Today’s relentless pressures leave many of us feeling overworked, overwhelmed and often cynical. We are bombarded with political and media messages about crisis, terror and impending planetary collapse. Small wonder that in many communities across the globe there is a lack of faith in the future.
This suggests an urgent cultural imperative. Sustainability looks like a limited goal, mere survival. If we really wish to mobilise the energy for change we must ask and answer ‘survival for what’? Our answer need not be final, a single vision of the good life or a specific planetary utopia, but somehow we must rekindle hope for a better life in the future.
The philosopher Jonathan Lear tells the story of Plenty Coups, chief of the Crow Indians at the end of the 19th century as his tribe came under pressure to give up their way of life. It was a moment of cultural crisis: ‘when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again’.
But inspired by a dream, Plenty Coups kept his people attuned to changing conditions and guided them through the transition to find a new way of living. Lear calls this ‘radical hope’ – the hope for cultural rebirth, but without any predetermined vision of what that rebirth will look like.
IFF has not invented the age of confusion – it is a lived reality that resonates with real people around the world, overwhelmed by seemingly intractable problems, impenetrable complexity and bafflingly rapid change. This is the spirit of the times, the theme of history. We need ways of engaging with this theme that are radically hopeful, and new language and stories to counter the drum beat of pessimism. In place of the networks of terror we must build networks of hope.