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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Horror and Hope*

Horror and Hope*

By Andrea Brower
Common Dreams
June 28, 2014

It has been a particularly depressing week on the news. From the
violence of war to that of poverty, we lack no evidence that things
are bad, perhaps getting worse.

During commercials we are advised to seek-out prozac, isolated
and pathologized for our sorrow.

We must not numb to the horror of the world, or turn a blind eye
and pretend that “it’s all good.”

It’s not.

But at the same time we cannot end with the tale of despair and
futility, taking the horror as evidence that we are incapable of
something better.

We must cultivate active hope, and turn it into a deeply political
and subversive act.

Our global society is structured around competitive hoarding,
manufactured scarcity and deprivation, hierarchy and distinction
between the deserving and the undeserving.

It’s tempting to blame the world’s troubles on “bad people” greedy
banksters, religious fundamentalists, corrupt politicians, choose
your demon.

But the greatest of horrors, including accelerating ecological
catastrophe, are inherent to the racist and patriarchal imperialist-
capitalist system that we create and re-create each day.

Increasingly, we have come (or been led) to believe that this is as
good as it gets, the best we can do as a hopelessly sinful species.

Capitalism is a system that demands the worst of our human
capabilities.

We are rewarded for greed, shamed for failure to accumulate
and consume fashionably.

We are taught to honor and strive to emulate those who have
too much, deride those without enough.

We bestow lavish wealth to those who steal what should belong to
us all, and imprison those who are made desperate by destitution.

We are directed to see our own worth as the ability to outdo
others, to claim our strength in another’s weakness.

We are trained in a logic and morality of numbers rather than
people, to consider human sacrifice for an abstract market rational.

And perhaps most counter-intuitive, we are forced into apathy
or fear of the “Other.”

We turn to all sorts of justifications to normalize a world in which
165 million children are so malnourished that they are physically
and cognitively stunted, and people are shot for crossing imagined
boundaries in search of a livelihood.

By perverted logic or emotional defense, we find ways to accept
the extreme suffering that is always in our face, and it becomes
simply routine to step-over the shelter-less body bundled on cold
cement.

All while we are instructed to “be good people.”

Yet despite the savagery that our system demands, we still do not
abandon our most innate drives for mutual-aid, compassion and
solidarity.

In fact, what is most evident all around us, all the time, is our
incredible generosity, sensitivity to fairness and the well-being
of others.

In the greater part of what we do, we truly are the “good people”
that we yearn to be.

The real brilliance of the human spirit is that we reflect such a
depth of selfless care and kindness in how we live together, even
though we are conditioned to view ourselves as possessed above
all by our self-interested “nature.”

In just observing our primary interactions, we might be reminded
that we are completely capable of living in a society where
cooperation, egalitarianism and democracy actually structure our
work, daily lives, and local and global societies, where the best of
our human attributes are cultivated, honored, and incentivized.

We are not short on the qualities necessary to organize systems
that equitably meet human needs, including for joy, creative self-
expression, leisure, voice and participation.

As anthropologist David Graeber has suggested, the very foundation
of all human sociability is a giving according to abilities and
receiving according to needs.

Liberatory visions might grow from recognizing our cooperative
dependencies and their boundless potentials.

There is no need for naiveté in this task, contradiction and duality
are built into the very essence of existence, and we will always
have to strive against the worst in the human spirit.

Nor is it helpful (or realistic) to passively hope for more enlightened
selves in an abstract utopian future.

Instead, we must actively make systems that motivate and inspire
the most beautiful of our capabilities, and abandon those that bring
out the most wretched in us.

While the question of pragmatically organizing alternatives
is a somewhat different topic, it should not strike us as so
overwhelming given our creative problem solving capacities,
the types of social organization that have worked in the past,
and currently existing (though systematically limited)
possibilities.

And there is no question that decisions being made right now will
either deepen the most pernicious of corporate imperialist-
capitalism, or move more towards, and open greater possibilities
for, ecological-sanity, actual democracy, egalitarianism and
demilitarization.

Horizons of possibility can expand rapidly and dramatically, and
what appears as socially and politically possible today should not
limit our imaginations of what could be possible tomorrow.

It is also true that our systems are deeply entrenched, and there
are people at the top of our pyramids who will not simply hand
over their power.

We will only challenge the cruel modern structures of privilege and
poverty if we overcome our collective dis-empowerment, that
strange but pervasive sense that while we might be able to do
anything as individuals (through neuroscience, or prayer, or good
old hard-work, or whatever), together we are just a violent, greedy
and generally lousy bunch.

Hope, the belief in better possibilities, lies within one another
and collective struggle.

Let’s allow our hearts to be broken by the horror we witness
everyday, but let us also remember that the depth of our pain
is the depth of our love.

That love, in ourselves and reflected in others, should be all the
evidence we need that the fight for a better world is never futile.



Andrea Brower is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology
at the University of Auckland.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/06/28-4

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