Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, May 3, 2018

"Hope is not weak. Hope swims" - A book by Solitaire Townsend.

I had big hopes for this book, "The Happy Hero" that Solitaire Townsend published in October 2017. But when the book arrived I was immediately put off by the combination of the cover and the title. I don't know about you, but I hate the places where you are greeted by one or more smiling faces and - often - by the words "have a nice day." Maybe there is some market research showing that these things increase sales, but for me they are depressing. The first impression of this book is that it is one of those "self-help" books you find in the bookstores in the halls of airports. Sugar coated pills that help nobody.

But, no. The book is different. Reading it, a poem by Walt Whitman came to my mind, So Long, where he says "This is no book; Who touches this, touches a man". In this case, it is a woman but, apart from that, for what I can say, this book is very much Solitaire Townsend and Solitaire Townsend is very much this book. And I can tell you that Solitaire is one of the brightest persons I've ever met. For one thing, her idea that the "likes" in facebook are the equivalent of money in the sociosphere has changed my view of the world (I discuss her idea in my book "The Seneca Effect.")

Then, if a book is like a person, it can never be perfect - you may like him or her a lot, but you must accept his/her idiosyncrasies. And not all persons you meet are the kind of person you would want to marry. So, this book has defects, one is the title. Personally, I would have chosen as title the sentence written at p. 61, "Hope is not weak, hope swims". It is nevertheless a remarkable book. Very remarkable.

Let me just emphasize one point: it is that Solitaire is everything but solitary (sorry for the pun). She understands a fundamental point: if you want to do something good, you don't do that alone. At page 91 she cites an old saying that goes "if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." Which I think really highlights one of the weak points of the environmental movement. The tendency of going alone.

So, if you think you want to be a good environmentalist, you may leave your car for a bicycle and that may make you feel like a hero. But you don't realize that what you have done is just to leave some gasoline available for some bad guy with an SUV. And let's say nothing about the hordes of doomsters who populate the movement. They have already decided that we are all to die, nothing to do about that. Apparently, they feel happy that way. It is what Solitaire calls "the monster of doom."

Instead, no hero can be a hero, alone. If you go together, if you form a group, if you build relationships, then whatever action you engage in has to be shared. Then, it has to benefit everybody and not only works better, it gives you much more satisfaction than brooding about disasters to come. (BTW, who invented the silly idea of a Seneca collapse?)

There are plenty of variations on the theme "Saving the World" with the well-known caveat that the world doesn't need to be saved - it is us, humans, who need to. Yet, if you don't want to fall into fatalism or into useless tinkering of details,  we need people like the non-solitary Solitaire Townsend.

I always found "So Long" by Walt Whitman both troubling and fascinating. Ray Bradbury felt the same because he titled one of his short stories I Sing the Body Electric, the first line of Whitman "Leaves of Grass". And, surely, Bradbury's idea of the "book people" of Fahrenheit 451 was inspired by Whitman. About the idea that books are people and people are books, here is the relevant part of So Long

My songs cease—I abandon them; 
From behind the screen where I hid I advance personally, solely to you.

Camerado! This is no book; 
Who touches this, touches a man; 
(Is it night? Are we here alone?) 

It is I you hold, and who holds you; 
I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth.

O how your fingers drowse me! 
Your breath falls around me like dew—
your pulse lulls the tympans of my ears; 
I feel immerged from head to foot; 

Enough, O deed impromptu and secret! 
Enough, O gliding present! Enough, O summ’d-up past! 

Dear friend, whoever you are, take this kiss, I give it especially to you—Do not forget me; 
I feel like one who has done work for the day, to retire awhile; 
I receive now again of my many translations—from my avataras ascending—while others doubtless await me; 
An unknown sphere, more real than I dream’d, more direct, darts awakening rays about me—So long!

Remember my words—I may again return, I love you—I depart from materials;
I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.


  1. I did not read the book, so I cannot comment about the content. However, I find your (or Ms. Townsend's) characterization of the doomer scene somewhat offputting.

    I do no claim to speak for all people interested in collapse, but I am part of the "hordes of doomsters": after growing up an environmentalist, I embraced sustainable development, but grew disillusioned with what individual choice can do.

    I still try to live simply, but frankly I see no way out of the environmental predicament. Like others, I think the window for directed change closed sometimes in the 1980s.

    Surely collective action is the only answer. But the institutions we have to organize collective action are not very good, and are getting worse.
    Think of national governments, which essentially had to be abolished after WWII. The coordination failure of Europe, the obsolescence of the UN with its role in Lybia and Syria. The Paris agreement disgrace. The diminishing role of trade unions and political parties. The greenwashing of corporations. The disappearance of religion in the West.

    I do not see much scope for collective action, except as a vacuous, and useless, left-wing fashion. Hopium, in doomers' talk.

    Having said that, who knows, maybe the book has valuable insights to offer that disprove my pessimism. But as one should expect from a pessimist: I doubt it.

    1. "Ya buts" and "If onlys" darken the dread I feel. I could venture a touch of hope, but I just don't see enough fundamental change. There is so much we could do, but we won't even quit blowing each other up. Some of us doomers are not "ok" with this extinction. Some are pissed. I see the Sierra club offering eco tourism trips around the planet and I get pissed. This is the forefront of hope to save the planet. This horrible feeling of doom is largely because I don't see a large group fighting for the change in life style needed for us to survive. Please let us change this.

