Sunday, April 06, 2008

The false promise of hope

This discussion about Obama turned some unexpected corners, including a foray into the meaning of hope.

When Pandora opened the forbidden Box, all evils escaped. Horrified, and too late, she closed the lid. But there was one weakly, thin-voiced, winged creature asking to get out. That was Hope, which was eonly antidote humans were offered by the gods to withstand evil. For the Greeks, hope was no less dangerous than all the world's evils. But without hope, to trail after the caravan of suffering, humanity had nothing but sheer despair. So some relief is restored when Pandora let out hope as well.

In Human, All Too Human, Friedrich Nietzsche has no illusions about the audacity of hope:

Hope. Pandora brought the jar with the evils and opened it. It was the gods' gift to man, on the outside a beautiful, enticing gift, called the "lucky jar." Then all the evils, those lively, winged beings, flew out of it. Since that time, they roam around and do harm to men by day and night. One single evil had not yet slipped out of the jar. As Zeus had wished, Pandora slammed the top down and it remained inside. So now man has the lucky jar in his house forever and thinks the world of the treasure. It is at his service; he reaches for it when he fancies it. For he does not know that that jar which Pandora brought was the jar of evils, and he takes the remaining evil for the greatest worldly good--it is hope, for Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man's torment.

Here is G.M. Roper, on Pajamas Media, exploring the same aspect of our anti-Periclean hero:


1. the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the bestv. intr.
2. To wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment.

...What we’ve had is a shortage of hope.”

Yet, what is Senator Obama selling? If hope is wanting something that can be had, events that will turn out for the best or a wish for something with an expectation of fulfillment, how does hope turn to reality?

...From perhaps a psychoanalytic point of view, hope can be said to deliver someone from feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. Certainly there are hundreds of thousands citizens that feel hopeless and/or helpless...

Eric Erikson, a psychoanalyst famed for his disagreements with Freud and his psycho-social developmental model, defines hope as: “…the belief that even when things are not going well, they will work out in the end.”

Things will work out in the end! Well, one may legitimately ask how will they work out. Is hope shorn of work towards a goal, or is hope something that is only based on wish fulfillment? Can hope, in and of itself, create a new reality and change the current one?

...Kennedy sold hope, but he also stated that work was necessary for the fulfillment of the promise of America. In his Inaugural Address he proclaimed:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

He also stated:

” Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Kennedy had it right, we must be prepared to “bear any burden, meet any hardship” and roll up our sleeves if we are to overcome the problems that currently beset our nation. And this cannot be done on the basis of hope alone.

It is as Thucydides quoted Pericles saying:

...They resigned to hope their unknown chance of happiness; but in the face of death they resolved to rely upon themselves alone.... they were minded to resist and suffer, rather than to fly and save their lives; they ran away from ... dishonor...


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