“You’re too down on your plants,” my much wiser other half advises me this morning. We are in the process of re-tying and staking the broad beans after the last couple days and nights of storm winds and heavy downpours.
As with most things, she is right. I anticipate the failure of my plants to shoot, or to not grow large enough, or to fall prey to the armies of slugs that hunt the borders. It’s a failing in me, I know. It’s not that I believe any blame belongs on the suckers, runners, shoots and leaves of the poor vegetabilia at all. It’s more a general outsourcing of my own anxieties over success and failure. Catastrophic thinking, they call it, to be either proved ‘correct’ (and hence psychically insulated from the failure) or to be proved ‘false’ (and yay; we have grown squashes!)
The garden is not the only site of my psychodrama; but perhaps it is easier to diagnose between the confines of compost, seed, and thumb. I worry about what will happen after the UK election (whomever wins), I worry about Mrs May’s eagerness to rip apart human rights conventions. I worry about climate change (and the chance of below 2degC rise by 2100 isn’t looking all that great, tbh); I worry about disability rights; I worry about my what could happen to my loved ones.
In short – all of the above might be pretty damn good motivation for some catastrophic thinking. The future does look pretty catastrophic, when viewed from this near distance.
But catastrophizing; or begging-the-failure that we might call it, is no good for growing things. There’s a quote that rings in the mind that goes something like this: ‘only optimists plant gardens’ [I don’t know who said it, but my money’s on Bob Flowerdew]. Lord knows what with the storms, the droughts, the slugs, the unseasonable frosts, the mysterious and sudden giving-up of some varieties you have to have something to keep your spirits up I guess. But it’s more then that as well, isn’t it? It’s the planting of a tree, hoping that one day it will bear apples. I have a growing colony of tree seedlings, with the awareness that I may never see some of them them reach maturity. But someone will.
On the Other Side of Despair
I’ve been thinking a lot about hope, not just in relation to plants, but hope as a mechanism for social change; hope as a mechanism in storygames; hope as an activity, not a statement of intent (although there’s a lot of overlap, right?)
Satre, that doyen and simultaneous go-to punchbag of Parisian intellectualism thought that one should live without ‘hope’, if that hope is the prediction of something to come. In an almost Buddhist turn, Sartre advocates not believing in the future – but rather believing in oneself to effect change. Hannah Arendt, on the other hand, writes in Between Past and Future about how we are stuck as citizens, between the two infinite forces of both past and future. The Past pushes us forward, the Future pushing backwards to re-enact the Past. For Sartre; the anxieties of the moment are the terrible awareness of total responsibility [it’s all on you, chump]. For Arendt; anxiety comes from trying to find freedom as forces seek to dictate to us.
Whilst there are elements to both philosophies that I like, I am drawn more to the Arendtian, as her philosophy suggests that we have to be engaged in the future, if we are even to be morally human. The future for Arendt is not an anonymous burden, or a roulette-wheel as it may seem for Sartre; but instead a site of dialogue. We gain our moral personhood only in hindsight, but by promising-forward.
Today the UK goes to the polls to vote in a new government. By this time tomorrow it’ll all be over except the parade, but I am hoping that this discussion will still be just as relevant. I’m thinking about hope as a mechanism that asks us to promise-forwards. I’m thinking about Robert Louis Stevenson “travelling hopefully”.
And I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to plant some more salad crops for late cropping.