Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Economics of Hope

Hope: An expectation and wish; “a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life. Hope implies a certain amount of — i.e. believing that a positive outcome is possible even when there is some evidence to the contrary.

As part of my job I routinely travel between Grand Junction, CO and Vail and Aspen, CO. To pass the time between stops I often find myself listening to talk radio. My talk radio of choice between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Mountain Time Zone is Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio talk show host extraordinaire.

Firstly, before I go any further, I’ll mention something that I’ve said in the past: I’m not bringing this up as a political conversation; frankly, a person’s politics are akin to their religious or spiritual beliefs—they are personal and don’t have any bearing on any discussion in this forum; they merely act as a filter with which each of us process the world around us.

With that said, Rush had a monolog this week which depicted hope in a light different than I had ever looked at it before. It was very interesting in how it helped to re-shape my interpretation of the behavioral phenomenon. Let’s set the stage; from the transcript of the Rush Limbaugh Program on 5 February 2008:

Hope is the logical extension of people who think they don't matter to anything, and a lot of people don't like not mattering. Everybody wants to have meaning in their lives. So if you hope for good things, if you hope for a better country, "I matter, because I care, because I hope for a better country."

In this context, Rush sets up hope as being a manifestation of “one of those emotions which make one feel better about themselves,” a self-serving emotion, in other words. Hope is the stepchild of sympathy. It's like sympathy. You can have sympathy for somebody. Sympathy for the position of one’s self in the events of a greater scheme of things, sympathy for those in the path of the events which are part of such a greater scheme of things? Don’t get me wrong—no emotion is wrong or invalid; judging an emotion is outside the scope of this text or, even, my interest. What is within the boundaries of my interest and this text, however, is the effectiveness of such a feeling. What is the economics of hope?

A famous U.S. Senator and 2008 Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama, rose to fame in the Democrat political party in the United States, in part, by a 20-minute keynote at the 2004 Democratic Convention, which turned into a book by the same name, “The Audacity of Hope.”

Audacity: “Courage, resolution, boldness.”

“The courage of hope,” “the resolution of hope,” “the boldness of hope;” yes, all are good things…but as a principle which produces anything…hope can only go so far. The man behind the audacity of this hope was one that triumphed over his surroundings by conquering them, by besting his circumstances, exploiting opportunities, and staying true to the notion that action needed to be coupled with such hope.

Politicians, the consummate marketers which they are, try and sway our actions via votes and other support by trying to sway our emotions—in their view, a person will go to where their heart takes them. We are all constantly wooed by images of presidential candidates crafted by the individual campaigns themselves and by the media which reports (and also attempts to sway opinion) on the various players involved. The Democrats like to offer change. People hope for change, and so they vote for the Democrat which they feel will bring the most change. The Republicans, on the other hand, offer everything from a war hero to a master of the business world to a former governor in favor of the Fair Tax Plan and a minor contender which offers a strict Libertarian view on pretty much everything. Just about everyone is trying to appeal to our emotions in some form or another. Mostly, they’re trying to appeal to our emotion of hope, the courageous thing which it is.

However, hope is just that: An emotion which can satisfy that we’re a part of the process; because as long as we can hope for a better solution, we’re a part of that solution, right?

From the perspective of the 2008 race for candidates for U.S. President, in the words of Rush Limbaugh: The discussion of hope from a political leader is pure poppycock. It's empty; it's transparent; there's nothing there. It is totally devoid of substance.

Let’s take a step back, into a perspective more personal to you and me: Each of us have, at some point in time or in our lives currently, had hope; we have had hope for a good outcome to be realized, for our New Year’s Resolutions to take hold, or just to make it through the next day. Hope, however, is a short-term thing in these instances. Sooner or later, by itself, hope fizzles and the outcome which you had hoped to realize can quickly turn into worse, even less productive emotions: Self-inflicted suffering. Because hope didn’t allow you to realize the outcome which you had in mind, a person can quickly turn to loathing and lose hope.

[N]one of us can predict the outcomes in our lives, and so many of us use hope as a bridge to the eventual outcome we hope for from event to event or circumstance to circumstance…"Gosh, I hope I don't get fired next week." Start thinking I'm going to get fired or whatever it is, you generally end up thinking the negative. Now, people mistakenly place hope as the sentiment or the emotional state that will lead to the outcome of things, "Oh, gosh I really so hope this happens." But that's basically an excuse for not doing anything, for not trying, and so what you're doing is you're setting yourself up to have to deal with whatever happens, probably negatively, because you're not allowing yourself to be part of the equation to get the result that you want.

Rush pegged the remedy as well: [I]n my experience…my hoping for something never made it happen. My desire for something did.

Desire: “Want strongly.”Have you ever wanted something? Have you ever wanted something a lot? If you were to place degrees of “want” onto a specific outcome, the greater the degree of your desire for that outcome to happen, the more effort which you would likely put into achieving that desired outcome. The key is so easy: Actively make yourself a part of the equation which makes something happen.

I love real-world examples, perhaps you do, also:

"What's hope ever accomplished? Did Bill Gates hope when he was in school that he'd find the secrecy to the MS-DOS system getting on every freaking computer, or did he go do it?"

In and of itself, hope is not very useful past the warm and fuzzy feelings which it gives you. The more productive emotion, the more economical one, is that of desire…especially the sort which leads to action.