Casting Away Despair

Yves here. I’m Stoic in my leanings, so I believe in pressing forward as a matter of duty and self-discipline. But not many people are wired that way. The sort of thinking in this post is likely to be appealing to more people looking for ways to remain motivated in the face of adversity.

Originally published at Triple Crisis

Triple Crisis blogger Liz Stanton delivered the following talk at a Brookline (MA) Climate Week event on April 1. Stanton is the founder and director of the Applied Economics Clinic at the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE), Tufts University, described as follows on its website:

“The Applied Economics Clinic provides technical expertise to public service organizations working on topics related to the environment, consumer rights, the energy sector, and community equity. Founded by GDAE Senior Research Fellow Liz Stanton in February 2017, the Clinic is a non-profit consulting group offering low-cost and pro bono expert services from seasoned professionals, while also providing on-the-job training to the next generation of technical experts on public interest issues.”

Liz Stanton

It’s been a hard week for hope. It’s been a hard six months for hope. And I say that as someone who’s spent a career dedicated to building our societal knowledge regarding climate change. It’s easy to despair, and I know that I’m not the only person here today who feels that: Our hope has been trampled on quite a bit, and it’s looking a little worse for wear.

It is easy to despair. But I want to do something harder. And I’m guessing there are folks in the audience that feel the same way. I don’t want to despair. I want to fight.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is I’m fighting against. The root of the problem. And here’s what I’ve got for you.


A set of values currently espoused by our nation’s elected representatives that boil down to nothing more or less than selfishness. The foxes are guarding the hen house, and they are desperately short-sighted. Concerned with nothing but lining their little fox pockets in this minute, this theft, this deal.

Well to me the values that have taken over in Washington—in word and in deed—look a whole lot like the values of toddlers and sociopaths:

  1. Me, Me, Me: It’s all about me. A cult of individualism.
  2. More, More, More: More stuff means I’m more powerful.
  3. Mine, Mine, Mine: Do unto others before they can do anything unto you.

Those are the values behind the policies to end climate regulation, strip access to healthcare, and defund Sesame Street.

But that’s not what I believe in. And it’s probably not what you believe in either. Because everyone in this audience is a parent or a caretaker. As a mother, “me, more, and mine” has nothing to do with my values. Here’s what I’ve learned from being a mom:

  1. If one of us gets sick, we all get sick: Germs trump the cult of individualism every time. In the end, we live in a society and our fates are tied together.
  2. When we share, there’s enough for everyone: And when you share, don’t you find that so often the real point is the act of sharing, and not really the thing that’s getting divvied up.
  3. Everyone else first and then me: My needs are not meaningless, but I don’t come first. And I’m good with that.

Toddlers and sociopaths versus parents and caretakers. This stark dichotomy of values is at the root of our societal problems today. Not because many Americans act like toddlers and sociopaths. Far from it. But instead because these are the values of a handful of selfish spin masters who can take any robbery they are planning and recast it as a benefit to society, while claiming that they are Mother Teresa, Robin Hood, and Luke Skywalker all rolled into one.

I’ll show you what I mean using their claims regarding climate change:

  1. Climate change is a hoax. Translation: Climate change will never affect me personally. Money may not be able to buy love but with enough of it you can sure buy an air-conditioned house on a hill and put plenty of food on the table. Don’t believe the spin.
  2. Jobs, jobs, jobs will trickle down. Really. Believe me. Translation: This is Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher all over again. Giving tax breaks to the rich has never trickled down to working families. Giving money to rich people is not a jobs program. Giving away our natural resources, our clean air, the capacity of the atmosphere to store carbon—our shared wealth—to a few oligarchs won’t result in more jobs. Don’t believe the spin.
  3. Insert xenophobic scare tactic here. Or, watch out Alpha group, Beta group is going to steal your stuff. Translation: You all fight amongst yourselves while I get away with the loot. Don’t believe the spin.

