The Audacity of Hope?

Weekly Debates

Riggs Library

February 4, 2016

The Society convened in Riggs Library for the 2nd Merrick debate of the year to debate Resolved: Hope belonged in Pandora’s Box. Keynoting for the affirmation was Mr. Alden Fletcher (SFS ’17) of Vermont, and making his induction, Mr. Ricardo Mondolfi (SFS ’19) of Venezuela. On the negation, Ms. Anna Hernick (SFS ’16) of Georgia keynoted along with Ms. Qingyue Kathryn Li (COL ’19) of Washington, making her induction.

Mr. Mondolfi opened with an explanation of the original myth of Pandora’s Box, detailing how Zeus gave Pandora a box filled with all the evils of the world, diseases, starvation, and suffering, and once opened, they all escaped. When Pandora looked in the box, she found one last thing in it: hope. Framing the debate, Mr. Mondolfi emphasized that the affirmation is questioning our collective idea of hope, which he defined as the desire for plus the expectation for something. He laid out two principal reasons why hope belongs in the box: 1) In situations we can’t control, hope blinds our judgment and 2) in situations we can do something hope often robs us of our agency by distracting from the possible.

For the negation, Ms. Li framed the debate as a question about the human mind, bringing up her interest in neuroscience and several experiments that examined the effects of hoping on the brain. She cited a study that found that more hopeful patients had better health outcomes, and brains that used energy more efficiently. Using the example of Nelson Mandela, she made case for hope as a way for people to deal with suffering, to motivate ourselves to do great things. “Hope drives us from resignation to motivation.” As hope acts to strengthen our hearts, it ultimately does not belong in the box.

Mr. Fletcher noted how our culture is based on hope, and sought to look at hope from a societal perspective. Decrying the negative effects of hope, he compared it to “the opiate of the masses,” the privileging of a future state at the expense of the now. Hope allows us to ignore the true burdens of life, and ultimately whatever we hope for will disappear because nothing lasts. The little hopes of everyday life divide us, leading to complacency. Mr. Fletcher closed by noting that hope has been sold to us, and we have been eager buyers.

Ms. Hernick then asked, if hope is sold, is it a bad thing? She framed the issue as the hopes of humanity being expressed through individuals, arguing that hope is necessary for a meaningful life. Emphasizing how hope can motivate individuals to change the world, she brought up the role of activists in history, noting how hope gave them the assurance that things would work out. To her, hope only becomes a torment when coupled with other vices, and in the best case, hope is necessary to alleviate the suffering of mankind.

Opening up the floor speeches, Mr. Dineen laid out the confusing, contradictory nature of Greek mythology, noting that the Greeks were not fond of hope. Telling the story how the offspring of fore-sight and hind-sight were the parents of humanity, he claimed that we live on in spite of hope. On the negation, Mr. Ernst replied that among the many forms of hope in classical myth, it ultimately was a neutral thing, but brought benefits because coupled with wisdom it motivates people to believe in something greater. Speaking against her mentee, Ms. Ludtke shifted the conversation to capitalism, arguing that the ambition cultivated by hope drives people in pursuit of ultimately meaningless material wealth. Mr. Graff replied that nothing can happen without hope as we have defined it, drawing a contrast with a hopeless world, which he decried as evil and pointless.

President Thanki aimed to shift the conversation, suggesting we move away from the ‘expectation + desire’ frame to discuss what ‘belonging’ in the box meant. She argued that hope is a way for people to work through suffering, and that the things in the box are not just things, but structural aspects of the world, opening the question of whether hope belongs in that same category. Ms. Burke countered, bringing up the futility of posting on Facebook to say that hope indeed helps us work through problems, but that it depends on the uncertainty of the world. Hope helps us create out of nothing. Vice President Little posed the two sides of the debate as practicality vs. a more positive view of hope, arguing that hope may function in a dangerous way. Mr. Schafer spoke to the disillusioned people of the affirmation, conceiving of hope as the deep belief that things can get better, as a type of faith which drives people forward. Mr. Shaughnessy took to the floor to argue that hope, like everything is a duality, having negative and positive components, as do even evil things like suffering. Without this duality, it would have no value, which places it alongside the other things in Pandora’s box. Mr. Musgrave responded that the opposite of hope is despair, that hope motivates the human soul to ultimately not despair.

