hope in the dark: untold histories, wild possibilities, by cultural critic / philosopher-poet rebecca solnit, is a potent cultural and political exploration on how to retain hope in a time of pervasive
cynicism and despair. by exploring the incremental progress and slow maturation of revolutions throughout history, solnit dispels the illusion of immediacy, widely perpetuated by the !!24-hour!! news cycle that keeps us fixated on the “now” and d.i.v.o.r.c.e.s us from the continuity of life, events, and movements.
to illustrate the cause→and→effect relations that provide grounds for political engagement, solnit acknowledges and celebrates grassroot activists and behind-the-scenes actors who have played vital roles in revolutions —including but certainly not limited to — the american civil rights movement, the zapatista uprising in mexico, the fall of the berlin wall, the worldwide marches against war in iraq, and arab spring.
solnit brings the mix of + fear and possibility + into a new light as readers are reminded of the importance of sustaining hope AND acting on that hope as movements for climate, racial, and economic justice pervade our today.
all in all, hope in the dark is a much-needed companion to every civically conscious individual.
excerpts from hope in the dark: untold histories, wild possibilities
perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible
the moment passed long ago,
but despair, defeatism, cynicism, and the amnesia and assumptions from which they often arise have not dispersed,
even as the most
things came to pass.
there is a lot of evidence for the defense…
progressive, populist, and grassroots constituencies have had many victories.
popular power has continued to be a profound force for change.
and the changes we’ve undergone,
both wonderful and terrible,
[ .this is an extraordinary time. ]
full of vital,
not be foreseen.
[ .it’s also a nightmarish time. ]
doesn’t mean denying these realities.
it means facing them and addressing them
by remembering what else the twenty-first century has brought,
// the movements,
// and shifts in consciousness
that address these things now.
it’s important to say what hope is
not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine.
the evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction.
the hope i’m interested in is about
ones that invite or demand that we act.
[ .everything-is-getting-better narrative. ]
though it may be a counter to the
[. everything-is-getting-worse narrative. ]
you could call it an account
complexities and uncertainties,
but hope is
not about what we expect.
it is an embrace
of the essential unknowability of the world,
of the b/r/e/a/k/s with the present,
or perhaps studying the record more carefully
leads us to expect miracles
not when and where we expect them,
but to expect to be astonished,
to expect that we don’t know.
« is grounds to act »
hope locates itself
in the premises that we don’t know what will happen
spaciousness of uncertainty
[ .is room to act. ]
when you recognize uncertainty,
you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes —
or you in concert
with a few dozen
several million others.
of the unknown and the unknowable,
an alternative to the certainty of both:
optimists and pessimists.
optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement;
pessimists take the opposite position;
[ .both excuse themselves from acting. ]
it’s the belief that what we do matters
how and when
it may matter,
who and what
it may impact,
not things we can know beforehand.
know them afterward either,
but they matter all the same
and history is full of people
was most powerful
after they were
after a rain
mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth
as if from nowhere.
many do so from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown.
what we call mushrooms mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus.
uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous,
but less visible
organizing and groundwork
— or underground work —
[ .often laid the foundation. ]
ideas and values
also result from
work done by writers,
and participants in social media.
it seems insignificant or peripheral
until very different outcomes emerge
↔↔ transformed assumptions ↔↔
who and what matters,
who should be heard and believed,
who has rights.
ideas at first considered
[ outrageous ] or [ ridiculous ] or [ extreme ]
what people think they’ve always believed.
how the ↔↔transformation↔↔ happened is
in part because it’s compromising:
the mainstream when the mainstream was,
in a way it no longer is;
and it recalls
comes from [ the shadows ] and [ the margins ]
that our hope
is in the dark around the edges,
not the limelight of center stage.
and often our power.
it’s as [ c o M p l E = x ] as chaos theory
and as [ s l o w ] as evolution.
even things that seem to happen suddenly arise
from deep roots in the past
from long-dormant seeds.
you can tell the genesis story of the arab spring other ways.
the quiet organizing going on in the shadows beforehand matters.
so does the comic book about martin luther king and civil disobedience that was translated into arabic and widely distributed in egypt shortly before the arab spring.
you can tell of king’s civil disobedience tactics being inspired by gandhi’s tactics,
and gandhi’s inspired by tolstoy and the radical acts of noncooperation and sabotage of british women suffragists.
so the threads of ideas
weave around the world
and through the decades and centuries.
the radical geographer iain boal had prophesied,
“the longing for a better world will need to arise
at the imagined meeting place
of many movements of resistance,
as many as there are sites of
closure and exclusion.
the resistance will be as transnational capitalism.”
that everything is now
going to be nice forever
and we can therefore all go lounge around
until the end of time.
some activists are afraid
that if we acknowledge victory,
people will give up the struggle.
i’ve long been more afraid
that people will give up and go home
never get started in the first place
if they think no victory is possible
fail to recognize the victories already achieved.
marriage equality is
not the end of homophobia,
but it’s something to celebrate.
a victory is a milestone on the road,
evidence that sometimes we win,
and encouragement to keep going,
not to stop. ]
americans are good at responding to crisis
going home to let another crisis brew
¹ because we imagine that the finality of death can be achieved in life
[ it’s called “happily ever after” in personal life]
[ “saved” in politics ]
² we tend to think political engagement
is something for emergencies rather than,
as people in many other countries
(and americans at other times)
have imagined it,
as a part
of everyday life.
[ .the problem seldom goes home. ]
people have always been good
at imagining the
end of the world,
which is much easier to picture
sidelong paths of change
in a world without end.
seems to be a way to
when they’re still delicate,
still in need of [ protection] and [ encouragement ]
human babies are helpless at birth,
and so perhaps are victories
before they’ve been consolidated into the culture’s sense of how things should be.
i wonder sometimes what would happen
if victory was imagined
[ .as the elimination of evil. ]
[ .the establishment of good. ]
after american slavery had been
abolished, reconstruction’s promises of economic justice had been enforced by the abolitionists,
end of apartheid had been seen as meaning instituting economic justice as well (or, as some south africans put it, ending economic apartheid).
[ .it’s always too soon to go home. ]
most of the great victories continue to unfold,
¹ in the sense that they are
not yet fully realized,
² in the sense that they continue to spread influence.
a phenomenon like the civil rights movement
creates a vocabulary and a toolbox for social change
used around the globe,
so that its effects
it’s important to emphasize
that hope is only a beginning
not a substitute for action. ]
only a basis for it.
amnesia → leads to → despair in many ways.
the status quo would like you to believe
it is immutable,
and lack of memory
of a dynamically changing world
reinforces this view.
in other words,
don’t know how much things have changed,
you don’t see that they are changing
that they can change.
you row forward looking back,
and telling this history
is part of helping people navigate toward the future.
a war chant
.for our victories.
the past is set in daylight,
and it can become
a torch we can carry
into the night
… that is the future.
× rebecca solnit ×
hope in the dark: untold histories, wild possibilities