Sunday, February 19, 2012

Varnish on the Abyss

But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence. The least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of. -Lord Byron

Hope, in its stronger forms, is a great deal more powerful stimulant to life than any sort of realized joy can ever be. Man must be sustained in suffering by a hope so high that no conflict with actuality can dash it — so high, indeed, that no fulfillment can satisfy it: a hope reaching out beyond this world. (Precisely because of this power that hope has of making the suffering hold out, the Greeks regarded it as the evil of evils, as the most malign of evils; it remained behind at the source of all evil [that is, in Pandora's box],) -Friedrich Nietzsche

Hope, if it is indeed a mere convention, is a powerful tool in the hands of the user. Hope can instill that great endurance which would be wholly absent apart from it. By willing ourselves to hope, we can achieve far more than we ever could without it. Honing the power of hope can unlock the will to make our greatest desires a reality. Hope has toppled dictators, freed the masses, won Olympic medals, brought hearing to the deaf, and made the lame to walk again. Hope is the difference between the great men and the barely-subsisting ones.

The truly, utterly desperate have only the will to live. They are but a short fall from losing even that. The nations with the greatest poverty are those with the most despair. Even the regions of America with great poverty (for instance, Appalachian eastern Kentucky) are communities marked by high levels of fatalism. When a man believes that all things are ordained by fate apart from any human action, he is bound to find himself locked into a cycle of hopelessness and destitution. Everyone needs hope just to operate. Even a hope so slim as another day's pay or another meal can be the impetus unto life. But more than feed is needed to pull a man out of the pig trough. He has to believe that he can be empowered.

This is the mantra of modern counseling in all of its circles. Victims must be taught that they are not merely at the whims of a victimizer. The key word here is "empowerment". Empowering a victim means convincing him that he can take control of a situation. He is not at the mercy of his attacker. By equalizing the power between them, he robs the attacker of power. He can again become the master of his destiny and overwhelm the adversary. This is also the mentality of educators, particularly in low-income classrooms. Teachers must convince students that no force on earth has locked them where they are. They can go to college, they can hold down jobs, they can break the cycle of poverty which strangles their communities. If students be convinced in their own minds to hope for the future, no star can ever shine brighter.

But a tool is just an instrument in the hands of its user. And a hope which sees no fulfillment is the greatest tool of all.

How can that be? Because hope in oneself can be a powerful asset, so too can hope in another. By placing our hope in someone or something external to ourselves, we become the living puppets of the external. Hoping in Barack Obama makes you a slave to him, for you would follow him into the flames of perdition itself. Isn't that what great generals have known for centuries? Robert E. Lee was not canonized for his gentlemanly virtues or singular greatness. He was canonized because his men put their whole hope and trust in him. He could throw his men pell-mell against vicious gatling guns and they would stubbornly absorb the bullets of the inevitable future. Some great general; he lost the war! And yet still in loss they lionized him all the more, for though the cause be lost the man lived on as a champion of Southern dignity in defeat.

Yet imagine a hope which has no fulfillment. In spite of every proof to the contrary, it is never shaken. Think about the blind jingoism on the right which leads America into travesty after travesty. Or think about the naive idealism on the left which puts all its hopes in an inept government that can't resolve anything. No matter how much evidence is provided to the contrary, the hope of these extremists remains resolute and unwavering. Each party may respectively lead us into costly war or paternalistic tyranny. Frankly, neither hard right nor hard left seem particularly worried by the prospects of their darkest futures. "What does war matter when America is great and in the right?!!" "What does civic tyranny matter if everyone is equal; aren't we under the tyranny of the rich elite anyway?!!" Though many have been disillusioned out of either political extreme by circumstances, imagine if everyone continued to hope in a thing in spite of the evidence against it AND a lack of evidence for it.

Maybe hope deferred and unfulfillable can endure all things, even leading to death. Consider the hope instilled in jihadists for the certainty of heaven and the promise of seventy-two virgins. Have we any empirical evidence that their souls ascended unto Paradise to commune with Allah and consort with nubile women? All we have is airplane debris and charred corpses of fanatic slaves of extremist imams. Consider if Osama bin Laden really believed this doctrine? Do al-Qadea bosses really believe that the only sure-fire way into Paradise is through martyrdom against the infidels? Then why aren't they in the hijacked planes? This is just a lie they purport to control men for their own ends.

Control is why parents lie to their children about Santa. "Be good so that the red elf will reward you." And if a child doesn't get what he wants, "There's always next year!" It may revile you to think that hope is just a tool for brokering power--to barter power to and fro for control or empowerment like an abacus in balance--but how many times have you yourself perpetuated this same lie?

And isn't Nietzsche right when he says that Jesus weaponized hope like no one else? Dan Brown certainly agreed when he published The Da Vince Code in which the Church used the lie of the crucifixion and the resurrection to coerce Christians for millennia. The teaching of the Christian Church--Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant--is that Jesus was the first fruits of a general resurrection when creation will be restored from its fallen state. Death will itself die, they say, when Jesus returns. Nietzsche scoffs, "'Behold, I am coming quickly.' Great lie!" And knave after coddled knave pray the prayer, bow the knee, and willingly submit to slavery bound in chains of hope deferred and unfulfillable. Despite the promise of his imminent return yet unfulfilled, Christians will obey even unto death the mandates of the faith without even seeing a single Jewish hair from the Messiah's head.

Hope is the great lie when it is based on nothing real, nothing tangible, nothing certain.

Or so says the nihilist. I will examine more on this next time.

Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man. -Nietzsche

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