Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday Hope Blogging

Derrick Jensen has written a stirring diatribe against hope:

[H]ope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless....To hope for some result means you have given up any agency concerning it. Many people say they hope the dominant culture stops destroying the world. By saying that, they've assumed that the destruction will continue, at least in the short term, and they've stepped away from their own ability to participate in stopping it.

I do not hope coho salmon survive. I will do whatever it takes to make sure the dominant culture doesn't drive them extinct....When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to "hope" at all. We simply do the work. We make sure salmon survive. We make sure prairie dogs survive. We make sure grizzlies survive. We do whatever it takes.
I think Jensen is a bit over the top when he argues that hope is inherently an obstacle to action, rather than a too-common substitute for it. And I can't think of any logical or metaphysical reason why hoping for a given result should mean that one has "given up any agency concerning it." Whether you look at this claim semantically or practically, it's pretty goddamn silly.

My view is that Jensen won't actually "do whatever it takes" to make sure coho salmon aren't driven to extinction. For one thing, he can't know which course of action will be successful; he can only hope he chooses the right one.

Further, the fact that Jensen wrote this piece implies that he hopes it will inspire people to take action. But that hope doesn't mean he gave up any agency. On the contrary, I'd imagine he wrote his article as carefully and thoughtfully as he could, in the hope that it would have the greatest possible effect on people. (If he didn't, he should've.)

Communication - writing, in particular - is a good example of how hope and agency are not only not mutually exclusive, but are often shackled together, for better or worse. Few people hope more fervently - or more irrationally - than those who wish to do things with words.

Jensen goes on to say:
I have no patience for those who use our desperate situation as an excuse for inaction. I've learned that if you deprive most of these people of that particular excuse they just find another, then another, then another. The use of this excuse to justify inaction—the use of any excuse to justify inaction—reveals nothing more nor less than an incapacity to love.

[I]f you love, you act to defend your beloved. Of course results matter to you, but they don't determine whether or not you make the effort. You don't simply hope your beloved survives and thrives. You do what it takes. If my love doesn't cause me to protect those I love, it's not love.
Alright, then. You do what it takes. The question is, what does it take?

On that note, let's retreat from cold hard reality, and seek shelter in the world of dreams:
Residents of the province of Quebec (Canada) may no longer smite their dandelions with 2,4-D, the herbicide found in popular lawn and garden products such as Green Cross Killex. The ban results as Quebec enacts the third and final phase of its Pesticides Management Code, which was launched in April 2003. The code is considered the toughest in North America and bans 20 active ingredients found in more than 200 products sold for cosmetic use in lawns and gardens.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts:
The Natick Conservation Commission voted unanimously last week to deny the state's request to use herbicides to treat the fast-growing Eurasian milfoil that is clogging the lake.
Admittedly, these are small victories. Not as small as this one, though:
A Jupiter man spotted a dead pelican in a Palm Beach pine tree, and a nonprofit seabird rescue organization took flight. "I couldn't believe my eyes," said Dimitri Gregorieff, then a Café L'Europe waiter. "I stood there for a few minutes and said, 'This can't be happening. It's just not right"....

So the one-man Seabird Rescue Foundation volunteer would drive almost daily to marinas and piers and transport injured pelicans to area wildlife hospitals that treat them for free.

"One man is better than nobody," Gregorieff said.
Which is the point of this weekly (sort of) feature. It's not about saving the world; it's about the painfully slow process by which we come to understand that the world needs saving. It's not about documenting technological breakthroughs; it's about documenting individual decisions to do things differently, or - failing that - to try to do things differently.

But enough about that. Here are some magic lantern slides:

I hope you like them.


that one guy said...

The magic lantern slides remind me of Lear's illustrations for his limericks. Off to check out the slides.

Phila said...

i hope you keep on with friday hope blogging. thanks for finding some marvelous and interesting stuff. we can hope some of it works.

Thanks, DPR. I've been tempted to pack it in - less from encroaching despair than because it's often the most time-consuming part of my blogging chores - but the people who like it really seem to like it, which means a lot to me.

Weirdly enough, it became easier once I started putting the frivolous links at the end. I started looking forward to doing it a bit more.

Anonymous said...

Re: hope vs. action, I think one of the issues is that we tend to de-humanize the cause of the problem, i.e. the damage is caused by some alien or mechanical force. But if the problem was created by a human, it can be un-done or solved by a human. It's the feeling of personal powerless-ness, if you will, that holds people back.

I would disagree with Jensen, though, and say that hope displays a belief that something can be done. Perhaps the individual doesn't believe that he, himself, can solve the problem, but they believe that someone, somehow can find a solution.

Whether hope inspires action is a different story, though; I find that while blogging about an issue can give us a sense of involvment, it doesn't substitute for action or relieve us of an individual responsibility to take action. I'm as guilty as the next blogger, in this regard.

Nice post!

GrrlScientist said...

life without hope is not worth living.


Phila said...


I would disagree with Jensen, though, and say that hope displays a belief that something can be done. Perhaps the individual doesn't believe that he, himself, can solve the problem, but they believe that someone, somehow can find a solution.

Well, sure. Jensen has defined hope in a self-serving, totally idiosyncratic way. And all his contortions leave us pretty much where we started (i.e., wondering what to do). The implication seems to have to do with violence being justified. But against whom, and to what end? It all strikes me as posturing, and poorly thought out posturing at that.


life without hope is not worth living.

Well, hope comes and go, so I wouldn't go quite that far. But it can be a sort of death-in-life, as I know all too well.


If someone can prime the pump, then the water down there can be pulled up here.

As always, you make my point better than I do. And as always, you're much too kind.