Causes of distrust in society must be addressed

Looking to the year ahead, wouldn’t it be great if we could take significant strides toward economic sustainability, peace and real justice for the people of our world?

But corporate use of government to pleasure the privileged prevents us from exercising world leadership in humanity’s quest for a better life for everyone.

Our level of national trust has been severely eroded: trust in our leaders, our institutions and in each other. We can see this in our inability to take the hard decisions, make the necessary changes to put our nation – and the world – back on track for economic equality and human rights. Here’s a partial list of trust-eroders.

1. Neuroscience, psychology and anthropology reveal that we’re not the rational, good-hearted beings we like to think we are. Social animals, yes, but we’re wired to deceive others and ourselves. How we “frame” what we say, often using half-truths that hide self-promotion, results inevitably in mutual suspicion – you can’t trust anybody. That’s not an inappropriate response in today’s world, and it does not help build trust.

2. Severe economic inequality in the U.S. demonstrates that those with the most privileges are walling themselves off from the rest of us. We’re no longer a nation of citizens who share the same fate. This breaks down our sense of community, which otherwise could be used to overcome poverty, racism and greed.

3. By denying climate change, the oil and gas industry (among others) continues to count on recovering and burning Earth’s petroleum reserves. This creates two problems in building trust.

First, we’re about to experience a carbon bubble. These huge, reported fuel reserves are used to back petroleum company stocks. But, if 65 to 80 percent of these reserves are extracted and burned, they will raise carbon emissions disastrously beyond the limits set by scientific evidence. So industry shares are becoming relatively worthless, while drillers keep on extracting more oil and gas than ever. Not a good investment.

Second, by such contrary actions, petro companies have exempted themselves from helping us keep our global commitment to restrict carbon emissions resulting from fossil fuels. No trust there.

4. Knowledge may be humanity’s most productive engine for improvement, but fundamentalists of various stripes keep generating misleading ideologies, such as “free markets are self-regulating,” or “smaller government solves all problems.” This prevents us from creating new ways of making knowledge available to everyone.

5. Individualism and meritocracy also erode trust. We’ve been atomized to the point where we no longer gather together (except to shop), so we have no spirit of camaraderie, little collaboration and we often deny our interdependence on one another.

6. Corporations have compromised our government and political parties to such an extent that we can no longer discuss using technology to enhance the public good. But we need the private sector’s innovation as much as we need the legislative brakes and fiscal policy that discipline corporate managers to help make the whole society better.

7. Recent evidence demonstrates that the U.S. surveillance state has poisoned the Internet’s usefulness as a source of knowledge exchange and community building. When the powers of repression trust no one, no one can use the Internet with confidence.

So, what do we do with this situation? Can we re-constitute trust among us? There are no easy answers, but one solution blossoming within local and regional community projects suggests there may be a way.

When we get together to solve problems at the local level, solidarity is reinforced on the picket lines and in demonstrations.
We can work together to pursue the public good when we express our dissent from current policies, then join with people who are inventing workable public alternatives. Where community purpose is served, trust can be created anew.

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