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Hope, not nihilism, is the antidote to bleak times

Fatima Measham |  14 September 2016


There is a palpable sense that ours is a consequential period. I've been using that word a lot, 'consequential'. Every age sees itself as the cusp of something else, but there are developments that reveal the sharpness of that edge.

12-year-old boy stares down anti-LGBTQ protest in MexicoOur technologies continue to advance at breathless pace. Some gadgets resemble magic. I still remember my mum hiring a professional (which was just a guy with the right equipment), so we could record a message on an analogue videocassette that we could then post to dad, who would receive it at his next port of call, or so we hoped. Last weekend, I spoke to him face to face in real time, nearly 6000km apart, using a pocket-sized computer.

Technology has already disrupted the nature of work and democracy, as well as our understandings of privacy and national security.

A mobile boom in Africa is driving innovation in commerce. Recent scientific breakthroughs, in areas such as cancer and Alzheimer's, might be the basis for future therapies. Climate adaptation research will be critical to the survival of coastal populations. Science, technology and engineering are some of the areas that still bear hope in what seems like a very bleak time.

Yet even as these become more foundational to answering policy questions around living standards, they are being eroded via drastic funding cuts, conspiracy theory and borderline superstition. In parliament this week, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts called climate change 'a scam' perpetrated by the United Stations.

There is a parallel disjunction in the way the composition of our societies is framed. People are more mobile than ever, and populations have diversified. Majority-minorities are set to become a phenomenon in the west.

Despite evidence that migrants have a positive impact on economies (in Australia, the UK and Canada), such open shifts have been met with virtual lockdowns, manifest in white supremacist revival, isolationism and culture war.

Post-factualism in the Information Age, hyper-nationalism amid high immigration, social change versus preservation: these tensions seem to be serving a kind of nihilism that is particular to our time. There are forces, sometimes embodied in real people, which are unravelling what remains of the things that hold us together, like our sense of interdependence and common humanity.


"Our time might be consequential not just because it could go so wrong, but because it might still go right."


For some, the antagonism is propelled in part by neoliberal failures. During the US primaries, the line between Sanders and Trump supporters was not so substantial when it came to views about 'Washington' and Wall Street.

The problem with scorched-earth attitudes, however, is that they don't necessarily lead to renewal. They reward arsonists, invite trauma and, being indiscriminate, warp our capacity to tell good from bad. Nihilism isn't the antidote to the stark injustices of our time. Hope is.

This week, a poll indicated that two thirds (66 per cent) of Australians want refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to be resettled by the end of the year. More than three quarters say that the federal government should accept the New Zealand offer.

In the same chamber where tired, old words against non-Anglo Australians were uttered, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said, 'Whether they live on the vast cattle stations, or whether they have travelled from countries like Asia, Africa, or the Middle East to forge a new life for their families, away from strife-torn lives that offered no future, I stand here for you too.'

In Mexico, a 12-year old boy walked onto the middle of the road to stare down, if only momentarily, an 11,000-strong anti-LGBTQ protest. 'I have an uncle who is gay,' he later told a journalist. 'I don't like people hating him.' In Italy, a small town has been revived by the arrival of refugees and migrants, whom it has welcomed for the past 18 years. In the US, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has pulled the issue of police brutality into supposedly apolitical spaces, using symbolic gestures to draw out the longer history of racialised oppression.

As Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine puts it, 'If you want to be right, be a pessimist, if you want to do right, be an optimist.' It is almost an impossible prescription for a columnist. I want to get it right every time; otherwise no one would read me.

It is the easiest thing to do to remain cynical or disconsolate; it will always be justified and sometimes you just have to feel what you feel. However, our time might be consequential not just because it could go so wrong, but because it might still go right. Or at least go right in some places. Those increments, in the end, make all the difference between absurdity and meaning.


Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She tweets @foomeister and blogs at This is Complicated.

Main image: Facebook screenshot/Manuel Rodriguez



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Submitted comments

A short endorsement of Fatima's words - "We are all God's children" (whether we realise it or not - mostly not) Our fears & attendant feelings of hopelessness are just our inevitable human responses to the evil we see everywhere in today's world. When we enter into our spiritual heritage as God's children, via regular meditation/prayer, we tap into the unconditional love & strength of this Father/Mother God. Sounds simple and it is ! However, the challenge to everyone of us is uncompromising - it requires us to let go of our ego concerns. It requires us to give up the brainwashing of our Western culture - that is, it's materialism & it's training to become a control freak. This is the "gate key" for all of us as humans - from the grassroots of our communities and of our families and upwards in our human hierarchies of power and control. God's message of trust and acceptance of ourselves, as we are, even extends right up to Cardinals of the Curia of the RC Church and the Pope. They are not the Church - all of us collectively are.

John Cronin, Toowoomba 16 September 2016

I enjoy your sanity and logic especially on this subject. Re the title however, while I agree with the sentiment; nihilism itself is only that what honesty concludes after metaphysical options have been excised from thought- hope is therefore something far too ambitious to construe; unless of course .....?

Rein Zeilstra 16 September 2016

"Nihilism isn't the antidote to the stark injustices of our time. Hope is"... There is a book written about this idea. It is called 'The Power of Positive Thinking'. The author originally wanted to call it, 'The power of Faith'. But this attracted little attention. When published as 'Positive Thinking', it became a best seller, and one of the very influential books of its time, because this is really where the real value of Faith resides. Unfortunately the word 'Faith' is often misused. When we are urged, 'Keep the Faith', what is often meant is 'Stay loyal to our traditions'. These traditions have often become out-dated material representations of powerful spiritual ideals that lose most of their value if viewed only in their material form. The value of Faith lies not in being a member of any religion, but in being committed to its Spiritual Ideals

Robert Liddy 16 September 2016

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