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.