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The Merits of Despair

November 10, 2010

From what I know about people’s perception of despair, despair seems to be predominantly perceived as a bad thing; I would even go so far as to say we are conditioned to believe it to be a bad thing, both biologically and socio-culturally. I believe this perception be the result of a lot of misunderstandings about what despair is; ultimately, these misconception stem from misunderstandings about the very nature of humanity, but that’s a topic for another post. The purpose of this post is the clear up these misunderstandings and provide a clearer and more accurate understanding of the nature and essence of despair, its function, and potential merits.

First, to define despair: “To give up as beyond hope or expectation”

So what is hope, then? “The belief or expectation that something wished for can or will happen.”

So then, I could then define despair as “To give up the belief or expectation of something wished for manifesting. From this perspective, I could further surmise that despair and hope are antithetical; that is, to have the belief or expectation of something existing is to have a lack of despair in that regard, and vice-versa.

I have addressed this issue in previous post, most notably Hope Versus Despair; this post however is focused specifically on the merits of despair. Before we address these merits, I have an example of something that happened quite recently in which despair proved quite beneficial to me:

As some of my long-time readers may know, I have had something of an obsession with mystical and esoteric phenomena, and the philosophies and mythologies that surround them. I myself believe in psychic abilities, having deliberately manifested such abilities on a consistent basis, many times manifesting feats that would be quite literally impossible to achieve otherwise.

I have focused my psychic energy to read minds, fix game systems, repair internet connections, augment my reflexes, dexterity, and athletic ability, accurately predict the future, and tell people about their past present, and future selves; my most amazing feat was opening lockers that I didn’t know the combination to (for skeptics, you should know that modern Masterlocks no longer “click”; update: apparently sometimes the last number will click, which can reduce the possible combinations to 100. However, I got the locks open each time without ever looking at the numbers I turned to, turning it until it opened; I have witnesses that will attest to this fact).

While don’t expect anyone to believe me, I never used psychic ability to prove anything, I used these abilities because they were useful; this “usefulness” brings me to my next point: the “usefulness” of despair. See, although the psychic abilities are useful, the obsession with spiritual energy was mostly self-destructive; there is a price for delving into the “forbidden mysteries”, you could say. In particular, It caused me to have “beliefs and expectations” (hopes) that were not only idealistic, but detrimental to my progress in the real world. Hope holds people back, in other words.

For example, I have long had the belief that there was some deep esoteric (hidden) meaning in this world, that human beings were ignorant creatures that can only save themselves (or be saved) by waking up from the bullshit we’re living in, and achieving (for example) enlightenment, or as the Gnostics call it, “gnosis“. I developed my own religion in pursuit of the “wake-up call”, and fervently believed that the whole world was ignorant, and that if everyone achieved gnosis it would be like heaven on earth. While I still believe this to be true, I have let go of (despaired) the more esoteric and spiritual elements, clinging to (hope) the more pragmatic, humanistic aspects. It was crucial to my progress in this example that I despair, because my hope of a cosmic awareness, and the knowledge thereof, preventing me from the benefits of pragmaticism (that is, working with what I’ve got).

To consummate my hope of one thing, I had to despair of another- this is the principle of Balance. In fact, the whole world, whether they realize it or not (most don’t!), perceives reality through a discriminatory kaleidescope that can only be possible through the contrasting of the thesis hope and its antithesis despair. To understand this, evaluate what we have learned about hope and despair: As hope is to cling to, and despair is to let go of, Hope and Despair are manifested as the perceptual elements of “Accept” and “Reject”; that is, to hope for is to “accept” (to expect to exist, and thus it does), and the despair is to “reject”, thus relinquishing any expectation of something existing (as expectation is necessary for something to continue to perceptually exist, despair [rejection] results in that “something” ceasing to exist).

In this way, hope and despair contrast that which exists from that which is not. Furthermore, the discrimination of distinguishing one person, place, thing, or idea from other requires establishing what qualities each given entity has (hope –> acceptance of given qualities), and what qualities it does not have (despair –> rejection of given qualities). The perception of everything is thus built upon the contrasting forces of hope and despair, making both equally necessary to appreciate anything, good or bad. This important notion is exemplified profoundly in the Taoism concept of Yin and Yang.

More recently, I experienced a more practical application of why despair is useful: Up until now, I have tried to avoid “playing that game”; that is, pretending to agree with people, conforming to norms I disagree with, acting like I care, etc.– some people call it “social skills”, but I know better than anyone that it’s just the aptitude and willingness to “bullshit” people; honestly, I don’t like it. However, the value of my rebelling against “the game” is only relevant if I assume the genuine communication is possible. I have hoped against hope that it is possible for people to communicate with each other (instead of pretending to, like everyone does), but I have finally accepted that it’s not possible, and decided the “play the game”, since it’s now apparent that due to the universal tendency to misunderstand, I can be more truthful through deception than I can through candidness, as ironic as it might seem.

Notice something interesting in the last paragraph? Yes, I despaired by *accepting* something. This isn’t a deliberate play on words, but it illustrates a very important point: To accept one thing is to reject another! In accordance with Balance (as I pointed out earlier) Acceptance of one thing requires rejection of another. To accept the future is to reject the past, to accept love is to reject hate, to love God is to loath Satan; everything has a thesis and an antithesis, and to side with one is to abandon another; the price of perception is discrimination. Not only is despair often a good thing, it’s also inescapable and inevitable, just as hope is. The discrimination between what to “hope” (accept) and what to “despair” (reject) are after all what makes perception possible.

The biggest merit of despair is inherent in the wording: to let go of. By letting go of a dead loved one, you can end the grieving and move on with life. By letting go of a failing relationship, you can stop the futile suffering and find someone you can be happier with. By giving up on a useless hobby, you can do something more useless with your life. And in my case, by accepting the bitter truth that real communication is not possible, I can let go of this futile search to gnosis and just be happy with what pretence of communication that I have been given.

Despair may be a terrifying concept for those who have not experienced it, by for those who have gone through it, and accepted the bitterness without averting our eyes, the sacrifice is repaid in the form of opportunity. Just as accepting one thing requires you to reject another, willing rejecting (letting go of) one prospect opens you up to new horizons– new opportunities to live and grow and experience.

Despair is a curse for those who already have their heart’s desires, but for those among us discontent with our lives, it proves to be a wonderful blessing. By letting go, you are free to move on, to experience, to live. Think of it as a “wake-up call”, tough love– that is after all what despair is- the other side of the coin.

Speaking of the other side of the coin, it should be noted that too much despair is just as much of a bad thing as too much hope. While excessive hope will cause suffering (due to unfulfilled expectations), excessive despair will take all of the value out of life (nihilism); as a result, you will have all the opportunity in the world, but no reason (impetus) to make use of it. In the case of too much despair, you will have so much potential, but life will at that point become so worthless, that you will have no reason to do anything with it; you are better off dead than having to deal with that much despair.

So then, if despair and hope are both necessities for life, but too much of either will destroy a person, where should we place the marker– how much hope and how much despair is optimum? At this point the answer is obvious: right in the middle. In the end, despair and hope are just different ways of looking at the same thing (like optimism versus pessimism– it’s the same glass), and the key to happiness is not in either of these extremes, but in Balance. If despair fosters potential and hope determines how much that potential will be actualized, then the maximum amount of potential being actualized will surely lie in a perfect Balance between the two.

Only by having a good measure of despair and hope in a person’s life can that person truly live and experience life, and only through Balance can one truly be free. If there is a reality where people can be both happy and free, that reality can only exist with Balance.

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