I’ve been reading articles on Hopepunk recently. After the last few weeks – the shitshow of a Democratic primary; the growing problem with Coronavirus; flooding and violent weather world wide – I needed a palate cleanser. A Tor article on Hopepunk began my surfing, and it’s taken me far and wide across the internet.
I don’t believe human beings are naturally inclined to fight for every scrap they have in a death match against all comers. We would never have formed communities, villages that became towns that became cities, if we did. The history of humanity would have been greatly stunted by the death match.
So why is a violent, individualistic notion of society thrust into the forefront of American culture these days? I believe we are taught to do so by those with an agenda of pushing their views over all others. The view that we must tread over the corpses of our competitors in all things is a thoroughly ridiculous and disgusting concept. That we should be merciless in every aspect of life is a vomitous notion. And yet we live in a society where these things are upheld as paragons of truth. Any attempt to teach about love and community are squashed.
We are, in fact, steeped in the propaganda of violence and destruction. And it is propaganda, worthy of interrogating and dismantling.
This is reflected both in our media and our cultural attitudes towards it. To whit, examine closely the PG-13 rating in movies and look at what it allows. Endless amounts of violence and destruction. Sure, you can’t show gore, you can’t let us see the blood. Still, heroes and villains routinely pave the world with corpses to better their causes. This seeps into our consciousness. We grow to believe that “yes, that person deserves to die because they broke the law somehow.” I see it all the time in online forums. Every time a black person is murdered by the cops, folks inevitably land on the square labeled “but they did some <insert minor criminal offenses> and that’s why they had to die.”
Going back to our PG-13 example: try to squeak in an image of a woman’s naked breasts, and it’s right to an R rating for you. No boobs for you! Sex and sexuality, loving relationships, are treated as immorality. Two people doing what humans have done for millennia are considered far worse than murder and death. It’s a sad, sick indictment of our Puritan value system, one we are still unable to cast off and grow beyond.
Similarly, we are held hostage to the cult of individual achievement. That every person must rely only and ever on themselves to be successful. That to view us as a community of interconnected members who lift each other up is wrong think, socialism and communism, and thus unworthy of representation. This despite the fact that, in the face of every great disaster, it’s the community that comes together to share resources, feed and cloth each other, lift each other back onto our feet and dust each other off. The history of our country isn’t chaotic forces of individualism fighting each other, it’s the struggle of a people to come together and build something more.
People held up as paragons of “individual achievement” could not have gotten there without a community of helpers backing them up. There is literally no single person who ever achieved their success alone. Einstein would have been nothing without the equations others wrote he was able to adapt to his theories, nor without the wife who helped him develop those theories (and who gets almost no mention in his background; and that’s not to mention the thousands of physicists who came before him and laid the ground work). And while Trump’s name is a curse word upon my lips, he’d have been nothing without his daddy’s money propping him up, and the political connections his father made over the years with his cash (not to mention the fact that the family members received significant assistance from the federal government and states when they immigrated here, and eventually built their real estate empire with government contracts).
We celebrate the single person. We don’t celebrate the others whose shoulders they stand on when they are raised above us. That is why we fail as a nation, and are slipping ever faster into autocracy and theocracy. We have forgotten the struggles we performed as a collective, the working men and women of our world, who fought deadly battles for their right to fair pay for fair work, time off, health benefits. The blacks who gathered together for safety and power, and marched despite the likelihood they would be lynched for daring to take on the white majority. The anti-war peaceniks who faced down guns to protest a war they didn’t believe in which sent masses of the poor into a grinder for no actual benefit.
The cult of greed and individual worship has always existed. But it became weaponized during the Reagan presidency. It remains deeply entrenched today. I’ve watched this country slip ever further away from its ideals of justice and equality for all, even as we’ve made strides in some other areas. It’s a simple notion, really: all humans are created equal and should be treated as such in the eyes of the law. But ever and again do people gin up fear that THOSE people – those ones over there, the ones we hate today (blacks or Muslims or gays or poor people or and or and or) – are taking something away from us by demanding we treat them fairly. And ever and again do we have to have these same fights. Over and over, repeating themselves through history. Women, blacks, gays, transgenders, and on and on and on.
It all boils down to propaganda. The cult of the right holds sway in our country. The cult of Jesus and the bible. But not THE bible. No, it’s the cult bible, the one where whole sections about “love thy neighbor” and “render unto Caesar” are ignored for “greed is good” and “fuck those people right up the ass with a hot poker.” I’m still trying to find those sections of course. Wake me when they’re written. These people don’t even follow their own religious beliefs.
So I turn to hopepunk, because what else can we do? Voting hasn’t solved our problems. Until hordes of leftists take to the street and demand change, we’ll never get it. We feel powerless. [note: I wrote most of this essay before the BLM protests of May/June in the face of ongoing police brutality; change is a swift, beautiful, brutal thing]
Literature like hopepunk revives our sense of power in the face of overwhelming forces that threaten to bury us under a tidal wave of pain. As Claudie Asenault wrote in her essay for Strange Horizons, Constructing a Kinder Future, “When we imagine the future as we want it, we concretise it. We take our lofty ideals and make them real, attainable.” That, my friends, is a noble and worthy pursuit. Dreaming costs you nothing, and helps us see a future that isn’t grim and dark.
So do yourself a favor: read some Hopepunk today. Read books that describe a future – whether our future or the future of some other world – that looks ahead to brighter days and fights against unjust systems to achieve that goal. You are living in a Hopepunk world right now. Millions are out protesting for their right to breath. Simply breath. And change is happening, slowly, but like a landslide it only takes a few pebbles to get things moving. Then the bigger rocks start rolling, and soon the whole slope is in motion. When the dust settles, the landscape will be redrawn. Let’s make sure it’s drawn the right way this time. We’ll keep fighting until that happens.
Here’s a Hopepunk reading list to get you started: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/hopepunk