Monday, August 21, 2006

hopeful pessimism

In "The Myth of Sisyphus," Albert Camus argues that living in hope is what makes life not worth living - that is, hope leads to suicide. His reasoning goes something like this: if you hope for something, and this hope is the central meaning of your life, then you're not living to live, and the worth of life is subordinate to something unreal, something that doesn't literally exist. Only life without hope is lived for the sake of life.

I used to buy this, or at least, used to believe I bought it. But the other morning I woke up thinking Camus had a view of hope I couldn't accept, or that needed more nuance.

I am a hopeful person. This is not to say I'm an optimistic person, because I'm not. Hope, I think, isn't an expectation that everything will turn out right, nor is it the perception of the good or bright side of everything. Hope is active and transformative, leads to a commitment to change something, or to be part of a group committed to try to change something. For instance, my hopes for the future of the CSU drive me to be a faculty union activist. I don't see much reason to be optimistic about the future of the CSU, or of faculty, but I have hope that working with these people will be worth it, no matter what happens in the long run (in fact, I suspect the long run will be awful).

That same morning, I woke up from a very strange dream. I was participating in a direct action campaign (a protest, but also a meeting with the campus president) at CSU-East Bay. Mark Karplus, the CFA lecturer rep at e-Bay, and Steve Wilson, the rep from Sonoma State, were there as well. Eventually we ended up suspended on a clock tower on the campus (I don't think e-Bay even has a clock tower). As the police and CSU officials started to climb up to drag us down, Steve and I saw a kitten on the top of the tower, and we grabbed it, to turn the whole event into a weird melodramatic spectacle and photo op. Lecturers save kittens!

I think that would be a great slogan. We could make t-shirts with a two-panel cartoon. The first panel would depict CSU chancellor Charles B. Reed with a bag of kittens, right on the shore in Long Beach, about to drown the poor dears. The second would show CFA activists seizing Reed's arm and wresting the kittens from it, presumably to bring to a vet for shots, eventually to be spayed or neutered and brought into loving homes. (Perhaps a third panel, on the other side of the shirt, could show this.)


KOM said...

(Insert long comment written and aborted several times over the last 5 or 10 minutes because I can't tie my thoughts together. Feel free to draw own conclusion.)

1.I have personally found 'hope' to be destructive, though not for the same reasons as Camus.
2.Your description of 'hope' brings to my mind how others might describe 'faith'.

Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

Right, right, right. That clears everything up. I'M the hopeless one. YOU're the useless one. I always get those confused.

Robert Kirkman said...

It strikes me that your idea of hope is close to what Voltaire arrives at after his own struggle with the Leibnizes and the Panglosses of this world. Later scholars would stick it with the hifallutin' name of "meliorism" - which is somehow neither optimisn nor pessimism.

Just rewrite the end of "Candide": instead of saying "We must cultivate our garden", say "We must save our kitties."