We sit and pretend we are terminally ill. We breathe calmly. What is hope? What do we make of the bonmot that ‘hope dies last’ if we are lost in a desert without the prospect of water? And isn’t the human condition hopeless ‘in the end’, if we presuppose a rough understanding of hope as the desire that something that we identify as pleasurable will be the case in the future? Doesn’t the ultimate nihilism, if we buy into it, undermine all discourse of the temporary affair that is our hoping?
Without hope life would be maddening. We would lose our orientation and ambition, and society would fall apart. So from a pragmatic point of view there can be no doubt about the value of hope. What about the theoretical operation that discounts all hope because there is no ultimate hope, in much the same way as fanatical relativists discount all truths because they think there is no ultimate truth? I don’t think it is legitimate. In the beginning of this meditation we pretended we were terminally ill, but we did not lose hope.
What can we hope for? Comfort, status, security? What does it mean to hope something while you are fully aware that it is insignificant in the light of eternity? Doesn’t such hope require the courage of a madman? Doesn’t humanity, once it acquired a penchant for staring into its own abyss – require the courage of a madman?
Or would not even the most outspoken and acerbic atheists among us ultimately find solace in the idea that our ‘having been there’ is in some form the expression of a principle that will last for all eternity? That our lives (and, more depressingly, those of our children) have been ‘for nothing’, but that at least they share a celestial common ancestor with an unknown something, some sort of cosmic anthropic principle as established by the physicist David Deutsch?
We breathe slowly and listen to the buzzing of the fly of futility on our back. We smile at each other because we have once again realized that we need each other to swat the flies on our backs.
Artwork by Ian Bourgeot