Hopelessness without despair

We won’t feel the full impact of today’s excesses until decades from now. Even if all of humanity were to immediately adopt a “zero impact” lifestyle (or better yet, to spontaneously go extinct), the planet is projected to warm for the next century. No matter what we do (and keep in mind that what we as a species will probably do is carry on as usual), the oceans will warm and rise, deserts will spread, and untold numbers of species will go extinct. For those of us who are young today, the human suffering we witness and experience will only amplify. We are on a trend towards wars, famines, epidemics, and natural disasters, with the deaths and displacement of millions of people. 

To face the future realistically, we can’t pretend that our compact fluorescent bulbs and low-flow showerheads will somehow redeem us from the global ecocide we are committing. So what does it mean to be a human being who deeply wants to create something better? What does it mean to be an anarchist?

We are not going to save the world as a whole, and it doesn’t make sense to delude ourselves into thinking otherwise. At the same time though, embracing pessimism doesn’t mean we need to fall into cycles of paralysis, depression, or asocial curmudgeonliness. 

The one place we can seriously dismantle hierarchy is in our relationships to the people immediately around us. Transforming the way we interact with each other, building sustainable long-term relationships, and engaging in projects that bring us joy and meaning are not the same as instigating a global revolution, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable and important and more worth fighting for than trying to change everything. 

Many of us grew up without healthy models for relationships, or without enough love and social connection to feel secure as adults. Although we wish to create something better in the ways we treat our friends, lovers, partners, and comrades, when we try to build new ways of being and relating, we may feel that we’re making things up as we go along, or find ourselves replicating the fucked up dynamics we were socialized with. Often, changing our relationships to other people means changing our relationships to ourselves and understanding where our habits, reactions, and emotions are coming from. This isn’t easy to do, especially when there is stigma attached to our feelings and experiences – we need to treat ourselves as well as others with compassion.

With respect to projects and finding meaning, it’s important to remember that abandoning hope for total change doesn’t remove value from doing things that feel important or bring us joy. Some people may believe that attempts at change are worthless and prefer to retreat into their own snarky, intellectual worlds. But when an action disrupts the tedium of everyday life or improves someone’s access to healthcare or prolongs the existence of an ecosystem, it is not worthless, even if boredom, death, and ecocide continue elsewhere. Even when we fail to make the changes we want, there is value in action that brings us new human connections and gives us reason to keep living.

As human beings, some of our greatest strengths are our adaptability and our social nature. If our futures are grim, that gives us good reason to enjoy our lives as much as we can now, to cultivate a sense of joy in ourselves and those around us while bracing for what may happen later on. Now more than ever, we need to find each other and form connections, to have a community where we not only enact our values but can share skills and knowledge and look out for one another in the decades to come.