who believed in Obama’s endless Hope messages. I sometimes wonder what happened to them. I imagine some have embraced Despair and become dangerously unpredictable revolutionaries. Some might have become simply depressed, living on medications. That is the danger, and it is one I am very aware of. I know I’m living on the edge of depression, but I have to take that risk.

If you think I’m raving, I’m raving with some precedents: Buddhism, for one. Here is American Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chödrön on the subject of Despair and fear: 

It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.

Those two paragraphs contrasted with Gore’s ravings about Hope is what set me to thinking and writing. I know whom I follow, and I’m no Buddhist. I am afraid for us. And I’m not going to let false Hope deliver me from this extremely inconvenient position. I’m stuck with Despair. I’m learning to live with it and to accept its harsh lessons. I have given up Hope, and I feel so much…not better, but lighter, cleaner, closer to the truth.



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