In his book of this name, Jonathan Lear depicts the plight of the Crow as they lost their traditional locus as plains Indians and as their ancestral narrative of a peoples lost grip. Without a vibrant story of their past and future, the Crow lost all sense of identity. They had been peoples who shared a tribal, defining narrative. Now, as Lear interviews the remaining leaders it turns out that the prevailing sense is they are without bearings, without a shared sense of past and future, no longer a people.
This is the background of what Lear calls Radical Hope.
Despite utter loss of bearings, of a sense of shared past and expected future, individual Crow may muster a radical hope that survival is an option. Not knowing what that future will be, knowing only that it won’t be a continuation of the past, they must survive with a hope unhinged from any knowable future. Rather than drop into despair and unmitigated extinction, Radical Hope can be a survival power as surviving former Crow move into an unknown.
This is relevant to the present pandemic.
The “new normal” after the pandemic subsides will not have a rough resemblance to life as we knew it before the pandemic. BC, before Corina. It’s not just that more workers will work from home (which will impact transportation industries from car sales to train service). We’ll have new patterns of care for the elderly, of communal worship, of unemployment insurance, of hugging and grieving.
No one knows what these patterns will be like. Hence the the necessity, at this juncture, of Radical Hope.
From the most recent Hedgehog Review:
If social pathologies like the restive pursuit of wealth begin to lose their grip some ideas and practices could simply become unintelligible while others become possible. Ignoring one’s neighbors could start to feel absurd. Failing to recognize the equal worth of the disabled, the sick or the unemployed may seem abhorrent. Denying the interconnectedness of our health will be out of step with reality. The parameters for virtue and shame could be refashioned, and the prospects for new standards for both will be heightened.
We are confronting the transformation of a culture that was already fragile and, in some senses, broken; the virtues attached to social roles, already under strain, are being scrambled. What it means to be an excellent citizen, parent, teacher, employer, banker, journalist, politician or intellectual was perhaps never certain but now even the pretense of solidity is giving way.
Those who excelled in the collapsing way of life may be the least prepared to cope with the new. As standards of courage, honor, integrity and esteem are recast, those who have clung to fraternity, compassion and justice may find themselves ascendant. For most of us, the challenge will be to respond humbly enough to discover abandoned virtues.
For the Crow, the necessary extension of practical reason was spurred by enigmatic dreams and oracles. As Lear writes, “Precisely because they are about to endure a historical rupture, the detailed texture of life on the other side has to be beyond their ken. In the face of such a cultural challenge, dreaming provides an unusual resource. It enables the dreamers to imagine a radically new future without becoming too detailed about what this future will be.” The source has to transcend the crumbling context because the latter no longer offers suitable answers. Lacking a concrete conception of the future good life, we need “commitment to the idea that the goodness of the world transcends one’s limited and vulnerable attempts to understand it.”
Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have hope as yet lack the concepts to understand it.” It is hope that clings to the prospect of flourishing again.