The Scale and the Background

This entry is based on a casual WhatsApp message from my friend Del Percio. The Argentine thinker’s distinction is well known, but in its digital formulation it produced unexpected resonances. On the one hand, he told us, we have optimism and pessimism. On the other, hope.

The scale extends on a spectrum from the banality and euphoria produced by power and glory at one extreme to suicidal or homicidal despair at the other – despair marked by meaninglessness, failure, or subjugation. Thus, one can be optimistic or pessimistic depending on the circumstances.

However, it must also be taken into account that there are characters marked by affective tonalities that existentially incline them to incarnate in one or the other type. Or to put it another way, using the reductionist language of genetics, there are those who carry in their DNA an unbalanced percentage of genes that orient them toward one extreme or the other.

Nevertheless, there are undoubtedly socio-economic, political, and historical-cultural circumstances that set the tone of the times. Indeed, the current circumstances seem to catalyze pessimism.

The extreme right is an expression of this circumstantial tendency. The public discourse, the geopolitical situation, the deterioration of our existential scenarios, the prevailing cynicism, the brutality and cruelty shamelessly embodied in our imaginations, the darkness of our possible futures invite pessimism. To be optimistic in these times is almost an insult to the common mortal. To express such optimism seems a banal affront to the sense of the times.

Hope, which transcends and explains the spectrum, is something else entirely. Hope is nothing less than our constitutive freedom, that which defines us as human beings. Even more: it is the germ of freedom that nests in all living matter, its unrenounceable openness. In our case, hope is that which underlies our daily or generational dramas, that which resists the assumption of a tragic vision of life.

Let us put it this way: the Nietzscheanism that reigns in our time – which we could define, in a nutshell, as the proclamation of “the death of all hope”: a death that becomes the annulment and disgrace of any transcendent conception – entails the acceptance of an image of reality in which the only discernible criterion is that imposed by the utilitarian, reducing “human fulfillment” to the experience of pleasure and pain, making optimism and pessimism the ultimate coordinates of any existential project.

In the Buddhist tradition, the notion of samsara (cyclical existence) refers analogously to the psycho-emotional imprisonment of the subject in the circumstances in which he lives. Samsara is the absolute of these circumstances. Ignorance is its ultimate cause. By renouncing the freedom that we are, we renounce all hope.

In this sense, as our friend Del Percio pointed out, hope is the core of our being. In history, this hope is expressed as the “community that is to come”, longed for as the realization of the “community that we are”. E. Del Percio’s book on fraternity gives an account of the dialectical character of a political project founded on this constitutive hope, a hope that is not reduced to the circumstantial scenes of history, even if it is only conceivable as a concrete expression of the circumstances of history.

Now, as J. Alemán recently pointed out in Página12, it seems right to point out that capitalism (that big monster) has stolen history from us, and with it has put our freedom in “quarantine”. But let us not despair. As Alemán says, history will return. And with it, hope will return.

In the meantime, we must learn, each one of us and together, to manage our emotions and the reactionary character of our political action, so that pessimism does not become the sign of an impossible tragedy, making us believe that the die is already cast.