I don’t buy into their spin. And I don’t think you do either. All of the lessons that I’ve learned as a mother have taught me better: To think beyond my immediate wants and desires. And so too have the lessons that I’ve learned in my profession as a political economist. Here’s what the study of power in society has taught me:

  1. Treat your community like your family, and widen your idea of who your community is. It’s a powerful idea. We’re not toddlers. And we’re not sociopaths. We have a deep and abiding interest in the well-being of our families. And we can and do expand the reach of that interest to the well-being of our communities, near and far, today and in the generations still to come.
  2. It’s not pie. None of the things that you care deeply about are parceled out like pie, where if you get more then I get less. It’s not pie. Not the environment. Not the bonds you share with friends and family. Not your health or theirs. With so many of the things we hold dear, sharing them and using them thoughtfully leaves us with more, not less.
  3. Don’t ask how much. Ask who benefits, who loses, and why. More doesn’t mean that we’re better off. A bigger GDP (our national income) doesn’t mean that we’re better off. Although it probably means that someone is. Imagine a federal government where decisions were made not just on the basis of who would gain but also on the basis of who would lose.

I know you’ve all been working hard the past few months taking action, fighting back however you can, and questioning decisions that are not made in the public interest. I have been too. And the way that I do that in my professional life is by doing my part to hold government and businesses accountable in regulatory proceedings and other legal actions before key decision making bodies at the local, state, and federal level.

I’ve seen this tactic work again and again, and I encourage you to include it among your strategies for defending your communities, your families, and your natural environment. Examples of success in holding powerful feet to the fire include battles won here in Massachusetts: requiring that greenhouse gas reduction targets be met, and preventing businesses from forcing electric customers to pay for their speculation, their risky bets investing in natural gas pipelines. And in Oregon, Colorado, and even here in Massachusetts, youth are suing the government for not protecting the environment. And they’re winning.

Now, this isn’t the kind of action that you can go out and take all by yourself. It requires a network of legal and technical experts working together with community groups and advocates to make this work. But it’s a powerful tool, and one that should not be overlooked in an era when every time we look at the news we see new assaults on our liberties, our families, our bodies, our livelihoods, and our values.

With every effort that we make for social and environmental justice, we are choosing not to despair. We can choose action. We can fight back. By acting, we’re rejecting despair. By acting, we’re choosing hope.

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  1. JEHR

    Yes, and now Trump is attacking Canada as being “disastrous” for America because we have supply/management rules that look after our economy, without hurting anyone else’s. This is getting really personal for me as I live in a poor province whose important resource is softwood lumber and now our forest workers may have to pay cross-border taxes which will directly affect our welfare and our jobs. It is getting really nasty out there!

    1. Moneta

      While I don’t condone Trump’s actions, I believe we in Canada should be getting off our strategy of liquidating our natural bounty while increasing our population.

      We keep on exporting tons of resources to import high added value products… then we take on more mouths to feed to accelerate the exports while also building more McMansions.

      I’m scratching my head wondering how that is supposed to make us wealthy over the long term.

      So while I do find her text inspiring, I also believe there is a pie being divvied up in our current system. There is not enough for everyone with the lifestyle and values we have chosen.

      1. John Wright

        I also believe there is not enough for everyone to live the US promoted lifestyle.

        Ms Stanton does not seem to appreciate that selfishness (“looking out for number one”) is manifested at a young age, probably for functional survival purposes.

        Coupled with the fact that in no year in recent history has humankind NOT incremented atmospheric carbon dioxide, there is little reason for hope.

        Go to and see the mean monthly CO2 at Mauna Loa only increases, despite all the concern about climate change throughout the world.

        Furthermore, almost every country, save Japan, is striving to increase its population.

        It is not as if HRC had any answers either, Trump may be foolishly paddling down the stream faster, but we’d still be going over the climate change waterfall with HRC installed,

        Hillary Clinton might have borrowed some hopeful themes from Obama, but I suspect there would be little difference vs Trump as she attempted to maintain the USA’s lifestyle that has been sold for so long..

