The Absurdity of Hope

Of all the evils released by Pandora from her jar, the evil that was left behind, HOPE, is obviously the worst of all.

I can remember clearly going to a play by Fernando Arrabal in a little theatre off Melrose, both because I was interested in theatre of the absurd and because some actor friends of mine were in it. This was back in 1974 or 75 and I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the play or the names of my actor friends. But I do remember the ending of the play very well. The guy who was the main character in the play (and was the boyfriend of a girl I knew from when I was 5 years old) writes the word HOPE in large letters on the thigh of the main female character, and then the play ends.

We didn’t discuss this significant detail after the play because, well, actors. But that scene has come back to me often over the years since, and each time it returns, its significance seems to metamorphose a little and take on a different shape. And now here it is, Pentecost 2020, the coronavirus rampant around the world, fascism and other forms of authoritarianism emerging from hiding once again, capitalism dangerously tipping over because it’s so top-heavy, and yet HOPE is still being peddled by liberals (nasty word?) and progressives (is progress when we go forward or when we go back?) and by the authoritarians themselves.

This time when the image of HOPE written on that thigh came back to me, it seemed to say: HOPE is the absurdity in the theatre of the absurd!

We are told, in the Pandora story that this first of all women has a jar full of evil things that she releases on mankind (emphasis on “man”). The misogyny in the tale has become more obvious as the centuries have passed. The myth has always been that women are treacherous and will engage in any evil that will hurt the male. This has been a convenient excuse to treat women like shit since the myth was concocted by some guy who had his advances rejected by a woman who was not going to be submissive and knew what she was worth. And it was exactly what was used against Hillary by both the left and right and, coupled with her arrogance, led to her defeat.

All that aside, let me get to the absurdity once again. And since it is Pentecost, the day those little flames appear above the heads of the apostles (as it was illustrated in my Catholic school bible), let’s have a look at what those guys started peddling that day. You got it! HOPE. Out they go into the world, ten days after their main man has somehow climbed the stairway to heaven, and 50 days after he got nailed to that cross which has absurdly become a symbol of salvation instead of a reminder of the grisly torturous death that was suffered by anybody who tried to defy the power of Rome. Bill Hicks had it right when he did his JFK assassination routine:

Lots of Christians wear crosses around their necks. You think when Jesus comes back he’s gonna want to see a fucking cross, man? “Ohhh!” Maybe why he hasn’t shown up yet. “Man, they’re still wearing crosses. [beep] it, I’m not goin’, Dad. No, they totally missed the point. When they start wearing fishes I might show up again, but … Let me bury fossil heads with you, Dad. Fuck ’em … Let’s fuck with them! They’re fuckin’ with me now, let’s get ’em. Give me that brontosaurus head, Dad.”

You know, kinda like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on, you know. “Thinkin’ of John, Jackie. We love him. Just tryin’ to keep that memory alive, baby.”

So our apostles are sitting around thinking about how thy can continue with their crusade to eat and drink for free when somebody comes up with that four letter word: HOPE. We’ll sell them HOPE. It was probably one his direct descendants who later worked for the Obama campaign and added CHANGE to the formula. HOPE and CHANGE. Nothing changed and while you were hoping for something good to happen during the time Obama was president or after he was gone, you got the Great White Hope instead. He sells HOPE as well, but it’s not the kind of idealistic progressive HOPE that people on the supposedly “left” side of the political spectrum are filled up with. The demon in orange sells the HOPE of domination, the HOPE of salvation from insignificance and, with his Dominionist Rapture-seeking lapdog, he has managed to blind a hard-core third of the American populace into believing his brand of absurd HOPE.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in the short story The Wall, loses all HOPE because he understands the tactic:

They knew what they were doing: I had passed the night in waiting; then they had made me wait an hour in the cellar while they shot Tom and Juan and now they were locking me up in the laundry; they must have prepared their game the night before. They told themselves that nerves eventually wear out and they hoped to get me that way.

They were badly mistaken. … I didn’t like Ramon Gris any more. My friendship for him had died a little while before dawn at the same time as my love for Concha, at the same time as my desire to live. Undoubtedly I thought highly of him: he was tough. But it was not for this reason that I consented to die in his place; his life had no more value than mine; no life had value. They were going to slap a man up against a wall and shoot at him till he died, whether it was I or Gris or somebody else made no difference.

HOPE is absurd for the simple reason that death is coming, either now or later and you will not escape it, nor will the tyrants that rule over you. The question you are faced with this: How are you going to live? Are you going to submit to the absurdity and wait and wait (Godot is not coming!) until the tyrant decides how you will die? Or are you going to act like the partisans in Europe acted against the Nazis, how the Republicans acted against the Nationalists in the Spanish civil war, how any number of groups fought to defeat the tyrants trying to dominate their lives.

Hannah Arendt believed that Action is how we show our engagement with politics. Talking is a side-show, intellectual duels serve the purpose of hardening the hearts of the people on your side against the people on their side. Nobody is converted. Nobody wins hearts and minds. The debate ends and lies and truth are rendered equal in the eyes of the people reporting on the results, and after 10 minutes nobody cares who said what because it’s old news.

The forces of evil in the USA are not limited to one political party, they have entered into both parties through the process of osmosis, from the day that they got rid of Henry Wallace as FDR’s vice president, the fix has been in and the rot entered. By 1980 the rot has taken over the majority of the Republican party and now it has taken over both parties so completely that you can’t get anything approved that even looks like it might help people who are not millionaires.

What really surprises me is that people of color (and not only people of color, but people who pretend they want justice and equality as well) have not followed the advice of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X:

“A man with a rifle or a club can only be stopped by a person who defends himself with a rifle or a club. That’s equality. If the United States government doesn’t want you and me to have rifles, then take the rifles away from those racists.

If they don’t want you and me to use clubs, take the clubs away from the racists. If they don’t want you and me to get violent, then stop the racists from being violent. Don’t teach us non-violence!!!”

The violent right wing in America embraces their right to bear arms and kill anyone who trespasses against their right to be white and violent. How is it possible that people of color (and the justice-seekers) have not swarmed to gun shows and bought assault weapons and handguns and enough ammunition to last out a siege? After all, it’s America, anybody can buy a gun. Where are the partisans? Are you all just being morally correct and good (small d) democrats? Are you waiting until the roundups begin, until your brothers and cousins are transported to the stadiums and the new camps built in Montana or North Dakota? Will it then be OK to rise up against the monsters?

No, it’s not a moral high-ground you are standing on, you are still blinded by the absurdity of HOPE. You believe in an after-Trump-life of justice and fairness and goodness and perhaps a basic income so that you can purchase the latest screen into which you will stare from morning deep into the night and devour HOPE in all its forms, as sold to you by the wolves of Wall Street.

From my vantage point in High Castle of Europe I sit safe and secure(?), far away from the streets of the USA where the coming conflict is bubbling to a boil. The only question is: Who will prevail? The Purveyors of HOPE, or the Partisans?

Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany.