Hope in the Dark

Hope in the Dark

Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

Rebecca Solnit

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today,” said Malcolm X.

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Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” but the summations of the state of the world often assume that it must be all one way or the other, and since it is not all good it must all suck royally. Fitzgerald’s forgotten next sentence is, “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

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Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

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Inside the word emergency is emerge; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.

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The focus on survival demands that you notice the tiger in the tree before you pay attention to the beauty of its branches. The one person who’s furious at you compels more attention than the eighty-nine who love you. Problems are our work; we deal with them in order to survive or to improve the world, and so to face them is better than turning away from them, from burying them and denying them. To face them can be an act of hope, but only if you remember that they’re not all there is.

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the change that counts in revolution takes place first in the imagination. Histories usually pick up when the action begins, but Schell quotes John Adams saying that the American Revolution “was in the minds of the people and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before hostilities commenced.” And Thomas Jefferson concluded, “This was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.”

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(Stalin reputedly once said, “Ideas are far more dangerous than guns. We don’t allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?”)

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Just as fashions are more likely to originate in the street with poor nonwhite kids, so are new stories likely to start in the marginal zones, with visionaries, radicals, obscure researchers, the young, the poor— the discounted, who count anyway.

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Environmentalists like to say that defeats are permanent, victories temporary. Extinction, like death, is forever, but protection needs to be maintained.

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Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later. An essay, a book, is one statement in a long conversation you could call culture or history; you are answering something or questioning something that may have fallen silent long ago, and the response to your words may come long after you’re gone and never reach your ears, if anyone hears you in the first place.

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In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire, and sometimes the burned landscape blooms most lavishly.

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