        The high CO2 production American way of life must be preserved by BOTH political parties.

        In my view, I suspect Ms. Stanton would be needing to also cast away despair even if Clinton had been elected.

      2. Altandmain

        Strongly agree with this statement.

        Canada desperately needs to invest in its manufacturing industry. The low Canadian dollar is a good opportunity to get started.

        Let’s face it, Canada needs an industrial policy. It also needs politicians that think long term.

    2. diptherio

      Unfortunately, Canadian soft-wood products have been one of the major causes of losses of timber jobs in my neck of the woods. Helicopter logging and international competition serve to greatly reduce the number of laborers needed in what used to be good paying jobs…and the environmentalists get blamed…just sayin’.

      1. justanotherprogressive

        Ah, yes, the good old clear-cutting days……but loggers had jobs and Weyerhaeuser was getting rich, soooo……wasn’t it wonderful?

      2. Tim

        You forgot to mention fellerbunchers and tree strippers. A set of those can do more work in an hour than one person could do with a chain saw in a week.

  2. Northeaster

    Courageous, speaking in Brookline, an area of MA filled with sycophants in a one-way state. Reads full of anti-Trump, anti-GOP rhetoric, which I’m sure the audience ate up. Not sure if she ever ventures outside the 495 beltway where we’re not all far-left, liberal ideologues, in a state where independents outnumber Democrats and Republicans by 2 to 1 combined.

    In this state, minus climate/weather/global warming legislation, the very same could be said of Democrats at both the state and Congressional levels, most are hypocrites. Crony capitalism is alive and well here, as are the campaign donations. Jobs? MA has created an entire underclass, with Boston the number one city in the country for income disparity, and MA a top 5 contender which pols created thanks to their self delusions of grandeur, ideology, and confirmation bias.

    Tired of this bullshit, by both Party’s. MA is special because our pols know they are protected, so much so we have a felon ex-Speaker (Finneran, and one of three-in-a-row) who helped gerrymander it that way. Some of us are tired of the “eat cake” attitude on display here in this piece, but especially by our one-way super-majority legislature. Want despair? The Merrimack Valley is full of it, only hidden by the auspices of places like Phillips-Andover, while next to them under the bridge in Lawrence there’s a full-blown tent city.

    Or, come up my way, in Haverhill, one of the poorest white communities in the state, “Ground Zero” for opiate addiction and death, piss poor education system, and throw in some illegal aliens who recently raped a woman down the way from me, so yea, screw “Liz” and her ilk. Democrats and folks like Liz are just as to blame as the equally corrupt Republicans, unfortunately we have no alternatives here. The Weston’s, Newton’s, and Dover’s are not reflective of the state as a whole, as the rest of us don’t live in such protective enclaves. We have to fight not only for ourselves, but the bullshit pols on both sides of the aisle are spewing.

    Massachusetts may be a medical and education mecca, but it is no utopia.

    1. Flush twice! DC needs the water

      I, too, have lived in Merrimack Valley (Lowell) and seen the decay and despair juxtaposed against ‘progress’. Years ago I had the distinct ‘pleasure’ of dealing with a couple of products of Harvard School of Government —
      The “Veritas” they acquired was a form of political weasel-hood that made one want to buy a cabin in Montana and write a manifesto.
      Their duplicity and lack of decency predicted Mr. Trump’s ‘Drain the Swamp’ rhetoric.
      Alas and alack, political promises are like veritas — a virgin hiding in the bottom of a holy well.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      Yes the piece does imply that prior to six months ago ‘hope’ wasn’t so difficult. Maybe not if you live in the Boston suburbs but as one of the many millions who have been watching things get worse our entire lives, I’d beg to differ. None of this started with Trump.

      I’ve driven through the area you describe and there are many similar areas around New England. The Northeast Kingdom in VT has been depressed for decades. Mill towns in rural Maine have been completely hollowed out.

