Rebecca Solnit, Hope In The Dark

New Year's Eve, as 2011 turns into 2012, and also blog post number 500: a big day for odometers, metaphorically speaking, and also an excellent occasion to talk about Rebecca Solnit's 2005 book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.

From here
Yeah, we're most of us feeling pretty apocalyptic these days, like the end of the world is nigh, or at least near-nigh, and we're not wrong to feel that way. Beetle hordes changing whole ecologies; Republican nutbars with a shot at the 2012 presidency; goddamn Peter Kent and stupid Jason Kenney; climate change and Arctic methane: as was so wisely sung so many years ago by Merle Haggard, "Think I'll just stay here and drink."

As Rebecca Solnit reminds us in Hope in the Dark, this isn't the first time that we've feared the future. The 20th century's two world wars, for example, were pretty dark periods, and the prospect of nuclear annihilation was not the happiest thing one could have looked forward to in one's childhood (though I'm pleased regardless by the fiction that this nuclear fear pushed Douglas Coupland to write). From the 1960s to 2005, though, the world got so much better, in so many ways, in so many places, for so many people. Gay rights; the civil rights movement; feminism's successes; and the mobilization of the masses for environmental causes all signify sea changes in Western culture. (Admittedly she's talking about the US only, but I'm comfortable generalizing, at least partway.)

Sure, most of these successes were and are partial, or the drink-inducing catalogue above wouldn't mean anything, but Solnit's key point is that they were nonetheless successes. Perfection is the enemy of done, I regularly remind my students, and the maxim applies even more consequentially for social justice movements. We need to appreciate every improvement, given the weight of PR, government shilling, and corporate lobbying arrayed against us, even though work remains to be done. And then -- which is the really important thing -- we have to get back to work.

Fun fact: "Viagra is good for endangered species" (p.77). No, not because they mate more consistently (but maybe there's a research project there?), but because it has demonstrably reduced the demand for all those bizarre animal-based aphrodisiacs and treatments for impotence. I'll keep asserting that Viagra's, um, rise is a legitimate sign of the apocalypse, because of the money involved and the chemicals and the carbon burden of the packaging and transportation, but I'll always be grateful for the reduced hunting pressure (mostly illegitimate) on Siberian tigers, for example.

So anyway, in honour of post number 500, and of our entry into 2012, I'm trying to change. I'll still be predictably cranky, I'm sure, but it'll be leavened by a little bit of how Rebecca Solnit felt six years ago. Nobody tell me how she feels now, okay?

(Oh, and the methane thing? Still complicated. Go about your day, but do try to walk rather than drive, please.)


theresa said…
Good post, Richard. I know there are so many things to worry about (and my middle son's partner, an atmospheric physicist. always has ready data about global warming...) but Hope in the Dark -- yes. Tonight I'm looking out at the moon, a few bright stars,five days into the new year, and hope seems like a small fire, ready for my attentions or my neglect.

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