Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hope and some faith too

Like Vaclav Havel, I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist.  Everything does not end well.  Nor does everything end badly either.  I have felt the constant surge of hope in my breast that things will improve.  Like, maybe we will have a good political leader who can unite the nation while preserving its endless variety.  Or that poverty will be eradicated and people will live with dignity. 

“Life without hope is an empty, boring, and useless life,” said Havel. We cannot strive for anything without a fair share of hope within us.  However, one of my favourite authors, Albert Camus, derided hope as “the last item in Pandora’s box.”  Pandora’s box brought all the evils to mankind, according to Greek mythology.  Zeus kept the last evil, hope, hidden in the box.  Hope is the greatest source of trouble, philosopher Nietzsche had argued and Camus borrowed the argument.  Hope makes people anticipate an ultimate reward like heaven.  Such hope diminishes the value of this life here on earth.

Life is a pain for quite many people.  Camus compared it to the laborious process of rolling a massive boulder uphill only to have it being pushed down by the antagonistic deity like in the case of Sisyphus.  I have found much consolation in Camus’s philosophy of the absurd.  Life is absurd.  Our contemporary world which spends more wealth and energy on breeding hatred and perpetrating violence on fellow human beings is the most absurd one that any ‘rational’ creature could have created.

Sisyphus, an ancient painting

Camus’s solution is revolt.  Like Sisyphus who challenged the gods, we must challenge the absurdities of life and live in constant revolt arising from our intellectual integrity.  But I think such a life can be very painful.  I wonder if Sisyphus could ever smile.  I can only imagine Sisyphus as growling at the god who made him push the boulder for eternity.  I admire his grit and determination.  But I would love him if he could smile as he walked down the hill with the challenge burning in his breast.

Hope can bring that smile.  Camus would call it an abdication of integrity.  When you know that you have no escape from the boulder, hope is out of place.  Hope is an illusion.  Hope is an evil.

That’s true for Sisyphus.  But in our actual life the boulder is only a metaphor.  There is always the possibility of the boulder reaching the summit successfully.  Otherwise mankind would not have conquered so many peaks of success.  That’s why I incline more towards Havel than Camus.  Hope and some accompanying faith in ourselves and in the potential of mankind for goodness are essential for retaining the smile on our lips.


  1. This is where the confusion comes. The trouble comes when we have to chose a certain belief to lead this life.

    Of course suicide is never the solution when one realizes that life is meaningless. But to counter it what can one choose to live with? Hope or revolt?

    I believe hope is something only a truely optimistic person can opt to live with. For the rest revolt might come us a solution.

    Living in hope is pleasant but a delusion. Living with revolt is painful but pragmatic. Living in ingnorance is however a bliss.

    1. Isn't the entire life a big paradox? You've mentioned a few of the inevitable paradoxes: hope and delusion, revolt and pain. Ignorance is bliss but at least some people refuse to embrace ignorance. So we have to suffer. We can mitigate the suffering with a pinch of hope which, as I argued in the post, is ok since we do attain success once in a while.

      The more perfect a philosophical system, the less useful it is in actual life, I think. Camus made a neat system which satisfies the intellect but fails to tackle certain human aspirations.

  2. Faith and hope help to keep the dust of negativity off of our glasses of outlook and perception. Though one might remain aware of the reality around it is healthy to have a optimistic outlook to keep our own system free of the poison of the world. A person with an optimistic outlook remains healthy for society and nature at large.

    1. That's true. But optimism shouldn't be blind. Secondly, thinkers of the calibre of Camus and Havel look at optimism as well as pessimism more deeply than an ordinary person.

  3. Havel yes but camus needs to dive down further. I love the last line of your piece sir.


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