      Currently my city is undergoing a transformation with one artisanal restaurant after another coming in along with new high end condos that few if any of the locals can afford. It looks nice but who is it all being built for? Definitely not for those of us who work for a living. Factories on the other hand keep getting bought out and closed down. Front page of the paper mentions Tyson, one of the worst of the worst, acquiring a chicken plant in the area today. Wondering how long those workers will have their jobs or if they keep them, what concessions they’ll be forced to take?

  3. HBE

    “When we share, there’s enough for everyone: And when you share, don’t you find that so often the real point is the act of sharing, and not really the thing that’s getting divvied up.”

    It’s uplifting sentiment but, US exeptionalism really does seep into everything, because this can’t mean global sharing and equality.

    On a global scale there isn’t even close to enough for everyone. Sustainabile global equality at current population levels means we all (everyone globally) live at the same standards as rural Nigeria, in terms caloric intake, energy and all other aspects.

    These are wonderful sentiments and we need more of it for a healthier society, but these sentiments need to be tempered by ecological and environmental reality and limits, not subsumed by the all to prevalent 110% optimism US society is so good at.

    (and just heading it off, no solar panels or some other wunderenergie or tech cannot solve this, it requires difficult individual and society wide lifestyle and organizational changes)

    1. Moneta

      100 years ago on the farms, there was not enough for everyone. That’s why the oldest got the farm, one became a nurse or doctor and the others became nuns or priests.

      Our economic system subsidizes oil and resources. The plundering and disregard for externalities have given us the semblance of enough. But if we had to share with the rest of the world and with future generations, we’d quickly see how much we have to cut.

  4. justanotherprogressive

    A much needed article!!
    I’m stoic too, but I am also a student of history and what history tells me is that what is happening in the world right now is going to get much worse before it gets better – it is too late to stop it. But I also know that there were always pockets of resistance and hope that kept humanity going forward, no matter how bad it got for everyone. So I’ll just “keep on keeping on” and trying to find those pockets…..

  5. Mark Gisleson

    Not what I thought this would be. I wrote resumes for years and dealt with many clients going through depression and loss. Yes, you need long-term goals and a sense of awareness of the greater process, but more to the point, you need to care for yourself on a daily basis.

    Get the junk out of your diet. Sugar and salt drive your moods while overeating slows you down. What you eat has a lot to do with how you think and feel.

    Exercise. In whatever manner is best for you, but be active. If you have to brood, do so while walking or running.

    Examine your diet and use supplements to fill any nutritional gaps. Give serious thought to Vitamin D supplements. If you’re a creative, you may wish to consider niacin (quiets the creative muse, but makes it easier to stick to a schedule).

    Give serious thought to taking a break from social media and news sites. Taking time off is always good for regaining perspective. And, when you come back, that perspective may keep you from getting sucked in again. (Qatar? WTF? I thought we were bogged down in Yemen?!)

    Get out of the house. No, you don’t HAVE to interact with other people, but you do need to let your eyes focus on the distant horizon each day or your life becomes near-sighted and bogged down in the trivial.

    Remember that this was just one election and, frankly, we’ve done worse. The Republic will survive. Culturally we will move forward and if those at the top cannot limit their greed, we can at least on the individual level downsize and simplify our lives, getting by on less and getting more out of life in the process.

    Oh, and you don’t have to think happy thoughts. But you should plaster a big grin on your face at least once a day. There are tiny facial muscles used only in smiling, and they trigger the release of endorphins. At least once a day, try to make yourself feel better about something. Don’t get trapped in a 24/7 brooding cycle.

    Cheap tricks for sure, but it’s easier to adapt to the world we’re in than always fighting for change. Think in terms of sliding, getting by, making it another week. When opportunities return, you need to be well rested and ready to go! (Works for job hunting and the 2018 election cycle!)

