In dark times, have a little hope
The past four years have been interesting, to say the least. Having not been on campus for one and a half of them, it was a time that was quickly followed by a senior year that flew by, but was most definitely not without news-worthy, history-altering substance. It was densely packed with a multitude of events worthy of only the most sophisticated of expertise, objective, and subjective writing. To form a valid and educated opinion on everything from the ebb and flow of ever-more contagious COVID strains; the creeping doom of climate change; the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban; to the Russian invasion of Ukraine; to the Supreme Court draft opinion of a determination to overturn Roe v. Wade; to persistent, active challenges to democracy and freedom both at home and abroad is a nigh impossible task. Indeed, every new headline and news item beholds a virtual lifetime of research, inquiry, and reflection that is outside the scope of one individual’s repertoire.
But what one can do, regardless of how well-versed he or she might be regarding a given subject or news item of choice, is to recognize trends, contours, or the way “things are going.” From even the names of what was described above, it is both easy and tempting to think that civilization as a whole is treading down a dark path, one of irreversible moral decay, authoritarian military and political oppression, environmental desiccation, and plague. Such an opinion has a great deal of merit, and it’s definitely easy to feel pessimistic and demoralized by even checking the news. But I’d like to offer a counter, in saying that these feelings of pessimism are warranted, but that a mere recognition of these trends should also be cause for hope. For starters, nearly every one of the paths recognized above are nowhere near set in stone, subject to a series of contested and hard-fought conflicts, many of which are winnable.
Take, for instance, the war in Ukraine. The Russian onslaught is the ultimate of physical manifestations of Vladmir Putin’s regime; cruel, brutal, sadistic, and neglectful and mocking of basic human rights and freedoms, and it is being done because Russia’s neighbor to the West dared to be a free, independent country. But unlike his domestic politics, Putin is being met with a fierce, motivated, and uncompromising opposition, one that he cannot simply propagandize away or silently assassinate. Ukraine has proven itself to have the most determined, innovative, just, and heroic military of the twenty-first century.
Nearly three months into the conflict, Russia, long thought to possess one of the world’s strongest fighting forces, has failed to achieve a single one of its objectives, due to in no small part the actions of its independent, freedom-seeking adversary.
On a more symbolic level, however, the performance of the Ukrainian military is a deep cause for hope. It shows that the right to liberty and self-determination, even if imperfect, is worth fighting for, no matter how strong and overpowering the opposite end may be. By extension, virtually any struggle with overwhelming odds against the just side is indeed surmountable, or, at the very least, the mere act of being unwilling to accept one’s fate is enough to shape the lineations of the future.
Such an idea is the very foundation the concept of protest lies upon. In what seems like an entirely different world and scope of extremity, and it in many ways is, the leaked draft opinion of the United States Supreme Court, written by Justice Samuel Alito, to extensively restrict and regulate the bodies of millions of women nationwide by way of overturning the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, appears to be another case of hopeless, despairing fatalism.
Consequently, when this draft opinion was released, many were quick to express their horror and dismay, appearing powerless in the face of an impending majority opinion that would set women’s reproductive rights in one of the world’s most allegedly democratic countries back decades, or longer. But within hours ,what accompanied this leak were a series of immediate calls to protest, to refuse the imposition of this unjust, unsafe interpretation of the law. As of press time, protests are still occurring nationwide and show no sign of stopping.
Such disagreements with what may be legal but in no way moral are the norm of American history; from the Boston Harbor to the Edmund Pettus bridge. Here, it is precisely the recognition that if unopposed, to millions of women, as similar to the voting rights of a century ago, despairing losses will take place which has motivated this righteous defiance, born of, above all else, hope; that things do not have to turn out in such an undesirable unjust, and outright cruel way. In other words, there is no probability or guarantee that such protests will be successful, but it is their very existence that should be cause for optimism. People, from all walks of life, are willing to oppose injustice and to reverse the course of society’s seemingly dark path.
In the words of Ernest Hemingway, expressing similar sentiments in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the protagonist, Robert Jordan, debating with himself if life is worth living in the face of such widespread atrocity and destruction in the Spanish Civil War, has a moment of clarity when he reflects, “If we win here we will win everywhere. The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.” It is not the certainty of success that should predicate hope; rather, it is its possibility that things can go another way, and that even an individual can change it. Have a little hope.