I was writing about the death of cultural institutions last night. And today I came across something that UK Chief Rabbi Sacks had said of the breakdown of institutions:
“And then you ask why they have broken down and you arrive at one word: trust. Trust means having faith in somebody else to keep their faith with you, so there’s something about religious faith that undergirds trust as a whole in society and when trust breaks down you see institutions break down.”
I don’t see that religious faith has got anything to do with it. I think loss of trust happens when people break their trust, and show themselves to be untrustworthy. Trust is earned, and it’s easy to lose. If I steal your wallet, you’re going to stop trusting me. Or at least you ought to stop trusting me. Is Rabbi Sacks saying that we should just blindly trust people regardless of what they do?
I’ve lost a lot of trust in a whole raft of organisations and institutions of one sort or other over the past few years. Ten years ago I’d have readily believed that the WHO and Tobacco Control were trustworthy organisations, with smokers’ interests at heart. Now I think that they hate smokers and want to exterminate them, and that more or less everything they say is a lie. I have no trust in them whatsoever.
The same goes for the IPCC and climate science. Ten years ago I would have trusted them. But now I know they’ve been doing things like “hide the decline”, trust has gone.
Some 10 years ago, the Labour party manifesto declared that they’d ban smoking in pubs that sold food. But when they were returned to government, they banned smoking in all pubs, and lots of other places as well. I’ll never believe any of their manifesto pledges again. I don’t trust them any more.
Back on 15 February this year, when a fireball exploded over Chelyabinsk a few hours before asteroid 2012-DA14 passed within about 30,000 km of the Earth, NASA immediately said – same day – that the events weren’t linked, and it was fluke they’d arrived at more or less the same time. And I thought, “How can you be so sure, when right now you have no data on the Chelyabinsk event? You can’t be sure. I don’t trust you.” And I’ve spent the last few months trying to show how the Chelyabinsk meteor could have been in a rock train accompanying DA14. At the moment, my best guess is that this companion rock passed close to the Earth a year beforehand, in February 2012, and was pulled into the orbital path which brought it down on Chelyabinsk a year later.
I’m just not very trusting these days. It’s not a distrust of individual people. It’s a distrust of authoritative organisations and institutions. Like ASH, and the IPCC, and the Labour party, and NASA. And I don’t trust the EU, or pharma companies, or the Royal Society. Yet in the past I would have trusted them all implicitly.
And, in fact, most people trust them all. They trust authorities to do good science, and to tell them the truth. But increasingly I don’t. I find myself increasingly thinking that when somebody becomes an expert in something, they will use their authority to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
But Rabbi Sacks seems to be saying that if you lose trust in them, institutions will break down.
But what’s wrong with that? I want ASH and Tobacco Control to be closed down. I’d like to see the WHO break down. And the UN. And the EU. I think they’re all self-serving outfits that do much more harm than good. I can live without them. They’re not the cultural institutions I was writing about last night, which are part of my identity. They’re a pack of predatory wolves.
If anything, I think that most people are far too trusting, and that they’re trusting in exactly the way that Rabbi Sacks seems to want them to be. And the result is that ASH and all the rest remain in business, because people trust them. So nothing gets fixed. There’s nothing good in itself about trust, particularly if you trust people who aren’t trustworthy. When people become too trustful, swindlers and charlatans multiply.
Whenever anyone says, “Trust me,” I usually stop trusting them. Yet Rabbi Sacks seems to be saying “Trust people. Trust the EU. Trust the UN. Trust ASH.”
But I don’t trust them. And I guess I don’t trust Rabbi Sacks either. He sounds like exactly the sort of pontificating expert or authority that I instinctively distrust these days.