Connecting the Dots: A choice — Despair or radical hope?

  • John Bos FILE PHOTO

Published: 10/30/2022 9:55:36 PM

I am feeling hopeless about our politics and our planet. In my weekly writing group last Monday, I wrote “I am wrestling with the word hope. About its meaning. About whether I have it or not. I don’t think I do. But not being able to articulate what hope is, how can I possibly know I have it or not?” On that same day in the Recorder, Russ Vernon-Jones, in his excellent My Turn entitled “Nurturing Hope,” confirmed that “even the most optimistic among us … can find ourselves emotionally worn down and pulled toward discouragement and despair by bad news” with respect to the sluggish response to our climate crisis.

Then I read that only a handful of countries have ramped up their climate mitigation plans in the last year, despite having promised to do so at the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow last November. Current pledges for action by 2030, even if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C, a level that would condemn the world to catastrophic climate breakdown, according to the UN’s climate agency. Where can legitimate hope be found in that prediction?

Vernon-Jones’s answer is that “hope is a choice. It can be challenging to hold both the good news and the bad news in our minds without slipping into rigid optimism on one side or despair on the other. Holding both opens us up to a whole range of feelings, including feelings of despair.”

Despair is what I experience when I then read that Shell and TotalEnergies both doubled their quarterly profits to about $10 billion in the last quarter. Oil and gas giants have enjoyed soaring profits as post-Covid demand jumps and after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The petroleum sector is expected to amass $4 trillion in 2022 according to Bloomberg News. Again, Vernon-Jones asks “What is hope? Hope,” he says, “is not a conviction or prediction that things will turn out well. It is possible to be hopeful even when the odds are not in your favor. Hope is a decision. Hope is a decision to hold open the possibility of success regardless of the odds. Hope is a choice.” It’s a decision that is eluding me.

I am trying to also apply Jones’s prescription of hope to the poisonous political pandemic that has sickened America. In that effort I have, at various times, experienced a tad of compassion (and sorrow) for at least some chunks of the far right Trumpublican base. This surprising (to me) reaction is in response to Maggie Haberman’s new book about Donald Trump entitled “Confidence Man.”

She writes that “when you compare Trump’s cons” (his lifelong modus operandi) “with the $50 trillion that the GOP has conned out of the American working class and given to the top 1 percent since 1980, Trump looks like a piker.”

Haberman writes that Citizens United, “granted the privileged few an unconstrained license to plunder our nation’s treasure and they now buy legislation, including tax cuts for themselves, the way you and I buy fruit at the grocery store.”

As I read the far right’s election campaign strategy to blame inflationary spiral on the Democrats, I wonder if the Trump base is aware that the three massive tax cuts (Reagan, Bush Jr., Trump) and two illegal wars that Haberman notes has increased our national debt “from a mere $800 billion when Reagan was elected to around $30 trillion today.” I wonder if some of the conspiracy concocted political anger that Trump has unleashed might be refocused toward the Republican party’s ongoing exploitation of the working stiff by purchasing legislation for the wealthy. How might those facts impact the upcoming midterm elections?

Philosopher Jonathan Lear has written that attempting to resolve all of the threats to humanity “will not help us if we do not also hope.” What Lear is trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what calls radical hope. Building upon Vernon-Jones’s call for hope, Lear writes “What makes this hope radical is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.”

Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.” It appears to me that radical hope is my best weapon against despair, even when that despair seems justifiable. It may even make the survival our climate crisis possible.

“Connecting the Dots” appears every other week in the Recorder. John Bos is a contributing writer to Green Energy Times. Comments and questions are invited at


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