Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Value Images: Hope

The last value image I presented was of tragedy. Tragedy has a twin sibling, however, which is always chasing after (and before) it. Where there is tragedy, there is hope. The tragedy of our world gives us a gift - live your life in the imperative. The world is not as it should be. No one's values match what occurs. This is partly the case because of what was discussed last time - our values are always contradictory, and as such we are always pulled in separate directions by our conflicting values. Such contradictory moments are particularly tragic when two (or more) of our most important values crash into each other. The cliff scene is a perfect example of this, although there are countless situations which are of a less artificial nature which happen all the time. Should an American Christian be loyal to his faith or his religion? What should an individual caught in-between family and a loved one do? We simply cannot escape these contradictions.

However, there is another element within our tragic horizons. The world (ontos) changes. Our values simply cannot keep up. This prevents our values matching up with how the world is consistently. An American Marxist's values clearly do not match up with what American politics results in. When our values are not incarnated in reality, we find tragedy. When I value everyone being provided with food, housing and healthcare and those values do not match up with what-is (ontos) I am confronted with tragedy. However, notice that even if someone were to match his values to the world as what-is (ontos), the moment the world changes from those values (which of course will happen in our mutable world) my values will not match up with what-is (ontos) and I will be confronted with tragedy. For those that value what-is, what-is does not persist and we are confronted with tragedy. For those do not value what-is, what-is often does persist and we are confronted with tragedy. What a complicated way of stating that we don't always get what we want! :)

It is important to note a particular byproduct of this view - our values are incarnated in our time, in our locality. The tragedy of our situation will always, to some degree, depend on how our values match up with what-is (ontos). Notice however, that this value-incarnation is driven by our tragedy. When we confront a world where our values do not match what-is (ontos) we are driven by our determination to act towards vindication - praxis. If we do not slip into terror, the tragedy of our present situation drives us to actualize our values. If I value everyone being provided with food, housing and healthcare and those values do not match up with what-is (ontos) I will act towards the act(ualization) of my values. I will hope because I need to hope. I will believe my values are possible because the tragedy of my situation demands that tragedy is not the only essence of reality. Tragedy does not let us give up. We hope because we must. Thus, our values pull us both towards tragedy and hope simultaneously.

Interestingly, this relationship between our values and our tragedy/hope is not monodimensional. Our values shape what our tragic/hopeful situations are, but our tragic/hopeful situations in turn shape our values. After all, our values are nonsensical apart from our moments. What would the statement "I feel it is right to feed the starving" even mean apart from what it means in its locality? However, our values are not simply determined by our context, they are created by our contexts. My past has played a significant role in what I value. It has not determined what I will decide (since, as mentioned in the last post, every decision is undecidable) but it has given birth to what I value. I value family, for example, because of my multitudinous tragic/hopeful experiences of family. It would be otherwise if I had a different locality.

Our particular locality does not simply shape our values, however. In turn with our values, it allows us to see what-is-preferable from what-is (ontos). An act of vision. Let us call such what-is-preferable, potential. Again and again, I will return to this notion of potential. However, for now it is simply important to note that what we see (potential) both informs and is informed by what-is (ontos). This image will become more vivid with time.

Let's notice that a number of traditional interpretations of certain concepts break down at this point. The distinction between realism/idealism breaks down. No matter what our potential is, our potential is both grounded in what-is (ontos) and is also reaching towards the future as an ideal. We all have realistic image-inations. The realism/idealism distinction is a polemical tool generally designed to privilege one's own image-inations over another's. Even when such a distinction is used without an intent to harm, the designation effectively just presents the distance between the two individuals. When someone who identifies themselves as a realist designates someone else as an idealist, what is primarily expressed is a significant gap between not only their envisioned potentials, but also between their localities of what-is (ontos). We have fallen into an individualistic trap if we assume that someone else is somehow detached from reality if their envisioned potential (or locality) is different from ours. We all live in world(s).

The powerful element within the interaction between potential and what-is (ontos) is that every moment is a blend of hope and tragedy. To some degree our potential always remains unfulfilled, and so we hope because we must hope. Tragedy gives us no other choice. The tragedy of a past moment(s) gives us the push to act out of hope in the present moment. We act because we see. We hope because we are presented with images of tragedy. As long as hope and tragedy are united, hope is an active verb. We act because we hope for a better world. We hope because we must.


Dylan said...

"We hope because we must." I'm not sure I'm coming at it from the same place you are here, but I agree with your conclusion absolutely. Hope is essential for life, because hope is all we have that tomorrow will a better day (or that tomorrow will come at all). Hope makes existence possible for all of us, for the loss of hope is the loss of will to continue existing. Or, in the context of your post here, life is what occurs when hope exceeds tragedy; death when tragedy exceeds hope.

However, I'm still not sure hope and tragedy can be boiled down to a stark duality. Yes, hope arises out of tragedy, but I think that hope can rise out of hope too. We look for inspiration and hope in the world around us not just in the things that frighten us or cause us to weep, but also in the things that cause our hearts to soar and our spirits to rise. Hope can spread like tragedy can, and perhaps, in that way too, they are linked.

Wildflower said...

You are of course, right. Tragedy is not the foundation (nor is hope's relationship with tragedy merely one of dependence). My posts have been somewhat misleading in this direction.

My hope had/has been to point out the dualism of tragedy and hope and show how the two are inextricably linked. Where there is tragedy, there is hope. Where there is hope, there is tragedy. It is not a matter of which arises out of the other, since to a certain degree both are primordial. What we hope for depends on what our tragedies are. What our tragedies are depends upon what we hope for. Can hope arise from hope? Certainly, but the specter of tragedy is not far behind (ahead). Tragedy, too can arise from tragedy, although luckily, hope too is not far behind (ahead). They are two different sides of the same coin - they are different but you can't really take one side of the coin without taking the other side as well.