A Basis For Authentic Existence

Despair has gotten a bad rap in the latter part of this century.  From those
who decry it as spoilsporting in an age of upward mobility to some who have
made it a fashion trend in underground clubs, despair has been misunderstood
as having a negative value attached to it.  But let us clarify what despair
means as a starting point.

We are speaking of despair not as a mood, but as an approach to being,
specifically being-in-the- future.  From its Latin roots _de-_ and _spare_
we define it as simply "without hope," but "without expectation" would be a
better phrase for our purposes.  Despair then is the absence of expectations
regarding the future.

We set this off as a definition from pessimism, which encompasses negative
expectation; that is, rather than merely not expecting good, the pessimist
actively expects bad.

We also set despair apart from apathy.  In a sense these are polar opposites
because the apathetic's viewpoint is "I have no hope, therefore I will do
nothing," whereas the despairer says, "I have no hope, therefore I am free
to do anything."

There is purity in this approach to the future.  When one has cleansed
oneself of hopes and expectations, one can approach one's reality without
conflict.  For reality always transcends any concepts one may have about it,
and hopes and expectations are derived from concepts about reality.
Despair, too, derives from ideas, but despair does not delude itself that
the concepts will equal the reality, while hope continually waits for its
own Godot, fulfillment, and is continually disappointed because Godot is not
forthcoming.  Reality thus always transcends our expectations (we invert
this and say that something "wasn't as good as I had hoped" or "fell short
of my expectations," but it is in fact our expectations which fail to
capture reality.)

It is therefore only when we despair that we begin to approach reality
authentically, free from expectation and the bondage of hope.  We caution
against letting despair degenerate into pessimism or apathy, however.

To learn despair is to be free to go about the business of living, doing
anything that accords with one's internal senses of necessity, ethics, and
pleasure.  One can even let oneself hope without falling victim to Godot,
because one's hope is tied to the actions of the desperate; and one does not
expect the fulfillment of one's hopes, which would hinder action toward it.
If something good happens to the despairer, it comes as a pleasant surprise.
If something bad happens, s/he can say, "Oh well, what was I expecting?
Nothing," and carry on.

"Rather despair than surrender"--Nietzsche