Solnit reminds us of how changed the world has been by the activism of the past five decades.
With Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and a wide reading of environmental, cultural, and political history, Solnit argued that radicals have a long, neglected history of transformative victories, that the positive consequences of our acts are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable, and that pessimism and despair rest on an unwarranted confidence about what is going to happen next.
Originally published in 2004, now with a new foreword and afterword, Solnit’s influential book shines a light into the darkness of our time in an unforgettable new edition.
A note from the author:
Got hope? Mine is free to you here (ebook download).
It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naivete,” the Bulgarian writer Maria Popova recently remarked. And Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, early on described the movement’s mission as “Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation. Rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams.” It’s a vision or a dream big enough to let hope and grief coexist.
The tremendous human rights achievements—not only in gaining rights but in redefining race, gender, sexuality, embodiment, spirituality and the idea of the good life–of the past half century have flowered during a time of unprecedented ecological destruction and the rise of innovative new means of exploitation. And the rise of new forms of resistance, including resistance enabled by an elegant understanding of that ecology and the means of protest, as well as by new ways for people to communicate and organize, and new and exhilarating alliances across distance and difference.
Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes—you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.
Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things you can know beforehand. You may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.
“No writer has better understood the mix of fear and possibility, peril and exuberance that’s marked this new millennium. Rebecca Solnit writes as independently as Orwell; she’s a great muralist, a Diego Rivera of words. Literary and progressive America is in a Solnit moment, which given her endless talent should last a very long time.”
—Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and author of Deep Economy
“Hope In the Dark changed my life. During a period of pervasive cynicism and political despair, the first edition of this book provided me with a model for activist engagement that I have held dear ever since. Today, as movements for climate, racial, and economic justice sweep the globe, its message is more relevant than ever. In her inimitable and inspiring way, Solnit reminds us that social change follows an unpredictable path. Despite all the obstacles, we must not lose sight of the fact profound transformation is possible. This book’s compact size belies its true power. It provides succor and sustenance, fuel and fire, for those fighting for a more just world.”
—Astra Taylor, author, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age
“Rebecca Solnit is a national literary treasure: a passionate, close-to-the-ground reporter with the soul and voice of a philosopher-poet. And, unlike so many who write about the great injustices of this world, she is an optimist, whose faith is deeply grounded in a knowledge of history. This is a book to give you not just hope but zest for the battles ahead.”
—Adam Hochschild, author, King Leopold’s Ghost
“Time and again she comes running towards you with a bunch of hopes she has found and picked in the undergrowth of the times we are living. And you remember that hope is not a guarantee for tomorrow, but a detonator of energy for action today.”
—John Berger, author, Ways of Seeing
“A slim, potent book penned in the wake of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq; a book that has grown only more relevant and poignant in the decade since.”
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings