Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Candidate of Hope?

Barack Obama's campaign, he says, is about hope. I beg to differ. If Obama is pushing any idea in the pessimism, optimism, hope realm, it is optimism, not hope. I'm not the only one who thinks so: check out this post titled Obama is the Gift of the Message on Becky C.'s blog.

To understand why I say Obama is not talking about hope, let me define the above mentioned terms.

Pessimism -- this is the belief that everything is bad, and will perhaps get worse. but definitely won't get better. People suck, and you can only count on them to do what is worst.

Optimism -- this is the belief that everything is good, and will surely get better. People are wonderful and good.

Hope - let me give you a few quotes from Frederick Turner's book The Culture of Hope:

"if faith is the affirmation of what was, and love the affirmation of what is, then hope is the affirmation of what is to come" (28).

"Desire drives us, hope uplifts us. Hope involves an imaginative estimate of possibility, an intellectual leap into the future. We might say, crudely, that hope is the combination of expectation and desire" (28-9).

Think about the movie Casablanca. That is a movie about hope. This movie is not optimistic. There is no certainty of a good outcome. When the French start singing the French national anthem, they are doing so out of hope. The French colony is controlled by the Germans, and the French have had to declare their loyalty to Germany -- and yet, despite the fact that it could turn out quite badly for them all, they sing. They sing, knowing they could be killed for it. But they sing. They sing out of hope. This scene mirrors the overall theme of the movie. Rick gives her up only because he has regained hope. Rick starts off a pessimist, but ends up hopeful. Not optimistic. Hopeful. There is a big difference. The optimist is certain everything will turn out alright in the end. Rick doesn't believe that. He knows it could all turn out very badly -- but only if he lets her go is there any hope for the world to turn out well.

Hope, then, is a paradoxical combination of pessimism and optimism. The hopeful person looks at the world, sees the combination of good and bad and, while bracing for the worst, believes that all can turn out well, if only . . .

Barack Obama does not believe in hope. He is an optimist. He believes that everything will turn out just fine -- if only we put him in charge. Optimism is a dangerous belief, as with it we can believe in any number of utopias unrooted in reality. An optimist will tell you everything will turn out just fine, even if reality shows everyone that it will not. The pessimist looks at a flower and thinks not of the flower, but of the dung used to fertilize it -- thus concluding that he is in fact looking at dung. The optimist looks at the flower and is certain that pure air and pure water are enough. Thus, he kills the flower. The man of hope understands that dung can become a flower, but only under the right conditions.

Is there a true candidate of hope out there? How would you classify each of the candidates?
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