I recently read an opinion editorial by Leif Wenar in the New York Times entitled “Is Humanity Getting Better?” The article took me on a stroll through the world’s colossally-depressing history—from the Black Death to World War II to the Rwandan Genocide—exploring the tragedies of a supposedly-less-civilized, barbaric past and the calamities of an apparently more sophisticated-yet-still-totally-terrible-and-also-barbaric present.
Overall, Wenar came to the conclusion that, just as it was before, the world is still abundantly ridden with problems,but these problems have changed as technology has made its impact on the world and, in general, raised the standard concerning what a good life looks like.
“The world now is a thoroughly awful place—compared with what it should be,” Wenar writes, “But not compared with what it was.”
Wenar acknowledges that, yes, we have violence and war and disease,but we also have organized groups to protect citizens, means to defend ourselves and advanced medical treatment to battle the gnarliest of germs. Though technology brings both progress and problems of its own—you might not stay awake at night wondering if you’ll contract polio, but global warming sure is a buzzkill—I’d still argue that the quality of life for the average citizen has greatly increased. And yet, I don’t think this means humanity is getting better. Because really, it’s not.
If humanity didn’t genuinely stink at being good, then we wouldn’t hear things like, “My faith in humanity has been restored,” or “I’d almost lost my hope in humanity.” The truth is that the goodness of humanity is not reliable: people are capable of being loving and also of being terrible. When even just one person chooses the latter, the entire human-race can be affected, in the way that one single stone dropped into water causes ripples to spread throughout an entire lake.
“While life has undoubtedly become more comfortable for most, the state of humanity is still at a solid F minus. ”
My goal this week, however, was not to write a pessimistic article illustrating the depth of our world’s problems, and our overall lack of capability to ever solve them. Rather, Wenar’s article compelled me to examine my own personal paradox: I acknowledge the brokenness of the world and I believe that such brokenness will never go away no matter the great effort of good-hearted humans.Yet, I still define myself by a fierce hope and an unwavering faith in an ultimate happy ending. It may sound like the philosophy of a loonie, but it provides one with unshakable resilience.
It is my firm belief that humanity has always been in the same state of doom ever since a bite was taken from an apple (or an orange or a peach or a banana or whatever fruit it was) and humans chose themselves over God, chose selfishness over selflessness, chose evil over good. The earth has had the same sickness ever since then, never better, never worse, just manifested differently throughout history. We’ve had the flu of the fallen for thousands of years, and the fever isn’t going away.
While life has undoubtedly become more comfortable for most, the state of humanity is still at a solid F minus. You can read a history book and shudder at the beheadings of citizens and the tossing of criminals into a lion’s den. Or you can turn on the news and mourn the most recent school shooting or act of terror by ISIS. In comparing the cruelty of the past to the brutality of the present, you find that, when it comes to the presence of evil in the world, absolutely nothing has changed. We’re not getting better. We’re not getting worse. We’re just kind of perpetually doomed.
Articles such as Lenar’s resonate with our optimistic nature that yearns to point out progress and takes solace in the illusion of improvement. We see how messed up the world is, and we like to think that we are the generation that is better, that we can fix it. Allow me to be frank: we can’t.
If this evil-ridden world is all there is, our prognosis isn’t exactly rosy. And so, for the sake of our own happiness we humans are compelled to ignore the bad news, distract ourselves with our busy lives, self-medicate with happy quotes and good food and trips to the beach and yoga. And for a while, it kind of works.
But then, sooner or later, we are reminded again and again that we’re only closing our eyes to the problems. We’ll turn on the news, and the tragic stories and barbaric tales will be told. And they always will be.
It makes me wonder, how does one bear this diseased earth and this problem-filled life if he believes that this is really all there is?
I understand that not everyone believes in life after death. But what I do not understand is how one could truly make it through this life without some sort of wish that the pain must alleviate on the other side, that there’s a “better” somewhere out there. Because if this world is all there is…Well, yikes.
“ I still define myself by a fierce hope and an unwavering faith in an ultimate happy ending.”
I’m not saying I don’t believe in the possibility of people doing good—human beings have both the capability and the responsibility to bring light into the world. We surely can’t drive out the dark, but we can at least light a candle.
What I am saying is this: I see the evil of our world with a realistic eye and hold firm the belief that mankind can’t fix it. And when asked if humanity is getting better, I say, “No. Freaking. Way.”
But if you’re like me, you’re a little bit loony in the eyes of the world. You have this outrageous hope that gives you reason to be eternally optimistic and incomparably joyful. You see a fight that we’re losing on all sides and know that it’s okay, because the battle has already been won. Some might call that crazy, but I call it Christianity.