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Hope: Do We Need It?

As a by-product of further ruminations about the HSUS/UEP deal, I started thinking (as I often do) about the concept of hope. Specifically, I began to wonder if the perceived need for hope is, in part, what has led many AR activists to think this deal is a good thing. And so, while I have no wish to spend further time and energy on the deal itself, as plenty of other folks are saying what needs to be said and I have said what I need to say for the moment, I do think it’s worth thinking about hope, the role it plays in our approaches to activism, and whether or not it really is a necessary element of the work we do (or, for that matter, necessary for us  to have, in general, in order to live a happy life).

I will preface this by saying I have little hope. I’ve said this before a million times but it bears repeating, mostly because I’m generally not believed when I say that. Folks rush to assure me that I should have hope; that there is hope; that humans, as we know ourselves to be, will get our collective act together and live right upon this planet; so on and so forth. I used to think they were trying to console me, just as they used to do when I would mention that I was an atheist; so many people simply can’t fathom how one can live, happily, in the absence of either deity or hope.  Now I believe they are trying to console themselves.

They cannot comprehend an existence — a happy existence — without having grander hopes for the future. One day humans will live in peace with everyone else. One day we will all embrace a plant-based diet, we will transport ourselves without making everyone else sick, we will use only renewable items to make our clothing and shelter, so on and so forth. After all, how can being an activist be manageable over the long run in the absence of hope for the future? How can you keep going, keep striving for change, persevere in efforts to make the world a better place for animals, if you don’t have hope that it ever will, not in your lifetime and not until homo sapiens have been eliminated from this planet? They need to feel hopeful, I feel, because otherwise the despair, the pain, is simply too great to live with. It’s not melodrama. It’s the way it is.

Yet having hope (or believing in deity, for that matter) is not the only way to live happily on this planet. I am living proof. Well, I am not always happy for sure. I have never been what one could call a happy person. But I’m as happy as anyone with my personal history, doing this kind of work, can be. And so, I am living proof that one can live a reasonably happy life without having hopes for the future.

Now, I still have “mini-hopes” for my own personal sorts of plans. I hope to write and publish more poems; I hope to live by the ocean again some day; I hope to visit my sister in New York next month. These things are the insignificant items that comprise most of our lives, and I, like many, hop from one hope to the next, and this way I get through the harder parts of my life. And I have, of course, mini-hopes regarding my work with animals. I hope that the chickens and cows (and others) we rescue will have happy, healthy lives. I hope that the outreach we do will convince folks to go vegan. I hope that these words are read by someone who finishes the blog, jumps up, and says I need to do something for animals today! I have those hopes, and they are sustaining.

However, I lack the grander hope, the large-scale hope, that humans — our version of humans, homo sapiens sapiens — will ever live in peace with everyone else; all of us eating a plant-based diet, voluntarily restricting our numbers so that we don’t overrun this planet, and otherwise acting ethically and with compassion. My hope rests on our eventual extinction and replacement by a new model (in my wildest dreams, we become Neanderthal once more, although I know that’s unlikely). So actually — I guess that is a hope after all. ;-) But my point is still intact (I hope).

It was hard to get to this point. When the catharsis of animal liberation blew up in my brain, I was a mess. I lost friends, I felt like I was just going through the motions of my previous life, and all I knew is that I would have to do SOMETHING to handle this despair. These were the most acute feelings I’d ever felt about something unrelated to my own traumas, even though previously, I had done years of rape crisis work, work with sexual abuse survivors, and work with adults with serious mental illness and substance abuse issues. But this was different. It was just this side of bearable most days, and unbearable the others. And the more I learned, the more I saw no way we could ever get from here –where we are now, in relation to other animals on this planet — to there, where we have to be if we want to be halfway decent creatures. Hell, if we can’t even stop raping our own children, how can we get people to stop eating the wings of animals we’ve considered to be prey for thousands of years? Seriously.

Seeing no answer to that, but believing, still, that I had to DO SOMETHING, over the course of a couple of years I learned to live without hope. This is not as bleak or as oh poor Miriam-ish as it sounds. It’s a statement of fact. It can be done. And it doesn’t have to prevent me from doing what I can to struggle against what I see as basically insurmountable odds, saving those I can save through sanctuary work, trying to save others through outreach work (which is always limited by our resources), and otherwise living as best  I can.

Moreover, my lack of hope doesn’t mean that I don’t think that individual humans can change; I know they can. I did, after all, and I was one of those holdouts who ate veal, for crying out loud. Nevertheless, I still do harm in this world, as we all do. Anyone who eats something wrapped in plastic, moves about in a machine powered with fossil fuels (whether or not they are driving said machine), or does a million other human-contrived things is doing harm. That’s about all of us. So, we do our best to minimize the harm we cause, and again, there are many of us our there doing that.

But it will take a critical mass of people to eradicate literally thousands of years of pastoralism and I do not have hope that this will happen before the ecosystems of the world have collapsed en masse. That will lead to a rebirth, though — again, I hope.

How can I keep going? More importantly, why do I keep going? And how can I reconcile my efforts to save those lives that we can save at the sanctuary, and my efforts to encourage others to eschew violence against animals, with this lack of hope?

My answer is simple. I don’t deserve the wonderful benefits I receive from living in this world — beauty around me, the privilege to enjoy it without an undue amount of outside control over my movements, if I don’t fight to ensure that everyone else has the same privilege. It’s plain and simple. I remember clearly a conversation I had with one of my students when I was still teaching (I taught high school English for a few years). The class had turned to a discussion of Why Ms. Jones Was Vegan, and one young woman asked me why I didn’t kill myself since that would mean one less human on the planet doing harm (she said it in a tone that didn’t make it sound as obnoxious as it does here).

I answered seriously that I would kill myself if I believed that the sum total of good done by that action would outweigh what I could do while I was still alive. And she understood. And that’s what keeps me going.

That, and watching Brooklyn the cat roll around in dirt; that, and seeing the moon rise blood-red over the chicken yards at night, seeing the light cast over the chickens sleeping in the trees; that and hearing Snowball, the very old and very insistent cow, moo for food every couple of hours. And trashy science fiction novels. And Dexter. And holding Aram at night before we sleep.

Those things supply enough fuel to keep me going. I’m not the only one, either, I suspect; I am sure all of us can’t be out there doing what we do, knowing what we know, reading and seeing the things we do, and still believing there’s a reasonable chance that homo sapiens sapiens, as a species, will snap into shape. I think we all just manage as best we can.

I urge us all, though, to be sure that our need for hope — our perceived need for it, I should say — doesn’t cloud our ability to see the truth. That’s all. When that happens, we are doing no one a service — especially not the animals, but ourselves as well.

14 comments to Hope: Do We Need It?

  • victoria figurelli
    Very well said Bravebird. Last night as i put my chickens in for night I picked up Lily one of my chickens and as she always does looks straight into my eyes How much I love her .I have lots for hope for the farm animals but I am realistic and I can as we activists can take one day at a time with some hope that maybe my fellow humans will see them as a sentinel being and not just food.
  • bravebird
    I love how you say that — you hope for the farm animals but you are realistic. One day at a time. That is indeed all we can do…..
  • CQ
    This might sound silly, but I think that you have hope whether you know it or not, and whether you try to or not, Miriam.

    That’s because I think hope is built into all of us, and we can never lose it.

    Sure, hope, like other good qualities, can be obscured, as the moon is by clouds, but that’s just a temporary phase, or perception, of lost light, of darkness.

    If you felt really hopeless, you would not lift a finger to help the animals, nor would you even recognize their right to be helped.

    Here’s an inspiring new essay & video by James LaVeck, co-producer of Tribe of Heart. I HOPE it will give you fresh HOPE: http://www.humanemyth.org/letsnotgiveup.htm

    Let me know what you think when you’ve read/watched it.

  • bravebird
    Hey CQ!

    It doesn’t sound silly, but it’s just not true. That’s what I meant — folks don’t believe me when I say it. Just like many people don’t believe me when I say I know there’s no such thing as a deity of any kind.

    I help animals because of other reasons.

    So while I appreciate your words, because I know they come from a place of kindness, I do ask that people respect my reality — my own statements about the reality of my life, what I do and do not know about the world, from my perspective — just like I respect those who do have hope. I lived with Pattrice Jones for almost 10 years, and respect her immensely, and she does indeed have hope, so there you go. :-)

    I did see an ad for that video, and I will watch it. I also know that some folks (I won’t identify them unless they choose to identify themselves) feel that instilling hope in themselves and others is a strategy to keep people motivated to help animals — and I respect that also. It’s just not my way, not what I believe.

    One more short anecdote. Years ago, when neo-pagan stuff paled for me, I felt the need for some sort of so-called spiritual presence in my life, and so I tried to reconcile myself yet again with Judaism (the religion in which I was raised). My sister was having a groovy feminist seder, and even those Jews who are 100% secular tend to resonate with the seder, being as it is a ritual about the end of slavery, social justice, and other things that Jewish folks tend to appreciate.

    Well, I tried. I really did. I was motivated because I felt bad and wanted to feel better. Believe me, I would like to believe in deity because I think that can be a strength, a source of sustenance, when times get hard. But I just could not make it happen. All I ended up feeling was annoyance — not with my sister, but with the whole thing — annoyance that I’d been duped yet again by the seductive feelings of safety and protection that deity offers. Now I know better, and don’t need that sort of thing anyway. I just don’t believe deity exists. Just like I don’t believe the Grand Canyon is full of water. ;-)

    So — I’ve made my own way, and I’m not the only one. People like me really don’t have hope, and that’s really OK. Just like it’s really OK if other people do.

  • bravebird
    P.S. I just read the essay — it’s so interesting how different people interpret things! To me, this was less an essay on why we should have hope than it was an exhortation to keep fighting the true fight — meaning, we simply have to stop allowing ourselves to be seduced by animal-killers, exploiters, and torturers into thinking we can make our way to a kinder, gentler way to use animals. While the analogy was made to the British anti-slavery movement (and it’s a good one, one that I fear too many AR folks are afraid to make), to me, the point was that we cannot allow ourselves to fight for “happy meat,” but rather NO meat. (And eggs etc.)

    I love humanemyth.org, BTW. They have never compromised themselves, as far as I can see.

    One other point — slavery is very much alive and well in many parts of the world. VERY much alive and well. So, again, not to be a Dolly Doomsday, but we have not, in fact, eradicated slavery. I doubt we ever will. Does that mean we should stop fighting to eradicate it, or end animal use? Of course not. But hope to do so, again before massive eco-collapse? Can’t see that happening. BUT THAT DOES NOT MATTER. We must have the strength, courage, and will to keep fighting as hard as we can, even though the odds of our winning this battle are — well, I will leave that up to each of us to end that sentence.

  • Wen
    Are you coming to AR2011 this weekend in L.A.?
  • CQ
    Hey Bravebird! OK, at least we agree that you DO have strength and courage and the will to keep fighting. Those worthy qualities more than offset the hope you insist you don’t have! :-)

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to come off as argumentative or disrespectful. We may have some differing views, but I’m sure glad we’re on the same side when it comes to respecting the Humane Myth folks’ uncompromised integrity in defending animals from the “happy meat” crowd.

  • bravebird
    Hey! Don’t worry, truly, I know you were coming from a kind place — and I am happy, in return, that YOU have the strength, courage, and will to keep going — even with hope, it is very hard work. :-)

    And yes, very good to know as many folks as possible who see through the “happy meat” mythology.

  • bravebird
    Pattrice WAS planning to attend, but sadly got tied up in obligations where she’s living. I wasn’t able to get it together to fly out there in time, so no, we won’t be there. :-(

    Are you there? How are things?

  • Kimberly Roemer
    I look forward too to those magic tiny moments, when the moon rises, the breeze skips across my skin, the sheets russle as cat crawls up beside me in bed, or the phone rings with a call from a long lost friend. I know that these things, so imperceptable in time, leave meaning in our souls and feed us ,allowing us to continue on and fight the good fight, for us, and the animals.
  • Wen
    I could only go to a few hours of AR2011 but I was struck by 1)very good attendance 2) positive energy.
    I saw several people there I wish I could have heard speak like 1)Jasmin Singer 2)Nathan Runkle and others.
    I did go to the “Greatest Circus Protest on Earth” Wednesday night at Staples Center, and it was awesome. Almost 500 people showed up. Seeing so many activists in one place would give you some hope! The tides are turning. . .very slowly . . .but I feel people are beginning to “get it”.
  • bravebird
    Kimberly, thank you for writing such beautiful words!

    And Wen, thanks for the update on AR 2011 — I’m so happy attendance was good — what was the protest like, the circus one? Amazing 500 people — awesome!

  • Wen
    I hadn’t been to a protest for anything in about 20 years!! So I was nervous, and at the last minute my friend bailed so I had to go by myself. I got lost in downtown L.A. and was on my last nerve.
    But when I got there they were so organized I was glad I went. Somebody handed me a big protest sign with a picture of a baby elephant being “trained” (TORTURED) and I joined a huge group of people. People had bullhorns, we yelled, got a lot of attention. It felt so good to be giving a voice to the animals. I realy give credit to the groups (Last Chance for Animals, PETA, In Defense of Animals,etc)
    who organized and got the word out.
    For once in my life I was around 500 who agree with me!!
  • bravebird
    Wen, that’s awesome — I do so appreciate it when groups (or individual) attending the AR conferences organize direct actions to help animals — gives the words being spoken, heard, and read inside the hotel meaning and depth.

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