    2. I think doomerism itself is an interesting phenomenon, and I am not the only one: there are many soul-searching posts on Reddit Collapse.

      There is a lot of cynicism in doomers. It is not like they (we?) do not care, it is more like we used to care but have been disappointed so often and felt so often that we were being lied to and cheated, that we stopped caring.

      Now we say: ok, let us just get done with this. You people can keep on doing the eco-tourism nonsense, the Paris lies, the technological pipedreams, the electric car fig leaf, the feel-good greenwashing consumerism. Go on, share you environmentally-friendly posts on Facebook and get as many likes as you can, if that makes you feel better.

      I will teach myself gardening and isolate my house.

  2. When I present the converging elements of collapse, resource depletion, biosphere destruction, the economic impacts, and how none of the proposed "solutions" change anything substantial enough to make a real difference, people invariably come to a conclusion that it is too late and there is nothing that they can do so they will just keep on keeping on.

    I am careful to explain that that is not what I mean. There is a lot we can do to come together and help one another through this as best we can. If we do not do that then we will fragment further and the chaos will become painful and ugly. There is no choice in my opinion. We must come together.

    P.S. I hate to say it but there is no way I would even pick up a book with a cover and title like that. I sincerely hope that the first print was small and the with the reprint this unfortunate situation can be changed.

  3. I am one of those "monsters of doom", pretty alone in my opinions and forecasts, yet alone not because I am happy we will all die but because almost nobody in my hood give's a s***t about anything than present day.

  4. About hope, I just stumbled onto this presentation by Dahr Jamail.

    He talks about hope vs. hopelessness, and how we should face the environmental predicament. I tend to agree with much of what he says.

    He also says that lone-wolf solutions do not work, but he also says that hope is what gets in the way of acceptance.

  5. There are two kinds of hope;

    1-False hope, which is what 99% of what passes for "solutions" to our predicament and is therefor highly negative and counterproductive.

    2 -Real hope, which is stopping the madness, doing 80% less industrial activity than we now do, focus on learning, loving, art, athletics, slow travel, and helping one another.

    Which is why there is no hope.

  6. Lumping doomers (or doomsters) together into a homogeneous attitude toward collapse is a serious mistake. As with any cultural or political issue, thoughtful people are all over the map, as indeed are thoughtless people. Observing that humans are a social species and fare better together than alone may be insightful to some, but to others (like me), it’s too much like observing the sun comes up in the east. Like DiSc above, my disillusionment with various failed and bogus attempts to address environmentalism (even those parts falling well short of stemming full-on collapse) runs pretty deep. Despite at five decades or more of activism, a sober examination at what’s been accomplished would have to conclude “not much.”

    However, despite that pessimism bordering on fatalism but not yet falling into nihilism, I’ve never recommended we sit back and simply let the wave wash over us. Rather, doing the right thing is virtuous and worthwhile even in the absence of positive results, if only we could agree on what might be the right thing. While we dither and attack each other for failing to be eco-saints, world civilization, through its commitments to growth and consumption, effectively invites the wave to build higher and higher before it crashes over us. Somehow, I doubt Townsend’s book (I’ve not read it) solves much through what appears to be a series of reframing gestures (“… hope swims”). More charitably, there will be substantial need for emotional salve. Maybe the book offers that.

  7. In the Vedic tradition, one of the characteristics of the realised person is acting in accordance with rational anticipation, but without expectations, an absence of hope but without the concomitant despair of some other traditions. It is so well described by Stephen Jenkinson as being "hope free". And as for a book being treated as a person, the book of scriptural guidance of the Sikhs, the Granth, was designated as the continuing teacher by the last in the line of founding teachers: it is therefore accorded the status of a person, a founding teacher.

  8. Maybe the actions of single human beings can make a small difference each and add up to create a momentum, which in turn enforces collective action.
    You might have realized how small the aspect of CO2 emission is in advertizing generally and advertizing for cars especially.
    To change this, I got up a petition for the German Bundestag. Feel free to do the same in your country. It might sound a bit weird, but maybe it will have at least a small effect. A new law according to this petition will (an optimistic wording) enforce the declaration of the co2 emission of the car in t / 10.000 km. Ideally, also the emissions for making it will have to be presented, because they are about the same.
    A modern car is emitting 1,5 t/10.000km and its manufacturing is causing another 10 – 15 t.
    There is currently a public discussion made possible on the Bundestag-Petition-Website (in German, sorry), the URL is:
    In case you are interested, you also find the text of the petition there. Google translate is delivering pretty good translations as of lately.

  9. "For one thing, her idea that the "likes" in facebook are the equivalent of money in the sociosphere has changed my view of the world"
    That's not a new idea, see :
    - the "Whuffie" reputation currency in Cory Doctorow's 2003 (1 year before Facebook!) novel "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" :
    - Chinese Citizen Score (200?) (see above link)
    - "Community"'s episode "App Development and Condiments" (Season 5 Episode 8) (2014) :
    - Multiple "Black Mirror" episodes, like "Nosedive" (2016):

    Funny coincidence :
    "Klout, a service [launched in 2008] that tracks how much social media attention its users draw and rates their expertise based on the content of their posts, will be switched off on May 25"
    (with the final nail in its coffin being "the pending implementation of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)")

    1. Thanks, PS. I didn't know that. I am using these links for my new book!



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)