Opening up non-member speaking time, Mr. Michael Coyne (SFS ’18) brought up income inequality to show how hope can create delusions that prevent people from acting. Ms. Ellen Riley (MSB ’19) emphasized how hope can help people get through the suffering of life while Mr. Patrick Soltis (COL ’18) recalled that hope can have a negative component in that it disillusions people.

Returning to member speaking time, Ms. Haag disagreed with the affirmation’s idea that hope can prolong torture, arguing that actually the torture is what makes the situation bad. In contrast, hope is the only way to get out of a bad situation through the thought of a better world. Ms. Cuppari recalled again the duality of hope, posing a parallel with how even suffering can create some good through practice, arguing that because of this duality, hope belonged in the box. Ms. Kurek followed on this idea, noting how hope can be painful but a person without hope is heartbreaking. Ultimately, hope is the certainty that things will work out. Mr. Shuman replied that this push to work through even pain worse than death shows the irrationality of hope because it has no upper limit. This drive shows why hope belongs in the box, because it motivates us to continue to experience the evils of the world.

Chancellor Ringwald spoke of her envy of the power of her mother’s hope, emphasizing the links between faith and hope, “the firm belief that things are the way they need to be.” This hope helps us construct our own reality where hope helps us live. Mr. Willis posed Chancellor Ringwald’s hope against the ‘maximizers,’ people whose desire leads to discontent because they keep hoping for more. Hope may not be based in reality, but it leads to unhappiness for everyone. Mr. Kleinman answered that hope is different because it separates the meaningful from the meaningless. Hope gives us meaning if we have the courage to reach for it, giving us the freedom to change our destinies. “No, hope hold us back,” insisted Chancellor Whelan. This fixation on hope allows us to become complacent and ignore the terrible reality of the world and what we can do about it. He argued that we need goals, not hope. Mr. Tu differentiated hope from suffering and sickness, saying that you can only use these terrible things for good if you have hope. Closing the floor speeches for the evening, Mr. Perez-Reyes evoked the pain he felt at the death of his dog, arguing that his hope for the future bred complacency of actuality. “What about the thing that is right there?” Ultimately, what we have gives our lives meaning, not what we wish.

Returning to the stand, Ms. Hernick insisted that hope is more than the desire plus expectation for something. Recalling Mr. Graff’s speech, she argued that it drives us forward in a broken world. Evoking a previously said quotation, she closed by saying that the sense of hope is the feeling that everything will be alright. Mr. Fletcher brought us back down to Earth by telling the floor that Hesiod’s entire work was a farmer’s almanac, not a piece of philosophy. Hope indeed makes it bearable to work from day to day, but “if you hang everything on hope, you poison your soul.” He argued that hope leads us astray because we cannot all go out to change the world, instead, philosophers like Nietzsche and Camus offer us the truth. A world without hope is not a world of despair, but rather a more human place, one where do not need to feel limitless.

Ms. Li replied that hope stirs us out of complacency, and that sometimes what we have around us is not enough, so hope pushes to strive for something better. This effort is worth it even if we do not succeed. She argued that hope indeed needs to be tempered by wisdom, but so do love and generosity, which don’t at all belong in the box. Without hope, there is no courage, which is a real concrete thing, not an ideal. She closed by maintaining that through courage we can accomplish real good.

Mr. Mondolfi gave the last speech of the evening and started by agreeing that hope isn’t useless, but we need moderation in all things. When all you do is hope, you do nothing. Asking if hope should take credit for our actions, he disagreed strongly with the idea that if you hope, everything will be alright. Ultimately, even though there is a dichotomy between hope and suffering, both belong in the box.

With that, the Society negated the resolution with a vote of 35 – 4 – 37.

The Society then voted to award Merrick points to the most eloquent speakers of the evening, which were as follows:

Mr. Shuman – 1 point

Mr. Musgrave – 2 points

Ms. Li – 3 points

Mr. Perez-Reyes – 4 points

Mr. Shaughnessy – 5 points

This brings the Merrick point totals to:

  1. Mr. Shaughnessy – 10 points
  2. Mr. Perez-Reyes & Mr. Kleinman & Mr. Musgrave – 4 points
  3. Chancellor Ringwald & Ms. Li – 3 points
  4. Mr. Graff & Chancellor Whelan & Mr. Shuman – 1 point

Huzzah for a great debate and good luck with Merrick!


Garrett Hinck

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