Against Hope

As I said in my last post, I encountered some offensive nonsense coming from the instructor during my Saturday class. She asserted — without any subtlety — that religious organizations are better at peacebuilding than secular organizations are (!). Having already dealt with 9/11 and moon-landing conspiracy theorists, as well as “quantum morality,” I was not in a good place to be told that religions are peaceful entities.

Me: “On what do you base this claim?”

“Religions offer hope.”

Me: (actually losing my cool) “WHOA. Stop. Hope has absolutely no place in this.”

Rather than take on the question of whether or not secular or religious organizations offer more “hope” — because, honestly, where would that discussion get us? — I’d like to use this post to explain one of my core philosophies: Hope is oppressive.

Hope is oppressive because hope is paralyzing. Hope keeps people from taking action, from asserting agency, from rationally weighing potential outcomes and from deciding what is an acceptable risk. Hope is a gamble that you are guaranteed to lose, because while the hoped-for outcome might come to pass, the passive nature of hope is disempowering. Hope just keeps people in line.

Hope is also oppressive because hope is accompanied by the emotions of anxiety and disappointment. Hoping for something is stressful. Hoping for something and not getting it can be devastating.

Hopelessness, on the other hand, is liberating. You’ve heard the expression “beware of the person with nothing to lose,” right? Hopelessness is the space of commitment, the space where we find out who we really are and what we are ready to fight for. Hopelessness is the place where we discover radical self-reliance, because no one is coming to save us. Hopelessness is the place where we make our stand because it has become unbearable to wait any longer, and hopelessness is where justice gets done.

Let me be clear: Hopelessness is not despair. To despair is to lose hope — what happens after hope. Hopelessness is to not waste your energy on hope in the first place and to instead focus your energy on getting things done.