What Hope Actually Meant to Martin Luther King Jr.
Once upon a time, hope meant confronting suffering, not avoiding it. Have overly sugary connotations about hope diminished its true grit?
Andre C. Willis is the Willard Prescott and Annie McClelland Smith Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University. He is a philosopher of religion whose work focuses on Enlightenment reflections on religion, African American religious thought, critical theory, and democratic citizenship as it relates to hope, recognition, and belonging.
Andre C. Willis: So what I can share with you today is not an answer to the question of “What is hope?” but I can share with you about how a tradition that I’m involved in studying and that I’m linked to has a take on what ways of hoping may be better or more useful than others.
So my understanding of this tradition that I have studied and engaged with for a few years now is the African American Protestant tradition of hoping, that’s crafted over centuries of despair and dehumanization. And I think it has something to teach our nation.
Our nation that has in some ways undermined this very tradition of hoping. And the nation in some ways has trivialized hope itself, made hope into something that’s largely a market-driven quest for getting our aspirations, for reaching our goals, for achieving our aims.
I think one of the things that not unpacking this distinction between Obama’s hopes and King’s hopes—based on the painting which I’m going to describe now—is it leaves us more vulnerable to romantic conceptions of hope. We tend to fall into this way of thinking about hope that’s more reflective almost of what Shelley called in 'Prometheus Unbound', 1822, he said he wants “to hope till hope creates from its own wreck the thing it contemplates.” It’s a beautiful line, right, and I’m susceptible and seduced by that kind of hope.
But when I think about King and Obama and this painting I tend to get more clear about what is deep hope, right. So I want to highlight quickly the distinctions between both King and Obama and then I’ll be done, because I think this will help us understand both what I’m trying to get at and where we are now. So first, King’s hope, his description of hope is always disappointed and never realized, while Obama’s hope guides us past disappointment and is realizable. So here we have a clear difference between the Protestant embrace of a tragic sense of life and the kind of democratic politics of hope that aims to resist the politics of cynicism. And that’s fine. So the important thing to remember though is that the difference in the Protestant embrace of tragedy attenuates our inclinations for happy ending. It works against that romantic conception that I argue, I pointed out Shelley was referencing in the 1822 'Prometheus Unbound' quote, right. Its romantic sense: to hope until hope reaches what it contemplates.
Second, King’s hope is a discipline of the present moment. It’s a social practice done in community with the aim of reminding us that our lives are always incomplete and unfinished. Our deep hopes will not come to fruition, is King’s point. In this way we might say that King’s hope is a way of relationship. It is a relating to suffering. It tells us to just keep going.
Obama’s hope on the other hand is the aspiration for the future. It’s a rational belief about the probability of attainment. Attaining one’s ambitions.
We might say that Obama’s hope attends to the pressures of achievement by affirming aspirations for the future. So I quickly want to caution you from taking what I’m saying as a way of thinking about Martin’s account as just another form of tragic hope, dark hope, melancholic hope, “I hope against hope”, hope of the hopeless, right. Because I think that I take King’s hope to simply be a reminder of the idea of the tragic in our life, the notion that our mortal days will not be fulfilled. So it’s dark in that sense, but I don’t want to pitch it as a dark hope, right. I want to pitch it as a deep hope. And when people go with melancholic hope or blues hope, I think they often end up romanticizing a kind of hope that seduces us into thinking there may be a hope without suffering. That is, the idea of a “dark” hope relies on the idea of a “light” hope, and that has all kinds of problems, right, analogically.
But just the fact that both things sort of seem like they have to exist together is misleading and it skirts the fundamental insight of Martin, which is to remind us of a certain kind of suffering.
Now for King, a man who we often associate with things like the 'I Have A Dream' speech, right, the song 'We Shall Overcome'. He’s telling us in ’59, ’63 and later on in ’68 he gives a sermon called 'Unfulfilled Dreams' where he continues this theme that all our hopes are blasted and our dreams are shattered.
In other words the person we think of as the amazing hoper and dreamer is really trying to tell us something much different. He’s trying to tell us our hopes are perfidious. As George Buttrick notes, “We die with half our music in us.”
So you might ask then, "What is the purpose of this sort of hope and why would I want to subscribe to it?” And that’s just it. This hope is not up for subscription. It’s a way of relating to suffering and facing the ultimate fact that we shall likely not achieve all of the promises of life. But this is just what life is, in this strand of Protestantism. It is not life’s failing.
King tells us that the tentacles of evil are always present, taking meaning out of life but we must go on. We must have the will to refuse. We must have what Tillich called “the courage to be.” This, I think, is the link between Martin King and the Watts painting. Both are fundamentally trying to affirm a relationship between suffering to continuing, right. And Martin is dealing with the death of dreams. Watts, I think, is dealing with the death of his, reportedly his stepdaughter. Remember Du Bois lost little Burghardt in 1899. Burghardt was 18 months old. Du Bois wrote that he was feeling a hope, “A hope not hopeful but un-hopeless.” The message is once again that our hopes are shattered. This shattering provides a path to suffering that allows deeper meaning. This is what deep hope is about.
So when students ask me “Why do I hope?” I turn to Martin. And these questions, of course, have recently increased. Not because people are necessarily more depressed but because I think they don’t understand the deep hope that Martin was trying to call us to.
So let me just end by saying this. Obama’s not the only—it’s not Obama’s fault that we’re not attentive to the deep hopes that Martin was trying to call us to based on his interpretation of the painting. Global marketers have made hope into a rational calculation for personal gain.
Many academics have subjected hopes to standards of analytic precision and conceptual clarity which has kind of degraded it. It’s been certainly diminished by Christian leaders who reduced hope to a form of compliance. This has led to a loss in our appetite for hope, deep hope. That is, we want the romantic hope but not the deep kind that’s in touch with suffering. This is the kind of tradition that I’ve been studying. The tradition that Martin and Jeremiah Wright, Fred Sampson link to the painting of George Frederic Watts in 1886. And thus I leave you with an invitation to the painting as well as one to deep hope. Thank you very kindly.
Here's an exercise: If there's someone near you right now, ask them to define hope. Quickly. What did they say: was it motivational? Did it deal with future ambition, expectation, and desire? Historically, hope has not always had such sugary connotations, and at one point—not so long ago, actually—it was more about confronting suffering in the present than mentally projecting yourself forward to a time where you have overcome your suffering. Drawing from an 1886 painting by George Frederic Watts called 'Hope', which inspired Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1959 sermon 'Shattered Dreams', Andre C. Willis presents a view of deep hope, a method of facing adversity that is woven together from the African American Protestant tradition.
This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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