Why we stopped trusting elites

“At the heart of successful liberal democracies lies a remarkable collective leap of faith: that when public officials, reporters, experts and politicians share a piece of information, they are presumed to be doing so in an honest fashion,” writes William Davies, the sociologist and political economist. “To understand the crisis liberal democracy faces today – whether we identify this primarily in terms of populism or post-truth – it’s not enough to simply bemoan the rising cynicism of the public.

“The problem today is that, across a number of crucial areas of public life, the basic intuitions of populists have been repeatedly verified. One of the main contributors to this has been the spread of digital technology, creating vast data trails with the latent potential to contradict public statements, and even undermine entire public institutions. Whereas it is impossible to conclusively prove that a politician is morally innocent or that a news report is undistorted, it is far easier to demonstrate the opposite. Scandals, leaks, whistleblowing and revelations of fraud all serve to confirm our worst suspicions. While trust relies on a leap of faith, distrust is supported by ever-mounting piles of evidence. And in Britain, this pile has been expanding much faster than many of us have been prepared to admit.”. (BBC News, Nov 29, 2018).

We have become cynical. We ascribe bad motives to too many in public life and simply assume they have their hands in the till. This blog has done its (small) best to spread that idea, I afraid. And yet the constant drip-drip of reporting from a score of sources has, over the course of years, embedded the idea that the very rich and the big corporations get – or pay for – their way at the expense of the rest of us. Meanwhile, as the investigation being pursued by Muller daily suggests, the American Administration, for one. is full of people with conflicts of interest or are prepared (for enough money) to connive with the nation’s enemies. Where do these people come from? Who “educated” them, brought them up? What did they learn, apart from “winning” being the only thing that matters?

Democracy always was a fragile flower, but the knowledge that you have a say and that those in power are on your side is all part of the idea promoted by Epicurus – that life should be pleasant, full of friends and happiness, without the need to constantly fear death or the overturning of your life at the whim of a self-absorbed, malevolent autocrat or an uninformed, resentful crowd. Fragile maybe, but a wonderful thing, however dependent on mutual goodwill.

Above all government has to be for ALL the people, inclusive and without favour. Such government is fading throughout the world, and the rich and powerful (with notable exceptions) do not seem to care. Those who study history understand the perilous position we are in and the ease with which our system can be (is being) subverted. Unfortunately, studying history “doesn’t get you a job”. I am at a loss…………

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