Hope and Despair: The Better Choice Will Surprise You

Many people, especially religious people, put supreme value on hope. A better future is the focus of their lives, and everything they do is directed toward building such a future. Yet that approach quite often involves sacrificing the present and enduring worse conditions than a person would endure if the present were supreme in their minds. More to the point, hopes for the future often get dashed, so that a person finds herself having sacrificed her entire life for nothing.

The myth of Pandora talks about how a foolish woman opened a chest and released all of the world’s evils into the open air, leaving only hope trapped within the chest. The usual interpretation has been that hope is the only thing we have left and is what is best about human life. Yet Friedrich Nietzsche had his own interpretation of the myth. He said hope was not let loose into the world because hope is the greatest of evils, something that robs us of our lives for the sake of a nonexistent afterlife. And, in the 21st century, it’s true that there are two main proponents of hope. One such group is those who believe in eternal afterlife.

The other main proponents of hope are those who have self-interest in the perpetuation of the current social order, because it gives them pleasant and comfortable lives. Such people don’t much care about the fact that the current social order makes the vast majority of us miserable, as long as we continue providing them support for their cushy lives. So the popular culture they control promotes hope, in movies, TV shows, songs and self-serving speeches made by fatcats, including fatcat celebrities. Nothing is more tragic than the tens of millions of fans of an A-list celebrity believing her statements that each one of them can be just as famous and comfortable as her. Logic would tell them that it’s impossible, yet, if she didn’t peddle that message, she would lose her fans and therefore her cushy life. So she lies through her teeth and causes her fans to throw their lives away.

You can probably tell that I consider hope to be either a delusion of the religious or a cynical fraud of the wealthy and entitled. Yet what is the alternative to hope? There are two. One is to live strictly in the present and enjoy each moment for what it is without projecting where the moment will take us next. Living that way is a perfectly valid choice, although it does have well-documented drawbacks. But there is another valid choice: conquering despair and making it your servant rather than your master.

For three and a half decades, the only thing I wanted out of life was autonomy. I wanted to take care of myself. Some years ago, it became clear that I am simply unviable and therefore not capable of taking care of myself. So I entered a state of despair that lasted several years. I spent years wanting only to die and bemoaning the fact that I lacked the courage to end my life as rightness demanded. In the end, however, I emerged from it armed with serenity and peace. In the last year, I have been gradually approaching happiness because I conquered despair. In some ways I am still in despair, because I realize that my only goal in life, autonomy, is unattainable. I have no hope for a better future. But conquering despair has enabled me to make peace with the impossibility of my dream coming true and truly start living for the first time in my existence. In the dark past, when I still hoped, I did not live, precisely because I was hoping rather than living. Now, I live thanks to despair.

Do you find YOUR hopes always dashed because your goal is unattainable? I bet you do. Consider, then, the two better alternatives to the life-burgling fraud of hope: living strictly in the now, as some do, and making despair your servant, as I have.

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3 thoughts on “Hope and Despair: The Better Choice Will Surprise You

  1. This is a fantastic point. I found a quote, years ago, by an activist Buddhist nun explaining this concept and how she had put ¨Abandon Hope¨ on her wall, because hope leads to inaction, to wishful thinking.
    I found myself living a life that consisted of so much wishful thinking, that I knew I absolutely had to stop hoping and start doing.
    My life is very much improved by that action.

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    1. Indeed, there is great similarity between my viewpoint and some varieties of Buddhism, but, in my sane moments, I do not believe in reincarnation or karma and am a hardcore atheist and materialist. In my insane moments I write stuff such as the “Deaders” post I made a few days ago. Your input as someone who knows something about these things is very much welcome.

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      1. I am an atheist, too. I just used to read a lot of National Geographic! So, sorry, I do not know anything about the Tibetan brands of Buddhism, only what one convert nun has said regarding hope.

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