We were examining some self-limiting beliefs. We were asking how people can get rid of such beliefs. One such belief is that “It is hopeless”. This is closely related to the belief that “It is impossible”. The difference is that the first refers more to a state of mind of the speaker while the later seems to be more a statement about the external world, the real world. But both say something about mental states and something about the real world. So what is hope? First it’s a feeling. It’s a feeling we have when we are in a particular mental state, a particular state of mind. We are in this mental state when we assess, we estimate, we guess, we have the opinion that something is possible, that something, some situation, some state of the world, which is not the present state, which may be unlikely, could still occur, could still happen. We believe it is possible. We have sayings like “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” So to say something is hopeless is to believe it is not possible.
How do we know what is possible? In our present context, how do we know what other systems besides our present system are possible? We are trying to counter the opinion, the belief, that our present system is the “best possible”. So this opinion allows that there may be other systems but they are not as good as our present system, or if there were other systems as good as or better than our present one, we couldn’t get there from here. They might say “There might theoretically be better systems than ours, but they wouldn’t work for us. Human nature would prevent them from working.”
Many times people with these kinds of opinions are imagining some kind of system vastly different from our present system but they can’t imagine how it would work. Often they can’t imagine how our present system works because they really do not understand how it actually does work to do all the things it does. Some economists might claim that they understand how our present system works, but they don’t, since they only may understand fragmentally how their models work. But their models are too far removed from reality. Actually no single person can understand in detail how our vast and interconnected human world works.
The real problem with “It is hopeless” and “It is impossible” is in the minds of those who believe this way. They lack knowledge, imagination, or both. Anthropology shows that there are and have been cultures including economic systems that seem to work as well as our present system. It is legitimate to point out that the scale of our present world culture is vastly greater than all past systems. But the existence of different systems proves different systems are possible and some of them might be better than our own in many ways.
There are more immediate ways to see that better systems than our present one are possible. First look at our immediate past. Second imagine our immediate future. In many ways the capitalist/financial systems we had 50 or so years ago were better than what we have now. And given the glaring and obvious-to-all problems with our present systems who can honestly say that no improvements can be made to our present systems. So if we can see even just a few improvements to our present system, then the present system is not the best one and it is not the best possible one either.
Those who have maximum doom and gloom, those who see catastrophe just ahead, already admit by their gloomy predictions, that great changes are possible. It is just that they are imagining negative changes rather than positive ones. It is true that complex systems on their own are more likely to deteriorate than improve. But they are not “on their own”. We can change them. We do it all the time with every new law passed.
It is not hopeless. It is not impossible. We can change our systems one step at a time to build better systems, incrementally, evolutionarily, cautiously, safely, non-violently.
You want another proof significant change is possible? Here is one: The system we had around 1970 was changed incrementally, evolutionarily, non-violently into the system we have today. The trouble is this revolutionary change (to neoliberalism) was not cautious enough in some matters. We changed some things that were working well which shouldn’t have been changed. There were bad unforeseen consequences. (There are always unforeseen consequences, and some can be good.) And some of the changes were deliberately made to improve the welfare of some classes and individuals at the expense of others — to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. It can be argued that this revolution was not completely non-violent since wars were ongoing, and there was a lot of violence in our domestic (US) society. But there was no direct force, coercion, violence used to change the laws that morphed the capitalist/financial/political systems of 1970 into the systems and institutions we have now.
Hopelessness is a mental state similar to depression. Your imagination is focused on all the negative things that could happen. Your imagination does not consider good possibilities. Depression leads to inaction, more depression, and death if it isn’t turned around. The hopelessness/depression process is a self reinforcing process, a negative downward spiral. It can be hard to stop the downward spiral by yourself. If you can’t get out of your depression by yourself, you should get help from a doctor or a therapist.
So how do we help people to get out of their hopelessness about our economic and political systems? First we can spread the knowledge and information presented above and any other rational arguments showing the unrealistic nature of the hopelessness mental state. If that is not enough, then we help them focus on their own mental state and help them understand that maybe they need professional help if their hopelessness continues for more than a month or six weeks. If their hopelessness comes and goes, during some time when they are not overwhelmed by hopelessness, we help them focus on their own mental state, help them understand it, help them recognize triggers which bring it on, go over the facts and arguments presented above, and see if this is effective in avoiding hopelessness/depression.
So the revolution must provide therapy? Well, in a sense yes. This may seem odd. But as we have been saying over and over, the revolution is about helping people change their minds about some very important things. This is what therapists do, advertisers do. To believe that our present systems are unchangeable is a serious error in thinking. It is as serious an error for us as a group — humanity as a group — as it is for an individual to believe that their life is no longer worth living.
Our task as progressives, as revolutionaries is to help people (including ourselves) make the changes in our own thinking so that enough of us change our actions, our real life behaviors, so that through politics, through our jobs, through what we say, what we write, through our art, through our interpersonal relations, how and what we communicate to all our friends and associates, how we organize ourselves into all the groups we assemble into — till enough change has occurred in enough individuals, in what we know, what we believe, and how we think, that it will be correct to say that we have changed the whole system into a better one, one that is closer to our goals of social justice.
We must not get hung up on apparent obstacles like the fact that our present political/electoral/representational system has been captured by the 1%. Yes it is an obstacle. I don’t have a detailed answer to remove or go around this obstacle. Perhaps no one does. But that does not mean we can’t remove it or go around it. All this means is we must work on it, keep working on it, try stuff, try again. And we will make progress.
Our formal democracy seems at present to be pretty much blocked for us. But in all societies there is an informal democracy of communication and cooperation which is much more important and which is the foundation of the formal democracy. Societies don’t work very well without it. Our system depends heavily on this now worldwide communication and cooperation system. We vote with our actions.
When the US was formed there was no way a democracy could be implemented except through delegation to representatives who could gather together in one distant physical place to make decisions and pass laws applicable to the whole group. That is no longer necessary.
Today there are many other possibilities. It is not hopeless.