What About When There Is No Hope?

We can’t always depend on hope to make things better.

What can a Mackem know about hope? The city tries, without any, and sometimes with fierce pride. It’s one of the cities that struggles most in the UK, with cuts to services and the legacy of the closure of the shipyards still being felt today. There have been improvements, with the investment of the university but it is a place that lives in the shadow of its past. The Leave vote here was a shock to nobody who had grown up here. Politicians had ignored the region, and especially Sunderland which calls itself a city without anywhere near the infrastructure one might expect. It wasn’t a vote that can be justified. Xenophobia is a major issue, but that is true across the rest of England where Leave also won. The difference feels inexplicable to those outside, but while many English regions wanted to take back control and go along with all of the other jaded populism, Sunderland’s ideology isn’t one of a twisted form of hope. It was of bitterness and pain. Handing power to a Conservative Government will never help the North, but Sunderland voted for it anyway.

Hope isn’t always enough. In politics, hope has been snatched away time and again. It’s why many simply didn’t believe Remain when they tried to inspire and promised we could change things (although the press certainly didn’t help). There were tears after the revelation that Leave had won. There was shock and confusion at how Trump could have won, particularly when he was a buffoon against the most qualified candidate in history. There has been blow after blow to the politics of hope. So what happens when there is no hope?

We can’t all afford the luxury of hope. It’s a concept that can lead to privilege and can inspire complacency, because things will get better, we assume – as if those things we don’t like simply decide to be better of their own accord. We have to stop saying this will get better and start talking about how we will make them better. Anger is more useful than hope. It’s used to inspire but also to draw comfort, but that isn’t enough. For when things don’t change, or change slower then promised then people turn resentful. The promise of hope risks bringing destruction down the line. It’s time to put our future in our own hands, rather than waiting for things to change.

We don’t have time for the bullshit of hope. Climate change is the biggest crisis facing us right now and it will impact every generation to come after us. The poorest communities across the globe will be hit first. It is a capitalist disaster and one which we’re not nearly doing enough about. There’s a lot of wariness around saying that it’s too late to undo the damage because we’re not entirely certain of that and it’s also believed that saying that will mean people will abandon even trying to make a difference. Humanity should move beyond the carrot and stick approach. We should be accountable and take action because it’s necessary, not because we expect some benefit at the end. The world may well be utterly screwed but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to try anyway. We can minimise pollution for future generations, even if ours can never reverse what our own life cycle will experience. We’re in a mass extinction but we also owe it to every creature to try to do what we can for them, especially if some can’t be saved.

“We don’t have time for the bullshit of hope”

That’s not to say we shouldn’t look for comfort where we can, but that our commitment to taking action should not be dependent upon whether we feel like it. The climate of breaking news means that we always have reasons to lose hope, whether it’s Brexit progressing or Trump drilling in the Arctic. There’s always a reason to despair. What matters isn’t how we feel, but what action we choose to take.

Hope has been wielded as an inconsistent weapon. Remainers, for instance, demand hope that Brexit could be stopped. Maybe it can. But they also miss the point about why so many voters are still floating on the subject. Many struggled under austerity and where were the Remainers then? Brexit is just another calamity for many who were already struggling with services being cut, the cost of living and cuts to social security. Why should Remainers get solidarity when so many offered none during austerity? We can’t pick and choose to talk about the future of the UK only when our own personal futures are at stake. Change demands solidarity and collective action, which requires us to think and care beyond ourselves.

Hope is a message rarely believed, and it leads to complacency. For believers, they think that they know that change is coming and so are more likely to be prepared to wait. For those who don’t believe the message, they disengage. The framing of politics has to be around something more substantial. It cannot be about concepts and feelings, but about what we can do and how we can do it. Whether we feel despair, alone, inspired, hopeful, optimistic, connected, or whatever, we should still keep pushing for progress in any way we can or are able to. The message of hope is redundant. We need a philosophy that pushes the need for endeavour. We shouldn’t have to live in times where we are forced to engage but these are the times we’ve got, and it’s our responsibility to try to make things better and not just expect it to happen by itself. We determine whether there is hope. We are hope. Now we just have to show it.

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