By: Grainne Rhuad
Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.-Mark Twain
We all heard the call at the 2008 election, inspiring words like “Change” and “Hope” and enough of us heeded them because we wanted so badly for them. President Obama even said; “On every front there are clear answers out there that can make this country stronger, but we’re going to break through the fear and the frustration people are feeling. Our job is to make sure that even as we make progress, that we are also giving people a sense of hope and vision for the future.”
Over three and a half years later things haven’t turned out the way we hoped. And people are downright out of optimism.
A recent poll published by TIME magazine illustrated just how pessimistic America at large has become. According to the poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, for TIME/Aspen Ideas Festival, the country is going through one of its longest sustained periods of unhappiness and pessimism ever, the poll uncovered the kinds of attitudes we saw among Europeans during the decade after World War II.
In fact, 71%, including a majority of every major demographic group other than African Americans, see the U.S. as worse off now than it was a decade ago.
American is worried about attacks from without in the form of terrorism, but as a people we also seem to be in agreement that we are hurting ourselves. Rating highest in the pessimism index was health care concerns-no matter which side you’re on, deficits and national stability.
“A full two-thirds of Americans see the greatest long-term threats to national stability as coming from within the U.S. This is an enormous change from the days and months after September 2001.”
It’s true, there’s plenty to be worried, frustrated and as many alternative news writers are beginning to point out in a state of desperation about.
America is coming unhinged and it has been a while in coming.
We are coming to terms with a debt crisis that has been many administrations in the making. Our military is spread thin across the globe and underpaid. We cannot provide basic food and health care and housing for our citizens. We have an ever widening gap between the haves and have-nots. We spend an average of $65,000.00 per capita per year on illicit drugs, which by the way is more than we spend on higher education.
The list goes on nearly forever, however in the midst of all this America has lost something more precious.
Americans have begun to lose their can-do spirit and have begun throwing in the towel. We are at a point where more and more people are looking at where in the world they can relocate. Also more people are opting out of voting, citing it as a pointless exercise. They feel they have no say. Suicide rates too have steadily grown an average of 2,000 in number a year since 2001.
The problem with throwing in the towel is nothing gets done. It is one thing to notice that interest rates are unfair, but unless you have hope that you can mitigate change by your actions, nothing happens. Everything either stays the same or gets worse.
Hopeless people are also an easier to manage lot. Think in terms of revolution. Nobody is very likely to get up off their couch and protest, riot or do anything if they are depressed. And we are a nation of depressed people. Highly medicated ones at that.
While mental health disorders should never be a cause for shame, the prescribing of medications just so someone doesn’t notice that they are unhappy has risen in the last decade. It has also become more acceptable to talk about socially. Almost anyone will list off to you what sorts of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications they are on and at what level.
By not feeling our pain we are both allowing medical companies to make mountains of money which they give to their favorite candidates ensuring that there will never be any good public health care; and we aren’t examining just what is making us mad or sad or any other feeling, we simply are getting by and being good worker bees.
Hope can combat this. A sense that we can and are able to overcome obstacles as a nation, a people and a culture.
Cynicism has taken deep root. We see it in our reporting, our writing, and our communication with others. We talk a lot about our fears, our lack of hope that things will get better. Our mistrust and dislike of the generations coming up is unabashed.
And yet it is our young people who are the ones doing something with their outrage. Most of the arrests made recently of the group Anonymous for hacking into PayPal were of young people. Young people are more vocal and while it may not look like the protests of the Vietnam War, it is perhaps bigger because it is online. They are tech savvy and making use of new mediums. And they are employing hope.
So too is the survivalist, who spends time teaching others how survive when things go terribly bad. Stocking food, ammunition, and medicines and learning how to live in a different sort of society is an act of hope.
There is even a message of hope in Nihilism. Although Friedrich Nietzsche stated:
“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”
Under examination, even the Nietzsches of the world illustrate a measure of hope. Why else write? Why else say anything about human nature at all? Why take the time to end your life if you didn’t have hope for the end of your pain?
Asking questions, calling attention to discrepancies in beliefs and behaviors of our fellow humans is an important role that the cynic can play. A person entirely devoid of hope does not do this. What would be the point?
There is no question we are at a very difficult point in history worldwide. We are at a point when we need hope most. Hope inspires activism, art, love, and genuine work, all the things that are good about the human race. It is something we cannot afford to abandon.
“Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.”- Author Unknown.