We currently live in a world where trust in almost every major establishment, institution, politician, charity and individual in Western Civilisation has reached a deep, trench like nadir from which, it looks unlikely it will ever be able to drag itself out from and has been tumbling down into since the 1960s. Even a cursory glance through traditional and new media will provide you with a litany of evidence for this decrease in trust, in some cases not without good reason.
Like most of us, those involved in the political establishment and indeed all in some position of authority probably aim for high moral standards and attempt to live a moderately virtuous life. Unfortunately, as the philosopher, Immanuel Kant said, “nothing straight has ever been made from the crooked wood of humanity”. People tend to get mired in political manoeuvring, poisonous relationships, office pettiness, and all that other low level unpleasantness and micro aggressiveness that emanates from modern living in the 21st century.
Perhaps this is caused by the worst excess of capitalism which, over the centuries has warped our delicate human nature to something wholly unnatural and abhorrent. Or perhaps to expect natural, harmonious behaviour from a species kept in an artificially lit, unnatural environment for eight hours a day is asking too much. Either way, people aren’t perfect and neither is their behaviour sometimes.
A lack of trust in the political establishment and responses to it have existed for centuries in some form or another. Scandalous, satirical paintings by William Hogarth lampooning the establishment of the 1700s were commonplace. Of course the political establishment of that day was notoriously corrupt. “Rotten Burghs” were endemic and indeed one called Dunwich in Suffolk was entirely washed out to sea due to coastal erosion but still had over thirty aquatic and non-existent voters that still managed to return an MP to parliament.
Satire is even more prevalent now and can even make or break a political career. The unfortunate Ed Milliband had a persona and mannerisms that were ripe for the withering pen or brush of many a satirist during the 2015 general election. David Cameron is not immune either with his patrician nose and red cheeks appearing in many cartoons throughout his premiership.
Corruption in politics is nothing new, even in modern times. Many MPs, from across the political spectrum hire their own children as their Parliamentary Assistants. I don’t agree with this but can they be blamed for trying to provide their offspring with a leg up in a competitive jobs market and attempt to boost their CV. Would I, or anyone else, act differently in the same situation?
The expenses scandal implicated large numbers of MPs for blatant corruption with many resigning or facing criminal proceedings and quite rightly so. The most expensive claim I ever acquired at work was for a falafel burger and a mint tea at Stanstead airport. Had I returned a receipt for a £1645 duck house, I expect management may have had some words with me.
Part of the reason for the decrease in trust is that the political establishment can often seem remote from the everyday existence of the average Briton. Politicians, particularly ones in power, aren’t like you or me. The decisions that they sometimes make can affect millions of people and have major historical and strategic repercussions that could potentially linger long after they have passed away. This is also an issue for far more mundane matters. In Tony Blair’s memoirs he stated that at the early stage of every general election he was provided with a “cheat sheet” with the price of various household commodities such as milk, bread and washing powder. I never suspected the Prime Minister popped down to his local supermarket in his state owned, bullet proof Jaguar with security officers in tow, to do the weekly shop, stopping by Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen if she wants a pack of Bombay mix. I’m totally okay with this notion. Prime Ministers and Presidents aren’t the “everyman” who you can have a drink with or invite to your barbecue. They are leaders and statesman with a plethora of competing agendas and concerns and that by the very nature of their role in society are removed from the concerns of most citizens.
When politicians do attempt to engage with the electorate through social media, in an attempt to build trust, rather than appearing more human and achieving a constructive political dialogue, it usually has the completely opposite effect and has probably exacerbated this anti-establishment trend. Now you can call the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom a “glistening, meat-faced dolt” or a “shitstain vomitpustule”. Nothing has been achieved here other than allowing the person creating the tweet to vent their spleen and to share a juvenile insult with the world for reasons best know to themselves. They could have sent a picture with an image of poverty or a link to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation or engaged in some constructive criticism of government policy but didn’t.
