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Category: Humans

I have been trying for a while, without luck, to write about hope. I’m not sure why it’s been so difficult. Maybe it’s because I am such a believer in this noble human quality, and I’m afraid I might come off as a bit too corny about it.

As human propensities go, I think it’s the best we have to offer…better than love, even. I know that’s a heavy claim to make. Major religions, eminent thinkers, and the Beatles have all told us that love is the answer, and maybe it is. But it is not the most noble and human capacity we have.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against love. But let’s admit that there’s nothing really special about it. Mammals love, birds love. I can’t help but think that reptiles do, too. In fact, I am willing to suggest that any creature that walks, slithers, swims, or oozes on this earth feels something akin to love in its life.

No so with hope. It is ours and ours alone as a species. Along with faith, it’s part of the package deal that comes with our big brain. Our capacity for self-awareness is what makes it work, and without it I don’t think we could survive — at least not happily. It keeps our spirits up, it galvanizes our priorities, it gets us over the mountain. And quite often it focuses us on something beyond our own interests, something greater than ourselves. It dares us to reach for what is beyond our grasp.

I suppose love could do all those things as well, but the difference is that love centers on the love object, whatever it is: “I’ve got to keep going to get the medicine to Grandma,” “I’ve got to set a good example for little Emily,” “My mate wants me to do this.” Those are all worthy incentives, but hope works differently. It does not need a love object to function. Like its cousin faith, it can run on an idea, a value system, or a belief. Maybe porpoises have something like that going for them, and you can’t rule out the possibility of hopeful chimpanzees. But since these creatures don’t have a language, we can’t find out for sure by interviewing them (I don’t know if the subject ever came up with Koko).

I don’t think chimps can have faith, either. Faith is also one of the nicer bells and whistles that comes with our big brain, and like hope, it can be a profound source of strength. The only reason it doesn’t make the top spot among our many character traits is that it has proven to be too corruptible — like human beings themselves. Humans can have faith in all kinds of things, including some demonstrably batshit assertions of fact and some obviously worthless s.o.b.’s. Such misapplications of faith can really screw things up for these folks and for rest of us as well. I will let you fill in the examples of religions, cockamamie notions, and unscrupulous leaders we are talking about here.

Hope is not so easily turned to the dark side. Oh, I suppose you might find yourself “hoping” that something awful happens to an enemy, but that seems to me to be a misuse of the word. Hope connotes a sense of optimism, of an aspiration to a better world. Praying (which we might see as a more activist form of hoping) really ought to stay in that same lane — unless you see your deity as primarily vengeful. If you do, then we’re all in for a rough ride.

If we still doubt that hope is our finest, noblest quality, perhaps we should consider its opposite. That would not be fear, though the two are often paired as alternatives. Instead, think of despair. Compare your feelings about despair to those around some other corrosive opposites: fear, hate, doubt, anger, dishonor. None of those is quite so dark as despair. I would argue, by comparison, that hope goes just a far in the opposite direction.

Perhaps you can see now why I was concerned about getting too corny. Hope is definitely a goody-two-shoes aspect of our nature. But it might be enough, in the end, to save our sorry butts. Here’s hoping.
Don't Tempt Me!
Here’s a conundrum for the faithful: humans have a long history of suffering, much of it by people who are utterly innocent. If we are to believe the Bible, most of this badness is Satan’s doing. So why didn’t God just kill that son of a bitch when he had the chance? In fact, why doesn’t He just kill him now and stop the slaughter?

I get that Satan is supposed to serve as our tempter, enticing us away from our obedience and love for God. Fair enough. Satan is just doing his job. The Almighty needs some way of separating the sheep from the goats so He can tell which farm animal to admit into heaven. (I’m assuming the sheep get in since none of them has horns.)

But let’s not get distracted. Why does there have to be so much human suffering? Is it just to give the genuinely good people an opportunity to prove their worth? Surely there is a less cruel way to sort out the wicked.

Besides, it’s a pretty unfair system. If there were no Satan in the world, then a lot of us would have a shot at never doing anything wrong — because we wouldn’t be tempted to. Left alone, then, we might actually turn out to be nice. If so, we would get to go to heaven. But no, we never get the chance. We get tricked into being bad, and we end up going to hell. Did He really have to insert a supervillain into the mix to ruin our lives and the lives of people around us?

Look, we already have Saint Peter at the pearly gates operating as Divine Bouncer. If you’re really worried about bad people sneaking in, couldn’t we beef up security a bit and establish a TSA checkpoint for evil? There would be grumbling, of course. It’s a real pain to get everything back together once you’ve gone through the naughtiness detector. But isn’t that preferable to billions of dead babies just because God is insecure about how much He’s loved? By a bunch of hairless apes, no less?

Or, if He is really that needy, why not add a written test as part of the screening process? We could make it thousands of questions long and even require a score of 100% to pass muster. Everyone else would go to the other place. That’s a pretty tough standard, but at least it would limit all the needless bloodshed here on Earth.

I don’t know. Maybe God is looking for something more, something so important that it would justify all that suffering by people who might have ended up worshipping him anyway. Maybe. But in the process, He has set a very bad example for his followers. If one of us were to pull a stunt like that, we’d burn in Hell forever and deserve it. How come God isn’t held to the same standard we are?

In fact, I really shouldn’t be calling for God to kill Satan. “Thou shalt not kill,” after all, is pretty much your number one commandment. For Him to kill an archangel, fallen or not, would be the worst possible bad example for the faithful. Even if you believe in capital punishment, even if the Prince of Darkness is the very essence of evil, even if he has really been asking for it — is it right to just kill him? I have to say no. In fairness, God probably shouldn’t even be mean to Satan, not if He wants to run true to His brand. So what are His options? And remember, the kids are watching.

Firing Satan outright seems a bit harsh given his years of service, and a forced retirement would look bad for everyone. about a reinstatement to heaven, with all the attendant privileges? Let bygones be bygones. But absolutely no tempting! That’s the deal, and I think Satan would be happy to take it. After that, if there was any suffering, it would be 100% our responsibility.

Come to think of it, I guess we’re screwed either way, innocent or not. Damn!
In the Dark
Maybe this is a metaphor for our new reality. Walting in the dark for the lights to come back on. Either that, or waiting in the dark for word to run like hell so as not to be burned to a crisp in a wildfire. I’m still not sure which it will be.

It is my belief, as I sit here, that my electricity will soon be returned to me, and that no immediate harm will come to me and my loved ones. That is not to say that life will return to normal, because normal isn’t normal any more. The good old days are not coming back.

Those days had problems of their own, of course, like the possibility of all-out nuclear war. That particular Sword of Damocles is still hanging there, but somehow its isn’t the source of dread it used to be. It has, however, has been joined by a new sword that’s all about global warming and the slow, agonizing death of human civilization. It is looming over me right now as I wait here for a siren, or a whiff of smoke, or a call to evacuate.

Nuclear war is certainly a horrifying prospect, but all it would take to save us from it, really, is a couple of good, strong treaties. Global warming, on the other hand, almost has a life of its own. It needs no ill will to motivate it, but instead grows more and more menacing even without conscious human participation. It seems too big, too complicated, too relentless to be stopped by mere human effort.

So here I sit, dividing my time between simple annoyance and existential dread, depending on which possible outcome I’m thinking about. No matter which it is, though, after the power is restored, I will still be totally in the dark.
As Luck Would Have It
I don't want to get too sentimental about the Incas. They were a handsome people with an impressive culture, but like most empires, theirs was marked by conquest, slavery, and more than a little bloodshed.

I can't help feeling, though, that they drew a pretty tough hand in the high stakes game of human history. By the middle of the fifteenth century, they had reached a peak, thanks in part to the drive and organizational prowess of Yupanqui Pachacuti, "the first Inca." He was, no doubt, a world-class control freak, but he seems to have led his people to primacy over the many other cultures west of the Andes. Under his rule and that of his immediate successors, the Inca empire came to encompass a domain along the west coast of South America that was roughly half the size of all Western Europe.

His people continued to battle among themselves, brother against brother, for nearly a hundred years, but at the same time, they created a culture that managed to distill the wisdom and skills of all the peoples they absorbed, including astronomy, mathematics, and the know-how to produce some of the most stunning feats of engineering the world had ever seen.

It was their misfortune to be coming into their own just as the Spanish arrived in force -- massively armed and on horseback, no less. The opposite end of the human diaspora out of Africa arrived at the absolute worst time for the Inca, and they just didn't have the strength to survive the collision. Like the other pre-Columbian societies that had thrived in the Americas, their achievements were all but buried under the advance of another, more powerful, conquest-hungry society with its own brand of high-end control freaks.

We can only imagine what might have happened without this colossally bad bit of bad timing. Perhaps the Inca empire, as so many empires before it, would simply have collapsed of its own weight. They did not have a written language, which can be vital in sustaining and growing any culture. They had the wheel, but it never really caught on in their mountainous realm. Still, they might have gone on to greater things. We'll never know.

They never saw what hit them, really. The blow came out of nowhere...a sucker punch. That kind of bad luck is a big part of any game, including human history.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon