Beyond Losing and Regaining Faith in Humanity

Cornelia Beckett ’14
Contributing Writer

Just open your Facebook newsfeed, like you do multiple times a day. Or refresh Buzzfeed. Or Upworthy. Or Reddit. Whether an impassioned status or a photoset of kittens, an angry forum post or a video of Good Samaritans, these invariably have the caption: “Events like these make me lose faith in humanity.” Alternately, a triumphant one-liner: “Faith in humanity: restored.”

We saw this all over in the Monday-through-Friday ordeal of the Boston bombings and the manhunt following. A young couple, Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, that each lost legs, racked up $500,000 in fundraising support, and their families affirmed that the donations “reaffirmed their faith in humanity.” It’s the families’ tragedy, and they can choose to respond to it the way they like. But where did this reductive philosophy come from?

The Internet, of course, where Western culture today is born and dies. Things that make the great worldwide web-beast lose faith in humanity: Justin Bieber speculating that Anne Frank was a Belieber, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, senseless bombings, Thought Catalog’s list of Facebook Statuses that Made Them Lose Faith in Humanity and other icky conflations of new media and actual horror. When we stare at glowing rectangles all day for emotional gratification – humor, amusement, lust, horror, prurience – it’s no surprise that it’s on the Internet that people crow the loudest about their “faith.” (And a side note – who ever said we started out with faith in humanity? It was never a given.)

Things that make the masses regain their faith: small acts of kindness in everyday life, off-duty soldiers protecting children in elementary schools, cute kittens and a particularly heinous Buzzfeed photoset that includes a general telling protestors “not to fight, it’s my birthday.” Gross. Yeah, every day is someone’s birthday. Every single day on this planet also contains a multitude of cruelties and mercies, tragedies and triumphs. The cynic in me wants to ask: what, the genocides of the 20th century and today didn’t make you lose your faith? How about the institution of slavery? No, it’s often smaller events and phenomena, those that have the benefit of the 24-hour-newscycle and a culture of fear and hyperbole that social networks like to seize on, meme and trump up into quickly-forgotten digital jolts.

Once the magic word “faith” enters a conversation, facts are irrelevant, as faith lies beyond the realm of the scientific. The idea that we ever had to have faith in humanity at all is absurd. Let’s relegate debates about human nature to Gov 100 or Philosophy first-year seminars, and recognize our expectations of a more accurate arrangement – the social contract – for what it is. When people like murders and terrorists break the social contract, that’s shocking and wrong. It is not, however, humanity’s faith linchpin. The Boston bombing is just the most recent excuse for the tired phrase to come out.

Of course, the cliché’s been casual for a while. On November 18, 2012, alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev tweeted: “Got my phone back, there’s still hope for humanity after all.”

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