Monique Atlan: we should teach Hope to the new generations

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Monique Atlan © France2

What does hope mean today? This is the main question to which Monique Atlan responds at the 4th World Humanities Forum, held in October 2016. According to the French journalist, the forgotten notion of hope should be "the main tool for building up a new future." Wide Angle shares her taughts. 

Hope seems to be a well-known, clear and simple notion, used every day by everyone. But in reality, it is a neglected, depreciated notion, unseen, like a real blind spot of our disillusioned societies. Abandoned for a long time to the religious field alone, always postponed to a "world of the hereafter", Hope has been forgotten by the Humanities.

During our work on our latest book Is there any future for hope? (L'espoir a-t-il un avenir ?, Flammarion, 2016), Roger-Pol Droit and I have searched throughout international research into hope and didn't find anything, or very little.

On our side, we think that Hope is the basis notion that we have to reconsider as the main tool for building up a new future, that we have to pay again attention to seriously. Hope as the necessary, and unavoidable foundation on which we can renew the capacities of our societies. Hope, with so many facets, to lead us to fulfill, to implement, our way of being human beings, complete, without resigning, or giving up on our responsibilities to the next generations.

Hope as a horizon

We do not speak about this inner, intimate feeling, that makes us move, rooted inside each of us at all stages of our individual lives. We speak about a collective hope, a global one, shared by an entire community, that can mobilize us, and drive us further, together. This kind of hope is much more than the simple sum total of all our personal hopes. It's something else. It looks like a horizon.

We talk about what can be the foundation of a society, open to a future vision. And this kind of hope is cruelly lacking today. What is more, we think this is the main problem of our time. 

Instead of always accusing capitalism or technology of the worst - as Heidegger and all his followers try to do - we think that they are just tools in our hands, of course as long as we do not sacralize them like idols, and perhaps sometimes we fail to meet this condition...

But more surely, we consider the lack of hope as the missing engine or fuel for our societies, as a lack of aims looking toward the future.

For a better understanding let's go back to the most simple definition: Hope is, obviously, the wish to obtain something better for the future: a wish unsure of its results, by which we act, to make them become concrete and real.

Everything is here, included in the definition: an expressed wish, a necessary action in time, but very soon there appears the obligatory wait, an inevitable time to endure in order to see some possible results, and moreover the uncertainty, the risk and fear of failure of one's hope...

With that modern temptation to abandon hope to avoid the fear of failure of one's hope... This happens more and more often when the desire to control everything prevails, as it does in our societies...

So, as soon as we begin to examine it, Hope appears to be more complex, more ambiguous, less naive than at first glance. Not just a simple and good feeling.

And it's precisely because of this, that it's one of the first dimensions, an irreducible one, of human beings. Even if we don't use it, even if we lose its use. The French philosopher Henri Bergson used to say: "Gods don't hope, nor do animals": and explained that Gods have eternity, while animals have no critical consciousness.

Double-faced Janus

Thus, Hope is the ultimate human dimension, but it is always two-faced, like the god Janus, positive and negative at the same time. We see it in our troubled days confronted to all these death's and destruction hopes that appear all over the world. But, we should also not forget the bright faces of hope that lead the world to more Democracy, Freedom, Resistance, Progress, Equality between men and women and so on...

Hope has lived through so many changes, metamorphoses, beginning with the time of the Greeks, when Pandora's legend brings it to us. This beautiful and divine creature could not resist opening the box, and all bad troubles (illness, death, lies, violence, etc.) suddenly spread all over the world with no return, leaving just Hope, elpis in Greek, at the bottom of the box. Hope, Good or evil?

The question remains from that time of why Hope stayed inside, but this moment certainly has introduced us, and lead us towards our humanity, that is to say: finally separated us from Gods and animals, specified as masculine or feminine gender. Before those times, all was mixed up with no differences. At this time, human beings appear, ambiguous and therefore human at the same moment.

So, we could say, in this sense, Pandora, in fact, had no choice, could not do otherwise than open the box, in order for humanity to exist, with this possibility of hope remaining to make us elaborate civilizations that grow and increase...

An exercise of lucidity

We think that Hope must be learned, has to be learned, especially by our humanities. We have to think, to elaborate, a real education of Hope. But, how?

Of course, we know right now that it's a paradox to speak like that. Because we know that I can't force anyone to hope. Hope cannot be preached. So what?

We can answer, following Nietszche or, after him, Ernst Bloch, or Hans Jonas, right in the midst of times of darkness and tragedies, saying that "we can learn how to hope", that we need "an educated hope".

For them, and we agree with no doubt, hope is like a process, an experiment, an exercise of lucidity. The fact that Hope is a natural human datum does not contradict the fact that we can learn it. Like we can learn to breathe, run or think, even though we already know how... We have to consider Hope like a raw material that we have to filter, to sieve, to refine, to eliminate all the false hopes, the negative, unaffordable, unrealistic ones.

And more than that, Hope as a real action:  that is to say, which eliminates all the magical thoughts that lead us often to hope without acting, just waiting for something to happen, one day, without our participation... A little bit like our contemporary political leaders who are using hope like an incantation during the short periods of their terms, without any serious thought about our future, without writing any collective tale to promote it. They are like those opera singers that shout on the stage " let us walk, let us walk" without moving...!

We think that a cultural, historical, psychological, and a political knowledge of hope is required. We think that we have a political responsibility to our new generations, to teach them Hope.

Monique Atlan

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