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November 21, 2014
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We're a nation of addicts, and the pleasant escapist emotion of hope is the hardest stuff around.

America,land that I love, God bless her, is a nation of addicts. Some folks are addicted to fast food, some to gambling, some are lucky enough to get enough action to be addicted to sex. The wonders of chemistry have brought us caffeine, nicotine,alcohol, barbiturate, amphetamine, cocaine, and opiate addictions, and microtechnology has given us internet addiction, gaming addiction, smartphone addiction, and even niche addictions like being inseparable from your Google Glass.

But all of these are nothing on hope addiction, a habitual dependence on the idea that things will be better. Like any other drug, hope lets us escape our problems by a retreat into easy pleasure. Hope is even easier, because you need no dealer but your own mind; you can just search your expectations and beliefs, find something that feels good, and live inside it.

The thing is, you’re still in the world. It’s full of certain death and constant decay, none of us have any real importance, our relationships with other humans are based on emotions that fade and can’t be controlled, it’s impossible to truly express ourselves or know what we are, and the power structures in our society will either crush us from the outside or force us to hollow out our inner lives to achieve our fortune on the backs of others.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just means the life of a persistent hoper is full of continual crashes when reality intervenes.

With drugs, we talk about come-downs, hangovers, and withdrawal; with hope, it’s disappointment, heartbreak,and grief. But while drug addicts are scorned for their weakness, hope addicts are admired for their “heart.” While drug pushers are condemned by society, or at least have a bit of an edge to them, hope pushers are role models even to squares - they’re teachers, TV personalities, preachers, Hollywood directors, economists, and even the President of the United States.

So strong is the hope lobby that when a person wants to give up hope, we try to intervene to get them back on the stuff. We even tell that life without hope is something less. But life has deeper pleasures than the hollow joy of hope; finding a $20 bill in your pocket is just as sweet if you weren’t hoping to find it there, there’s no hope needed to savor a great slice of pizza, and rarely is there hope involved in sex. When life’s good, there’s no need to hope for anything; it can only lead to ruin.

I’ve known the ravages of hope myself. In 2012, I had a great writing job, I was dating a woman I really liked, and (trivially) my favorite sports team, the Washington Nationals, was the best in the Majors. But I started hoping – for a career, a long-term relationship, and a World Series. Needless to say, none of that worked out, and for the next year I kept trying to get high on hopes, and getting more and more frustrated when they also collapsed.

Then, somewhere in the midst of my long string of failures, I managed to get hope-free. I have no idea how it happened; I wasn’t hoping for it. But I’d lost the expectation of anything ever going well, even so much as a subway train showing up on time or a food cart having any bagels left. I found more pleasant surprises, and fewer bummers. I started doing things “for the fuck of it,” forgetting what I hoped to accomplish and just doing what I felt was right. It’s been the best period of my life - I make clearer decisions, I have less fear, I appreciate what’s truly around me, and I rarely get caught in hope.

Of course, I don’t want to be a hope-pusher and give you a Hollywood happy ending. Not only do I have no idea how you too can achieve this hopeless peace of mind, but that’s not the end of my story. I’ll be forced back into a soulless job, I’ll lose more friends, I’ll get sick and die, I’ll probably even succumb to our hope-poisoned society and get back on the old chronic hope/grief roller-coaster. Not only are the odds stacked against us, but there’s truly no way to leave the casino with our chips, no matter how good our run.

If there’s anywhere else in existence that resembles the Earth, it’s Hell. (If there is a God, there’s no way He figured out how to make a perfect Heaven - look at the results when He tried to make Earth). And there’s only one piece of self-help that works for Hell, found in the Inferno by Dante Alighieri (a man who died in exile, hoping in vain to return to his native home of Florence).On the door above the gate to Hell, a sign reads “Abandon hope, ye who enter here.”

If only we could.

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