John Zerzan: Why Hope? Because no faith!

John Zerzan’s written work increasingly resembles his spoken word (a la Anarchy Radio“). In other words, his written work increasingly resembles any opinion piece that you might find within a high school newspaper. For example, in his latest piece “Why Hope?,” he argues that anarchists should return to the concept of hope. He writes,

It’s pretty fashionable, among anarchists as well, to sneer at the notion of hope, to explicitly rule out any chance of overall victory over domination and oppression. […] In this way the misery of burn-out and disillusionment will be avoided and we’ll all be a lot happier(!) The Mexican Unabomber-type group, Individualidades teniendo a lo salvaje (ITS), also firmly asserts that there’ll be no winning. “We do not believe this is possible,” they proclaim repeatedly.

But it is possible.

There are at least two striking errors in Zerzan’s logic. First, it seems more than obvious that “sneering at the notion of hope” is precisely not fashionable – especially among anarchists. Recall that the concept of hope was the rallying cry which united everybody during Obama’s campaign, including anarchists (see, for example, the “hope bloc“). The anarchists hope for revolution and everywhere they are met with failure. Sometimes, I admit, I believe that anarchists secretly enjoy failing. All this talk of hope serves as an alibi so they never actually have to win.

The second logical error that Zerzan makes has to do with the assumption that the rejection of the concept of hope by necessity brings about the rejection of the possibility of victory. But is this necessarily the case? I maintain that victory is only possible when all hope is lost. This is why Kierkegaard wrote that hope always concerns what is possible. Zerzan is aware of this argument because he quoted kierkegaard in his column. However, what Zerzan misses is the difference that Kierkegaard made between hope and faith.

Oh, you anarchists – please let me finish before you go jumping to conclusions about this trigger word, faith! 

Whereas hope concerns the possible, faith concerns the impossible. Whereas, for Kierkegaard, hope is destined for failure – and thus, by necessity, it always includes an abandonment of the possible – faith, on the other hand, implies that one gives oneself over to the impossible through faith. Thus, whereas hope is temporary (where is that “hope bloc” today, anyway?), faith is endless. Faith is here for the long haul.

Faith survives after the age of 27. But do most anarchists?

To have faith in revolution is much different than having hope. If one has faith then one is in revolution, but if one has hope, then one is looking forward toward revolution. This is why I have claimed, in previous posts, that anarchists require knights of faith and not stooges of hope.  When you have hope, you by necessity confront an unbearable failure, one that probably brings about deep despair. Many anarchists are unable to recover from despair. But when you have faith, when you abandon the principle of hope (and thus the principle of despair), you allow yourself to realize that failure is always a possibility: we must, therefore, try something new. In this respect, Zizek writes:

Hope is only where despair is […] something truly new happens only when you are in such a deep shit that within the existing coordinates you can find no way out. Then in order to survive you have to invent something new. The magic is to turn a desperate situation into a new beginning.

In a chilling scene from V For Vendetta, Evey is imprisoned by “V” and tortured. She remains in there until she abandons hope, but not faith. Finally, when all hope is lost, she is liberated from the prison and she discovers “something true about herself.”

This abandonment of hope is inherently anxiety-provoking. But if we have the courage to work through the impossible – the faith to leap forward toward something authentically new – then we might finally break out of the shackles that have kept us enjoying our own failures. We might begin to see the new world that has always been there within our hearts.

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2 thoughts on “John Zerzan: Why Hope? Because no faith!

  1. Pingback: Faith in the Impossible | Struggle Forever!

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