Review – Hope Against Hope: Writings on the Ecological Crisis

Reading Hope versus hope: writings on the ecological crisis in the midst of a pandemic was difficult not only because the catastrophe and endless blockages left my brain so anxious that the act of reading itself is quite difficult, but also because the book’s propositions carry such weight in our current reality.

Compiled pre-Covid by Out of the Woods (OOTW), “a transnational collective of political research and theory”, Hope against hope is a collection of essays on climate change and capitalism. They argue that environmental policy must abandon self-defeating attachments to state and capital, and instead exploit already existing abolitionist movements towards “disaster communism.”

The book is organized into four sections – Borders, Natures, Futures and Strategies – each of which exposes the dangers and oversights of dominant, state-centered political responses to the ecological crisis, emphasizing transformation through radical struggle. “Borders” examines how nationalism and white supremacy inform states (in) action on climate change. ‘Natures’ explores the political significance of the multiple meanings of the concept not innocent. ‘Futures’ rejects the Malthusian and ‘reproductive futurism’ in favor of liberating queer futurism. “Strategies” examines regeneration proposals.

In their writings on “Disaster Communism”, the OOTW authors describe Rebecca Solnit’s “Disaster Communities” that organize self-help “when the dominant social order temporarily fails”. Such communities, providing food, shelter and rescue means beyond the state, arise in response to specific disasters such as floods. OOTW, according to geographer Neil Smith, emphasizes that these are not only “natural disasters”, but always “just as much the product of political and social divisions”.

The OOTW also argues that it is not enough to rely on “disaster communities” for survival and revolution. “Building a paradise in hell is not enough: you have to fight against hell and overcome it”, they write. We need “disaster communism” to exploit disasters as “moments of interruption” of capitalism, in which we can use the tools used in community responses to fight against capital and the state, building something better, beyond.

We need “catastrophe communism” to exploit catastrophes as “moments of interruption” for capitalism

This vision is very relevant in relation to the pandemic which eclipses and currently dictates our daily lives. Will promising mutual aid responses end up underpinning “business as usual”? Will they decrease without breaching oppressive social orders, or will they persist and unite to “wreak havoc on capitalism”?

In the introduction, OOTW put it like this:

“Against the joyous apocalypse, romantic anticapitalism and hopeful technofixes: we hope-against-hope for a cautious, yet fierce queer cyborg ecology, built through a tinkering of tools, techniques and knowledge already around us to go within, against and beyond the ecological crisis for survival pending the revolution to make, together, catastrophic communism.

“DIY” comes up several times in Hope against hope, moving “within, against and beyond the ecological crisis” requiring plurality. Variously, OOTW advocates DIY in relation to how we use technology, apply mutual aid, build knowledge, and exploit theory (that we only need some of Naomi Klein’s ideas in It changes everything, for example).

“The promise of DIY” is also invoked in connection with the collective writing project itself. Throughout the book, the authors of OOWT struggle with their pasts, which thought differently than they do now. They preface each essay with updated critical reflections. Their insistence that thought, and therefore writing, is always provisional, is hopeful: inevitable vagueness is no excuse for not acting.

Hope against hope is a retaliation against a desperate environmental policy that will only reproduce the social orders propelling the ecological crisis. Amid the pandemic, for which some may wrongly blame apolitical “nature”, the book is a vital reminder of the forces that really shape catastrophes – in white supremacist, colonizer-colonial, hetero-patriarchal capitalism – with which we must fight urgently.

Hope versus hope: writings on the ecological crisis is available from Common concepts.

Sophie k rosa is a writer and organizer. His next book on Capitalism and Privacy will be published by Pluto Press.

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