Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Hope, and History

Only once in a while, sometimes in a long while, do I come across intelligent, mature writing that inspires and resonates with thoughts and ideas that feel like they belong somewhere deep inside myself.  I just read an article that fits this description on the blog, written by Rebecca Solnit.  

Now, I don't know a whole lot about Rebecca Solnit other than that she is a writer, so I don't know if I would agree with all of her views (though her name sounds familiar so I may have read other of her work somewhere) but if this article is a good example of that work then I should urge myself to discover some of her books. 

The article I want to share here, and urge for it to be read, is titled 'Too Soon to Tell: The Case for Hope, Continued'.  This is a 10 year later follow up to her first essay for Tomdispatch which turned into the book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, since translated into eight languages.

A quote from the current essay is I think quite remarkably illuminating: 
 'Hope and history are sisters: one looks forward and one looks back, and they make the world spacious enough to move through freely. Obliviousness to the past and to the mutability of all things imprisons you in a shrunken present'. 
I am so impressed with this that I intend to add it to my list of favourite quotes.  

In today's world where conversation is shaped and dominated by sound-bites or short catch-phrases, we tend to identify ourselves with and glibly hook onto such simple word pictures which have the appearance of marketable validity and value but when the surface is scratched a little are found to be actually quite limiting or in some cases even stupid and dangerous.  One such quotable quote, or a derivative of same, is 'Never look back.  It's not the direction you are headed'.  How short sighted is that. It shows a complete disregard of history and our place in time, something I have mentioned elsewhere as it is a favourite subject of mine.  

My usual counter to this frivolous statement is 'We cannot know where we are going unless we also know where we have come from'.  History adds time and space to our one-dimensioned present.  The 'Now' is a very important concept but too much focus on the 'now' without the benefit of a valid context, past and future, since every 'now' was, is or will be one or both of those, is utterly without purpose. 

There is much to commend this article.  The thread is woven around those people movements, that Rebecca repeatedly though not repetitively refers to as part of civil society, which were in times past, many of them more recently, born out of hope.  A hope based on actively pursuing the changes necessary to the realisation in some form, of their dreams. A hope for a better future for, quote: 
"...the world, for you, for us, for generations unborn, for species yet to be named, for the oceans and sub-Saharan Africans and Arctic dwellers and everyone in-between, for the whole unbearably beautiful symphony of life on Earth that is imperiled."  
Rebecca moves on to talk about the present with the latest news that, quote:
"...we (just) reached 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, the highest level in more than five million years. This is terrible news on a scale that eclipses everything else, because it encompasses everything else. We are wrecking our world, for everyone for all time, or at least the next several thousand years.
She still values hope as necessary to the picture.  A starting point, quote:
"Think of it as the match but not the tinder or the blaze."
So, there is a place for those who would form that tinder and fan that blaze.  We should welcome them not think of them in terms of, well whatever our current thinking is of those who question the way things are and actively propose alternative strategies for change. Those who get out of their comfort zone to do things that may in the past have made us feel uncomfortable about what they are doing and possibly who have given us reason to deride them for rocking the established and proverbial boat we are reclining in. Civil society owes all change, great and small to those people. 

While I think I have a good grasp on the possible range of outcomes that lay ahead for civil society, neither I, nor you, nor anyone else no matter who, can know exactly what may eventually transpire or the precise triggers or agencies that bring about the conditions which will be affecting us or our descendants in years to come.

With Rebecca, I am sure that surges of unstoppable action backed hopefulness on our part may play a vital part in the direction of our journey along that path.  Will they play a deciding factor in the outcome?  Too soon to tell.  

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