Sustainable activism: Managing hope and despair

Categories: Big picture
Published on: December 15, 2016

resilience.org / Paul Hoggett, Rosemary Randall / 14 December 2016

Sustainable activism has what Gramsci called a ‘pessimism of the intellect’ which can avoid wishful thinking and face reality as squarely as possible. However it also retains an ‘optimism of the will’, an inner conviction that things can be different. By holding optimism and pessimism in tension, sustainable activism is better able to handle despair, and it has less need to resort to binary thinking as a way of engaging with reality. It can hold contradictions so that they don’t become either/or polarities and can work both in and against the system.

Whilst it believes there can be no personal change without political change it is equally insistent that there can be no political change without personal change. It insists optimistically that those who are not against us must be with us, and therefore carries a notion of ‘us’ which is inclusive and generous, one which offers the benefit of the doubt to the other.

Finally, sustainable activism holds that it is never too late. In the context of climate change it is able to face the truth that some irreversible processes of change are already occurring; that the two degrees limit in the increase in global temperatures agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference may not be achieved; that bad outcomes are inevitable, and that some are already happening. Nevertheless it also insists that this makes our struggles all the more vital to reduce the scale and significance of these future outcomes, to fight for the ‘least-worst’ results we can achieve, and to ensure that the world of our grandchildren and their children is as habitable as possible.

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