    1. cocomaan

      Thanks for these tips. I too found the post a little lacking. Of course “sharing is caring”, but we’re also talking about an experience of despair that is intensely personal and involve chemicals in the brain rewiring thoughts in destructive cycles.

      One thing I’d add to your list is “Build a skill or a hobby, or commit to something you otherwise enjoy. It will pay off for you personally and may even pay off for you professionally in the long run.”

      Give serious thought to taking a break from social media and news sites. Taking time off is always good for regaining perspective. And, when you come back, that perspective may keep you from getting sucked in again. (Qatar? WTF? I thought we were bogged down in Yemen?!)

      This is so important and so well said. In the scheme of things, “being informed” is often overrated. Unless you are in a position to change some aspect of the conversation, staying abreast of the latest horrible news coming from someplace with little relation to you isn’t more substantive than junk food.

      If you’re in shape, you can handle junk food. If you have other stressors in life, please take this advice.

      Incidentally, I don’t know how Yves and her crew do it. Bravo to them for being strong.

    2. justanotherprogressive

      Or get a cat. Cats will not allow you be depressed. In fact, my big ginger is batting me in the face right now because I won’t let her have the keyboard…..

    3. Aumua

      I’d say quit drinking and/or using drugs is a no brainer. Haha of course no one’s going to do that unless they have to, and even then they won’t usually. It’s not really an option for many.

  6. Arizona Slim

    Amen to giving social media and news a test. Been doing that for a few months and I can’t believe the difference in my attitude.

    1. polecat

      I could never indulge in ‘social media’, as I find it nothing more than gossip & vanity writ YUUUUGE !

  7. Jon S

    Rare maker of posts here. I had Easter dinner with my elderly mother, an avid Republican and Trump supporter. During our brief political discussion, I was surprised to see that she firmly believes in all of the points made above. She just thinks Trump believes them also. She’s wrong, but that doesn’t matter.

    My conclusion is that if the left wants power, it must compromise. My mother is very nationalist, flag-waving, support the troops, cops, firefighters. She wants everyone to have easy access to jobs. She thinks every man should be able to have a good job to support his family. And that is more important than transgender folks getting into a different bathroom.

    IMHO, if the left can create a guaranteed job program, quietly remove the armed forces from overseas while talking about how great they are, fight to save and expand social security, the left can have whatever it wants. Stop whining about AGW and turn it into a flag-waving, all-American, a chicken in every pot effort make a great new world for Americans.

    But the left votes for Hillary Clinton.

    1. Mac na Michomhairle

      Doing these types of things is why Bernie Sanders keeps getting elected in Vermont. People who would describe themselves as conservative, and people who would not ever vote for a garden variety “liberal” have come to like him a lot because he is absolutely honest and consistent, but also because he has always focused on issues that affect ordinary people’s lives, bringing a tacit “left” (but mostly just common-sense) perspective to them without waving any flags. While the Liberty Union party of which he was a member many years ago and which still only gets maybe a thousand votes statewide is still agitating about military planes sometimes using Burlington airport, Bernie is talking about the obstacles to obtaining health care and good jobs.

      You’ve got to talk to people about issues that affect their lives. That way, you can go under the Left/Right divide. Don’t know if you can ever reach true believers in the Power of the Market, but they are a minority.

  8. Susan the other

    That’s what is so nourishing about Naked Capitalism. It is a hard-headed diet of outrageous stuff; the nonsense that goes on all day, every day. I actually get a little down, not very but a little, when there isn’t enough to be angry about… go figure. The one suggestion I really like from this post is that policy and politics should always consider not just who benefits, but who is harmed. And what is harmed in the environment. Bec, as Moneta says above, and recently a great post by PaulCraigRoberts, the externalities are always denied and they are killing us all.

  9. Anne

    For many of us, I suspect it was never a case of believing that Democrats or Obama were free of flaws and hypocrisy or that they weren’t beholden to special interests or living in a very privileged bubble, out of touch with the little people.

