Hopeful Naivety

I liked Bill McKibben’s essay, “Armed with Naivety”,  for TomDispatch a couple of weeks ago. In it he proclaimed his New Year’s resolution:

My resolution for 2012 is to be naïve — dangerously naïve.

I’m aware that the usual recipe for political effectiveness is just the opposite: to be cynical, calculating, an insider. But if you think, as I do, that we need deep change in this country, then cynicism is a sucker’s bet.

Cynicism makes us say, “that’s how it is.”  This stops us from questioning the right or wrong of it and precludes the possibility of doing something about it. It is the ultimate powerlessness, and it is a powerlessness that we choose.

Naivety allows us to be surprised about things that aren’t right. Then it allows us to be rightfully angry. Then it allows us to know that it shouldn’t be that way. Then it pushes us to start believing that it could be different. Finally, it allows us to know that we can make it different.

That’s what McKibben calls hopeful – as against hopeless – naïvety.

If something is wrong, then we have the right to be upset about it,  the responsibility of hope that we can do something about it, and the duty to do so.

As Bill writes,

The big boys are, of course, counting on us simmering down; they’re counting on us being cynical, on figuring there’s no hope or benefit in fighting city hall. But if we’re naïve enough to demand a country more like the one we were promised in high school civics class, then we have a shot.

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