Sunday, October 29, 2006

On Hope

Hope is overrated.

I remember (vaguely) reading a book about Buddhism a while ago, of the zen bent if I recall correctly, in which the author wrote about the futility of being hopeful. That, of course, went against everything I'd ever been taught about the belief in the somewhat magical sustaining powers of hope that existed to enable one to carry on beyond whatever crisis or catastrophe one faced in life. But, as a student of Buddhist philosophy, the concept made sense to me as well.

Buddhists believe that desire causes suffering. It's quite another thing to actually live without desires all of the time though. The act of desiring, of wanting, is one that usually brings a psychic pain because you are left feeling that what you have or are experiencing in this moment is not enough and the very point of zen is to be fully here now. It follows then that relying on hope that something will change or become reality sometime in the future can indeed bring suffering as well because it brings along with it a dissatisfaction of present circumstances.

So, what does this have to do with politics? Well, here we are just 10 days before the US election with millions hoping that the Democrats will take control of at least the house and perhaps the senate in order to bring at least some sanity back to Washington. And this time around brings back the sting of defeat from the 2004 election when I, along with so many others, hoped that the vast majority of the American people would be able to see with great clarity the lies of an administration that had so violated their rights, their faith and their trust. That hope was seriously misplaced and the depression that followed online among Democratic/Kerry supporters was crushing.

There was, no doubt, more than hope at work the last time around just as there is this time. People are working hard locally to help their candidates get elected. GOTV efforts are being ramped up. Phone calls are being made, letters are being sent and there is a very strong belief buffeted by encouraging poll numbers that things will change this time. But when all is said and done, people still hang onto their hope.

It probably sounds cruel to suggest that they just accept they only have this moment in which they can choose to do the best they can to affect a successful outcome and that that ought to be enough to bring a measure of calm and self-assuredness but the factor of unpredictability - those suspicious voting machines, those GOP dirty tricks, the awaited Republican October surprise - leaves them with the one thing that can't be taken away from them: hope. And so it goes, round and round.

Living in a state without hope, which is not the same as hopelessness as we generally understand it, ideally ensures that we do not suffer the pain of desire now but that we don't also suffer doubly down the road if our hope in whatever situation or outcome we invest it in turns out to be fruitless. It is actually more of a blessing because it requires one to take action now to move towards one's goals and to accept that regardless of what we do, the outcome is never assured anyway. (There is also a school of thought that preaches living without goals that is worthy of note, but let's not complicate the situation now any more than we have to since the idea of living without hope is probably a shock to many just as it was to me).

The idea of dispensing with our reliance on hope is uncomfortable, just as the idea of living without faith for those who are religious seems virtually impossible. But, for the more logically-minded like me, it makes practical sense and makes living each day an exercise of being grounded in reality ie. whatever is happening right now as opposed to relying on some future time to bring satisfaction. Living it on a consistent basis though is not always easy.

I thought I knew in 2004 that John Kerry would be elected. I had hoped it would be so. This time, I'm more of an observer who's decided not to feast on the empty calories of hope. If the Democrats win, I'll rejoice (even though I don't know how much of a difference they'll be able to make any time soon, but a change is as good as a rest, they say). If they fail to regain control of the house and/or senate, then here we'll all be again for the last two years of Bush's so-called presidency railing against the injustices and trying to put one foot in front of the other as he continues to lead America down an already dangerous and unsteady path aided by Republican guides who have no idea what they're doing besides hoping that at least one of them knows one end of a horse from the other. And so far, the only thing we know for sure is that they're most comfortable following the horse's ass who's running the country while hoping that the enormous amount of shit he's caused will be cleaned up by someone else sometime in the future.

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