December 31,2018
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I Am A Hope Punk

by Jonathan Wallace

Every ten years or so, I stumble across a book or essay which changes my world-view. Probably the shortest, most impactual such work was Ernst Renan's essay, What Is A Nation?. Among the other most influential works I have read are Tainter on collapse of complex civilizations, Perrow on "normal accidents", Norman on the design of everyday things, Coad on software development (yes I am a geek), Jacobs on cities, and Herrigel's Zen In The Art of Archery (if you read just one thing on this list, pick that one).

An essay that just popped up in the news feed on my iPhone may rise to that same level of importance, Aja Romano's "Hopepunk, the latest storytelling trend, is all about weaponized optimism", Vox, December 27, 2018. Romano says that "hopepunk", a descriptor someone coined to represent the opposite of "grimdark" in fiction and media, communicates a "narrative message of 'keep fighting, no matter what'.... [while manifesting] hope itself, with all the implications of love, kindness, and faith in humanity it encompasses".

So it occurs to me, I am a Hope Punk, and proud to be. Linking arms in front of my high school as hoods with chains charged us the week of the Kent State killings, or, almost fifty years later, writing down the name of a young woman who is sitting on the concrete in plastic handcuffs at a huge, chaotic May Day demonstration, while a shouting cop slams me in the chest with an open hand; or doing CPR on dead people on Manhattan sidewalks during my ambulance years; adopting a snapper hatchling the size of a quarter walking in the street near my home, precisely because she probably had a half hour to live, and keeping her in my living room in a fifty gallon storage container four years later, now the size of a dinner plate; traveling to Manhattan, Syracuse, and Mandan, North Dakota, to defend people, "real good for free", who were arrested at demonstrations; working late at night on a Mad Manuscript 6,500 pages long about the idea of free speech, which it is possible will never have a reader--what unites all these experiences is a certain strange idea that the future may be better. An idea which opposes everything we know about History and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

There are people I have profiled in the Mad Manuscript who, now that I know the term, I see are Hope Punks. This is a frivolity--we Hope Punks are entitled to some, whatever gets us through the night is all right--but I imagine being at a Clash concert; "Kick It Over" (the Hope Punk Anthem) is playing. Looking to my right and left, I see Gandhi and Joan of Arc (both of whom fit right in with their shaved heads) and also Mollie Steimer, the tough Russian teenager who survived Woodrow Wilson, Stalin and Hitler and whose arrest for leafleting on the Lower East Side led to the case which inspired Oliver Wendell Holmes to write his "Marketplace of Ideas" dissent. Young Dorothy Day, in her neat second hand long shirt and dress, is there. The strange older man in the corner, smiling and obviously enjoying the music although he does not fit in at all, is John Quincy Adams. (When I go to concerts now, I am that man.) All of them are Hope Punks.

Some years ago, I stopped feeling optimism, but I decided to live as if I were an optimist. I did not know until much later this is a version of Pascal's Wager; he decided you can't go wrong living as if God existed. For several years, I have wanted to write an essay for the Spectacle, "Our World Is Ending", and each month have deflected away to another topic. But you don't have to feel hope to want it to exist, or to believe, in some senseless way in your stomach, that if you clap hard enough, Tinkerbelle will live.

I aspire to live by the Samurai code. There is a moment near the end of most Samurai movies when the enemy forces drawn up to do battle are numerically far superior. The Samurais nevertheless go through the ritual of buckling on their swords; they have (as I try to) a rigid idea of themselves to which it is more important to adhere than it is to live. Dorothy Day was expressing a version when she said, "Faithfulness is more important than effectiveness".

It is hard to believe that these Samurai are optimists, or even wannabes like me. I call them honorary Hope Punks because, although they are too realistic and their world too Grimdark for them to believe in hope, you can put them at a further remove: they aspire to aspire to live as if they were optimists. That aspiration is itself a form of hope.

It has been quite a few years since I found anything optimistic to say at New Years'. That was it. I have imagined at times I am writing, not for any contemporary, but for a twelve year old girl named Dawn who lives a thousand years from now. But that too is a Hope Punk concept.