|Laurie Penny : '..you never know - we might win.'|
Can we really continue to hope for a better world when confronted with the existential threat that is climate change? Maybe hope, in the end, is all we have got...
I'VE BEEN THINKING AND WRITING a lot about climate change in recent times. This hasn't always been intentional but something will happen that will compel me to comment, whether it might be another inspirational protest or another daft demonstration of corporate-induced madness from Climate Change Minister James Shaw. Either way, when you are meditating on the end of the world as we know it, it seems largely inconsequential to expend time and energy on the latest parliamentary scandal. And since no one is paying me to write crap about Jacinda Ardern or Simon Bridges or Winston Peters, I won't.
Although the corporate media poured considerably more resources into covering the Rugby World Cup and its aftermath, the existential issue of our age is actually climate change. And when trying to confront the issue honestly, doubts will inevitably surface about whether we can legitimately claim that a welcoming future still lies before us. That's because everyday we are confronted with more uncomfortable evidence that our future may indeed be finite. Of course, if you think that climate change is just hocus-pocus conjured up by lefties and mad scientists, you can continue to be a happy idiot. Problem solved.
But, for the rest of us who haven't abandoned rationality, we have to take seriously the warning from the scientific community that we have twelve years to fix the problem. And that warning was issued in 2018. So it is the final countdown, as Europa might say.
Karl Marx's observation in the Communist Manifesto that we have a world to win may still hold true but the Communist Manifesto was published in 1849 and at a time when revolution was spreading like bush fire across Europe. In 2019 we've got ever more virulent bush fires of an altogether different variety and we've got a climate change denier in the White House and so-called 'political representatives' who think that our present economic arrangements can continue gloriously undisturbed, albeit with some minor tweaks. I'm looking at you, James Shaw. It may well be the madness of centrist politics, and not Donald Trump, that kills us in the end.
So can we even have hope when everything suggests that we should abandon such a fantastical notion? Can we even talk about hope without sounding as if we've stepped out of an episode of Little House on the Prairie?
Journalist Laurie Penny has been struggling with hope - or the lack of it - throughout most of her life. She suffers from the kind of depression and anxiety that requires medication. In a new essay, 'On Hope (In a Time of Hopelessness', she writes:
|Howard Zinn : The present moment does not have to be the future as well.|
'Engaging with current events at this particular moment in modern history feels like an endless rolling panic attack. Floods. Fires. Elections. Impeachment hearings. An indistinguishable shower of grinning authoritarian shitclowns snickering at everyone who tries to stop them stripping the planet for parts. Affectless armies of weaponised nihilists prepared to set the world on fire rather than share it with women and people of colour. All of it imploding into a sort of hectic immanence, a frantic collapse of timelines. Sometimes, it can feel like the crisis is too massive for anything any of us do to matter. Sometimes, everything is so urgent and so overwhelming and there’s so much you ought to care about that it’s easier … not to care.'
But Laurie Penny is a socialist from way back and her Twitter handle isn't @redpenny for nothing. The strength of her political convictions continue to drive her forward when the temptation might just be to give up and watch Netflix instead. Her definition of hope comes down to this and its as good a definition as any:
'What hope means, and what recovery means, is getting up every day in the full knowledge that nothing means anything and we’re all going to die pointlessly and too soon, and getting on with shit anyway. It means not listening to the semirational sliver of your brain that believes staying in bed drinking liquid ice cream is the better option. And eventually—maybe soon, probably not—things change. Eventually, probably not today, you feel better, or different. That’s what hope is. That’s it. That’s all. It’s bullshit and necessary and anyone can do it. You’re welcome.'
So, in the end, hope is an act of faith. Not faith in a religious sense because God ain't going to save us from the environmental devastation of late capitalism. I have exactly zero faith in the ruling classes and the economic elites and their political representatives who do their dirty work. But I do have faith in human resilience and our ability to overcome what may appear to be insurmountable odds. History is on my side. As the late Howard Zinn writes:
'There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.'
We need hope. Especially now. If we don't have hope, it can only eliminate our capacity to engage in struggle. And, as Laurie Penny observes,' when you’ve survived everything your own mind has to throw at you, saving the world will feel a bit more feasible. It won’t be easy. But you never know—we might win.'
When we choose hope then maybe anything at all is possible. The alternative is,well, just to give up.