“The Futility of Hope”

Suzanne Pharr March 3rd, 2008

by guest writer, Renee DeLapp

I used to be a union organizer. Of the many things I learned about power, one lesson in particular has stuck with me through the years. It was from a video made by a former union organizer who became a “consultant” for management. As I recall the video, old-style management, when confronted with a union, absolutely demolished the union and union leaders. Problem being, when the union regrouped it came back stronger and smarter. The answer, this consultant said, is not to destroy a union, but instead to teach the futility of struggle. “Organize if you want to, but it won’t change anything.” The mantra: Don’t hope. The process: Don’t struggle. The outcome…

I’ve often wondered why, exactly, hope is so often treated as the antithesis of wisdom. I think it has something to do with the unbridled, transcendent power at its core. Hope is the heart of revolution. Without hope, no change is possible. Hope is the absolute predicate to possibility. So hope must be neutralized if power is to be maintained. And the best way to do that? Not by destroying it, but by teaching its futility.

So, how to marginalize hope? Feminize it. Dismiss it as “mere” emotion (read irrational, baseless). Patronize those who hold it. Make it a ‘feel-good, chic-flick, can’t-buy-groceries-with-it, save-it-for-Sunday, isn’t-that-cute, don’t-take-it-seriously, luxury-after-the-real work-gets-done’ kind of emotion.

So, much as I dislike a binary approach to just about anything, it seems to me that when it comes to hope there are two possibilities. The first, that we are powerlessly along for the ride on the world’s inalterable trajectory — along with the misery, injustice, violence, and destruction our hopelessness has allowed us to tolerate and create. The second, that if we have enough courage to acknowledge and act upon hope there is at least a possibility that we might alter the world’s trajectory. On bad days, I can make a damn good case for the first scenario. On other days, I can see beyond the thicket of cynicism I’ve built in a vain effort to protect myself from the pain should hope indeed prove an exercise in futility.

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