Thursday, December 21, 2006

Defeating Hope

Hope, all in all, is a good thing. But like any good thing, it must be guarded by wisdom and not be allowed to veer off into either Denial or Envy. Hope, without a certain amount of self-awareness, can lead to disaster. But when all possible actions lead to negative results, Hope is crushed.

Not being constrained by much knowledge of psychology, let me propose two classes of Hope. Conscious Hope can be:

  • Optimism When defeat is only a possibility, it is through Optimistic Hope or Optimism that we can ignore it without forgetting it.
  • Courage comes from Encouraging Hope, which allows us to be steadfast in the face of a deadly foe, to take on a difficult task, and to persevere when the going gets rough. It is distinguished from Optimism because it allows us to face a specific problem or enemy.
  • Desperate Hope When defeat is certain, Desperate Hope tells us that it is only almost certain, and we persevere only because Hope keeps us going.
Unconscious Hope is :
  • Feckless Hope The trap of Optimism is in being blissfully unaware of the dangers our Hope masks. As they say, no one plans to fail, but the feckless fail to plan.
  • False Hope leads us away from difficult tasks or deadly foes toward ones which seem easier to face. When self-assurance is weak, False Hope can turn to Envy.
  • Denial The trap of Optimism is in being unaware of the dangers our Hope masks. The problem will go away if we just deny it thoroughly and long enough.
Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer, said "Optimism is true moral courage." He well knew the importance of clinging to Hope under duress. Helen Keller put it differently: "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope."

Yet Hope often blinds us to the flaws in our plans:
  • In computer software design and development, it is notoriously difficult for a programmer to test his own program, because Hope refuses to allow a new perspective, keeping the flaws hidden
  • Venture capitalists know that hope is not a strategy, and yet hope is their business model. Start up companies the world over are hoping for a VC with more dollars than sense will find them, and VCs the world over are looking for start up companies whose business plans can be hoped into success.
The result doesn't care what you hoped it would be. When making plans, Hope must often be defeated before success can be found.

But Hope softens the difficulty we face
  • Those stranded by weather or wilderness must maintain hope
  • Captives wither without hope of release
  • A victim of abuse is either encouraged by hope or holds to a veneer of rationality by denial
  • For one afflicted with cancer or other degenerative ailment, to lose Hope is to succumb to defeat
One bit of psychology I do recall is the concept of "learned helplessness". When training a dog, it's dangerous to use punishment. Dogs are especially susceptible to learned helplessness, the state in which they are unwilling to do anything since they have no hope of success.

For people who are lacking in Hope, a ready answer is provided by the purveyors of Pyramid schemes and get rich quick plans. They prey on their clients with False Hope as their chief tool. When people give up Hope in achieving prosperity on their own, they turn to the lottery or other gambling operations. Seeing themselves as struggling against difficult odds, they believe they are just using Optimistic, Encouraging, or perhaps Desperate Hope; really, the odds are always stacked for the house, and the marks are just involved in Fecklessness, False Hope, or even Denial.

Proponents of increases in the minimum wage typically prey on, and contribute to, hopelessness among the disadvantaged. Rather than encouraging people to excel through hard work and careful study, the minimum wage panderers enforce the idea that without government, those earning minimum wage have no hope. After a wage increase, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because employers have less ability to give raises based on merit, and wages tend to hug the minimum. Hope is defeated.

Foreign policy idealism is fueled by Hope. Realists reject Hope, clinging only to the calculation of power, self-interest, and persuasion to accomplish their ends. Who can say whether the people of Iraq will form a lasting republic, or will dash our hopes and stampede into Islamic rule, or retreat behind a despot? We hope that they will see the benefits of leaving governance of the physical world to physical beings, and defending the message of faith from being twisted and subverted for the benefit of those who govern. Whether our hopes will prove to be in vain remains to be seen.

It takes a special kind of Hope to ignore the rhetoric of jihad, to believe if we only appease the jihadists that they will be our friends. That is an idealism of a different kind, since it involves ignoring what people say in favor of what we would say if put in their place. The jihadists, ironically, are often people corrupted by the False Hope of everlasting glory.

Hope is vital, but those who don't know the dangers hiding behind their Hope may find it disappointing.

"All you ever want is to have a chance to have a chance," -- Brad Childress, coach of the Minnesota Vikings (via Yahoo!)

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