Matthew Syed on Trust

There is a really powerful article in today's Sunday Times by Matthew Syed in which he argues that one of the main problems of our time is a moral one - a reduction in our ability to trust one another.

It is certainly possible to be too trusting. A person who has no healthy scepticism of government, of politicians, of people who are trying to sell things to him or her, is liable to be the victim of bad policies or bad products whether those advocating them are doing to out of dishonesty or foolishness.

However, if we are unable to trust one another at all, the results are catastrophic. Some degree of trust in one another, in governments, in our institutions, is necessary for society to work at all. