To Willing Conflators of Václav Havel And Jeremy Todd (nine hundredth letter)


The kind of hope I think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless) is always a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. I wrote to the Transcendentalists once, knowing the letter could never be sent.  It gave me hope anyway (and still does).
This sort of hope isn’t the same as joy that things are going well, or a 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). This Not Sent Letters Project, for instance, gives me hope. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is also, above all, a source of strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
Between the aims of the here-and-now system and the aims of life there is a yawning abyss: while life, in its essence, moves toward plurality, diversity, independent self-constitution, and self organization, in short, toward the fulfillment of its own freedom, the ongoing present enforces fear, complicity and denial. While life constantly strives to create new and improbable structures, the current state of the world contrives to force life into the most probable of endgames. This system serves people only to the extent necessary to ensure that people will serve it. Anything beyond this, that is to say, anything leading people to overstep their predetermined roles, anything resembling hope, is regarded by the system as an attack. And in this respect it is correct: every instance of such transgression is a genuine refusal of the system. It can be said, therefore, that the inner aim of the here-and-now system is not mere preservation of power in the hands of a ruling elite, as appears to be the case at first sight. Rather, the social phenomenon of self-preservation is subordinated to something higher, to a kind of blind automatism leading inevitably to death. Hope becomes unacceptable.
Ideology, in creating a bridge of excuses between the system and the individual, spans the abyss between the aims of the system and the aims of life. It pretends that the requirements of the system derive from the requirements of life. It is a world of appearances trying to pass for reality.
This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as her ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance. Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.
Individuals need not believe all of these mystifications, but they must behave as though they do, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or else protest them, as cleverly as possible, within the confines of what stands for public discourse within market logic. They must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.
What are any of us without it? Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world as it is. It precludes the acquiescence expected of us, the possible costs of this preclusion, the unknowableness of what might happen next, the anonymity of it all, the dismal odds of survival…  Hope resides in a choice that can’t be taken from us regardless, in doing the right thing despite the immanence of death. Hope is really living. When a person tries to act in accordance with her conscience, when she tries to speak the truth, even in conditions where truth is degraded, it won’t necessarily lead anywhere, but it might. There’s one thing, however, that will never lead anywhere, and that is speculating on whether such behavior will lead somewhere or not.  One must hope to stay alive.