Hope in the Dark
February 9, 2017 7:36 AM - by Rebecca Solnit - Subscribe

Our new Hope in the Darkness nonfiction club kicks off with a discussion of Rebecca Solnit's 2004 book designed to give liberals fearful of an increasingly dark political climate hope and strength to fight back. "No writer has better understood the mix of fear and possibility, peril and exuberance that's marked this new millennium." —Bill McKibben
posted by sciatrix (3 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I read this right after the election and it had a profound effect on me. I highlighted so many passages, but I wish I had highlighted more. Just a few days ago, someone on here was saying that you can easily over-exaggerate the benefits of protests; just look at the WTO and the Iraq war protests, they did nothing. This book provides successes that were a result of those protests, disproving that argument. More importantly she teaches that you won't see a success because a success usually means some unpredicted bad thing didn't happen. We can't know what horrible things would have happened on a timeline where no one resisted, so we can't know what effect we've had.

I also like the sentiment that hope is necessary for activism.

"Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting."

Then there's the politics of prefiguration. How would you live your life in a utopia? Which of those things can you be doing now? What's stopping the rest? "Recent strains of activism proceed on the realization that victory is not some absolute state far away but the achieving of it, not the moon landing, but the flight."

There's so much in this slim book. I am excited to see what catches your eyes.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:48 AM on February 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just popping in to say I'm only halfway through the foreword and my highlighter is starting to crap out already from overuse. Great choice of book!
posted by duffell at 9:00 PM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

So, I just got a hold of this book and I'm on about Chapter 5. I don't feel very hopeful at all.

The author's use of Argentina and Venezuela as positive examples is especially depressing as a scholar of Latin America. Hugo Chavez's regime had severe, severe problems from day 1, restricting free speech in a way we're only just starting to see here. Just because they "stood up to" the US neoliberal agenda doesn't make them heroes of the left. And to be quite honest, nationalizing the country's oil companies only works when you have people in the government who know how to run an oil company, which they . . . didn't.

Argentina is even more depressing. With the benefit of hindsight, I feel like I watched the Trump phenomenon in Argentina last summer before it happened here in America. Macri has turned almost completely away from reconciliation and justice efforts for left-wing activists murdered and kidnapped by previous regimes, and conservatives are thrilled about it. They are so happy not to have to pretend to care about dead radicals any more. They love that there was a military parade during July's bicentennial celebration, something that hadn't happened for years due to the public's hatred and fear of what was done under the military dictatorships. Macri is a high-flying businessman, his wife has a fancypants clothing line, which conservatives buy as a show of support and because they think it's classy. My host mother would crow happily, "That's my president!!!" whenever she saw Macri on TV and angrily accuse the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo of having a secret agenda (their agenda is trying to find the children of kidnapped activists from the 70s and 80s). Meanwhile the government is quietly stripping away the social safety net.

I understand that the message of the book is that change happens slowly, with many steps backward along the way, but even success on the political level won't change the innate cruelty of some people.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:21 AM on February 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

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