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What intellectuals who are often wrong teach us about hope

Is hope the wrong reason we do the right things? Is it possible to liberate our reasoning from hope?

Narendra Modi after the BJP’s win in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Photo: AFP
Narendra Modi after the BJP’s win in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Photo: AFP

Hope is a lapse in concentration. It is, of course, many beautiful things, but at its core it is a distraction that pretends to be analysis.

This is one reason why Indian intellectuals who wish to see the end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi get the public perception of his policies and the prediction of election results completely wrong. Again and again. Last week, Yogendra Yadav, the academic activist, confused hope with psephology and interpreted spurious data to conclude that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) “is in for a shock defeat" in Gujarat. He even gave figures. Other observers expressed their hope through the more cautious analysis that the contest between the BJP and the Indian National Congress was going to be “neck and neck". In the end, the BJP prevailed in Gujarat, and won Himachal Pradesh. The intellectuals continue to see hope in the results—they see a dimming of Modi’s future prospects. The curse of ideology is that it gets people addicted to hope.

The public display of how hope dooms political analysis should make us probe the private life of hope. What does the failure of hopeful psephologists teach us about how we must live? Is hope the wrong reason we do the right things, like wanting to live in this mist of anticipation? When we analyse our lives, when we consider all the facts and make an important decision, how deeply influenced are we by hope? Is it even possible to liberate our reasoning from hope? There are people who can, people who possess the gift of intuition, which is not as common as it is made out to be.

The best political analysis in India is privately delivered, off-the-record, by sharp politicians to friends or public figures whom they admire, which usually does not include journalists. They have the talent to see the truth in the forest of hope even when it confirms their greatest fears. I have heard of such analyses, and when they are predictions they often come true. Their accuracy, I believe, is a consequence of a level of intuition that has the capacity to overwhelm hope.

Intuition has supernatural trappings, it is an answer that anticipates the question. A person with the gift is often unable to articulate what is very obvious to him because the reasoning is yet to arrive in their head. But the intuitive can see their circumstances with greater clarity than most people.

In a mind that is not guarded by intuition, hope spreads like an infestation, followed by despair when reality turns out to be something else. Liberal political analysis in India, as in many parts of the world, demonstrates this swing. They saw the destruction of Modi in Jawaharlal Nehru University student Kanhaiya Kumar, “demonetization", farmer agitations, Aadhaar, and the rise of communal killings, the complex goods and services tax. Are some people more susceptible to hope than others? Why?

Hope is also a form of fatigue. Our intense gaze at the future hurts our body. Not metaphorically, but it really does take a toll on the body. And the body tries to fool us, as it often does, to conserve itself. It fools us into believing beautiful lies, and the probability of events, and the finality of things, so that we will relax. This is how we love “The One", and how writers decide on the “Final Draft" of a novel—as victims of a tired body using the farce of adoration to stop the pursuit and just rest. Maybe the secret to a good mind lies in physical exercise that increases the body’s threshold for tricking us. As the late yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar once said, “How can you know God if you don’t know your big toe?"

The ideologues who keep seeing the electoral defeat of Modi are men in deep fatigue who see happy mirages. Their hope often mutates into a convenient misunderstanding of people: that they are naïve, simple, foolish, hence can be “educated" during the next election campaign.

I once asked the Australian novelist Richard Flanagan, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2014, whether the pre-eminence of hope is a creation of storytellers across the ages, because hope is a great plot device. You try to write a story without hope, or watch a movie that has no hope, and you will know. I believe there are tribes and cultures that have less hope than others, that they are trained to be less hopeful. Flanagan did not agree. He felt hope is too deeply human to be a contribution of culture.

But every time I see Indian road traffic, and other forms of our chaos, I am more certain than ever that in the heart of our disorder is a slight excess of hope. We feel we can drive on the wrong side of an eight-lane expressway, and get away. “In the end," we believe, “everything works out fine."

Many of us are not only victims, but beneficiaries of hope. We passed through a hard period, and unlike those who did not make it through, we were filled with hope. When we look back, we see that the reasoning on which the hope was built was faulty but we were lucky we did not know it then. As a result, we were saved.

So, is clarity really more important than hope, especially if clarity brings gloom, as it should, to the intellectuals whose prospects depend on the end of Modi? Most people probably pass through life with great grace, blinded by hope rather than the clarity of vision. It is amusing that even political analysts do.

Manu Joseph is a journalist and a novelist, most recently of Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous.

The writer tweets at @manujosephsan

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