    But, what I think has happened is not unlike what I would imagine it would fee like waking up one morning and finding that the person now sharing your bed and your life is someone you not only would never have chosen to live with, but is someone who seems determined to disrupt the generally good and reasonably happy life – however flawed it inevitably was – you had and impose a culture and mindset and disdain for truth and science and knowledge and equality. And expects you to be happy about it, to sing this interloper’s praises. To prop him or her up, feed the massive ego, get used to constantly-changing opinions and beliefs. Your head is spinning in a way you aren’t used to, you don’t feel like the ground under your feet is as solid as it once was – in the old arrangement, you knew which tread on the stair was the one with the squeak, you knew how to open the door that sticks – now it feels like there are land mines everywhere and you don’t know where they are or if something’s going to blow up any minute..

    So, what do you do? Leave? Sure, I guess that’s an option. But what you really want is for this intruder to go away and for your life to feel normal again – because whatever this new thing is, you definitely don’t ever want it to feel normal. In fact, this intruder is making you realize that you had normalized all that was wrong with your previous relationship – and maybe that’s what opened the door to this new person. So there’s gonna have to be more change than just getting this intruder out of your house.

    Sorry – may have gotten carried away with this, but it’s just what came to mind.

  10. Anarcissie


    A set of values currently espoused by our nation’s elected representatives that boil down to nothing more or less than selfishness. The foxes are guarding the hen house, and they are desperately short-sighted. Concerned with nothing but lining their little fox pockets in this minute, this theft, this deal.

    Well to me the values that have taken over in Washington—in word and in deed—look a whole lot like the values of toddlers and sociopaths:

    Me, Me, Me: It’s all about me. A cult of individualism.
    More, More, More: More stuff means I’m more powerful.
    Mine, Mine, Mine: Do unto others before they can do anything unto you.

    Human beings are primarily interested in themselves, their kin, their neighbors, and their tribe. In a democratic polity, these interests will translate into ‘selfishness’ for a majority of the electorate. Therefore, an ideological proposition which starts with ‘your interest in yourself and your kind is bad’ will go nowhere. It’s simply a waste of time.

    These facts did not appear with Mr. Trump, and they will not disappear when he departs.

    One could advocate a more cooperative, more egalitarian, less competitive, less destructive way of life, because the result would be better for the people one was addressing. The problem here is that that would be leftist, and liberals, while they cannot govern and are in charge of a declining empire, have been very effective at destroying the Left as a broad political force. Maybe this is implicit in the structure of liberal political institutions. In any case, against the deteriorating conditions produced by global capitalism, only the tribalist Right now remains active. That is what we have to deal with.

  11. Bittercup

    I am a little surprised at the overall positive response to this, because it struck me as a perfect example of the centrist-Democratic cooptation of “protest.”

    Implying all your opponents must have the “selfish” values of “toddlers” and don’t know what’s really best for them? Check.

    “Wisdom” derived from identifying as a mother or caretaker, presented in lieu of actual policy? Check.

    Assuming that opposing viewpoints (climate change; “xenophobic scare tactics”) are deliberate lies rather than genuine differences for whatever reason? Check.

    Description of “fighting back” that lacks actionable specifics or policy positions? Check. “Holding [them] accountable” is a basic characteristic of a functional polity, not a todo plan.

    Examples of “successes” that are a) in MA and CO, where it’s unlikely there was much institutional resistance, and b) trivial, insomuch as they are based on accepting, for example, that current greenhouse gas targets are adequate? Check. Because markets.

    And for good measure, “it requires a network of legal and technical experts,” so don’t try to do it alone, whatever “it” is. Gotta make sure your idea is supervised by the proper credentialed people. (Of course one needs an understanding of what one is doing, but what are the odds that this hive mind of experts would advise and not stall…)

    I don’t know. I’m clearly not the target audience here. But an article on “ways to get Medicare for all,” or “ways to get the U.S. out of the Middle East,” would do a lot more for my despair, personally.

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