The controversial comedian Frankie Boyle can tweet the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a democratically elected leader, who when appointing a new Financial Secretary compared it “to transfer deadline day for cunts”. On another occasion David Cameron tweeted: “Sending my very best wishes to Muslims in Britain – and around the world – celebrating #Eid al-Adha. Eid Mubarak to you and your families!”. Boyle replied with a tweet stating that, “You could have saved time by just writing it on the side of your bombs”. No mention of the geopolitical sitation in the Middle East the rise of ISIS or the tens of thousands of individuals fleeing persecution and certain death. Just a simple uninformed soundbite with absolutly no context, but that firmly “put Cameron in his place”. Boyle is a comedian. His job is to make people laugh. He is not a expert on foreign affairs or islamic extremism, but his opinions and tweets probably have more credence with many people than the expert who is part of the “establishment”.
To an extent that there has always been a degree of mistrust of the political establishment in the UK. A degree of this may even be healthy for democracy, as individuals fawning over the words of politicians can lead to a blind acceptance that the party can do no wrong, as appears to be happening with many of the SNP party faithful who don’t seem to tolerate much dissent within their own ranks and take criticism of the party as a personal and grievous slight.
A similar phenomena can be witnessed in the United States at the moment with the inexorable rise of Donald Trump and his anti-establishment rhetoric, where most of the blame for America’s social and geopolitical ills are solely blamed on career politicians.
The more worrying trend is that this same attitude of anti-establishment fervour appears to be rapidly percolating through the filter of common sense to stain the rest of society.
I’ve heard people complain that “doctors don’t know what they’re talking about”. Doctors are fallible and with other pressures on them, can and do make mistakes. The consequences of their mistakes and oversight of their actions are far greater but this should not provide a valid reason to not trust their expert opinion in certain situations or to lose faith in an entire institution with a vast body of medical knowledge. If I made a mistake at work, people didn’t get an invite to a meeting. If a surgeon makes a mistake, someone dies.
At the extreme end of the anti-establishment fringe some people in the UK even believe that vaccines, a modern miracle that save the lives of countless children and adults, are actually used by the “establishment” to implant nano-machines to track the populace. The science, reasoning and technology behind this are never explained by the adherents to such ridiculous beliefs.
Charities are not immune to being tarred with the same brush as the “establishment” and are now viewed with increasing suspicion by the populace. A poll taken in 2010 found that one third of Britons did not trust charities and thought that they lied about the level of income that they required for running costs. This also links in with distrust of government as charities that received funds from government were found to be even less trust worthy than those that didn’t receive funding from government sources. Typing in “Charities are” into Google search will bring back the potential suggestions of “businesses”, “corrupt”, “scams” and “a con”. It paints a grim picture, considering charities are now used to backfill areas that have recently been vacated by state services and need donations to keep functioning in order to provide these, sometimes essential services.
If you don’t trust the private, public and charitable sector or anything else with a whiff of the “establishment”, do you trust your fellow traveller on this earth? Sadly not. Distrust in other people is also at an all time low. This trend is best encapsulated by rise of the “frenemy”. Someone, who on outward appearances you are friendly with, but you actually despise and consider them to be a rival. Incidentally, this is also a topic that makes up at least 38.7% of the posts in Facebook with quotes such as: “Don’t fear the enemy who attacks you…fear the fake friend who hugs you”, usually accompanied by a hand drawn image of a sad looking woman crying into a mug.
Trouble is once people have torn down what they perceive as the establishment and don’t trust anything, what do they have left? With this go the last vestiges of tradition and history and more importantly, trust. No one seems to be offering me much to replace this with. I don’t want to live in a world where trust is a poisonous concept and it’s perceived that anyone in authority is a psychopathic narcissist out for their own personal gain . The potential exists for a bland, stark and anaemic future where people trust no one and nothing. No compelling vision has emerged to replace what people distrust so much. I don’t believe humanity is inherently bad or untrustworthy. We may not be angels, but neither are we self-serving demons.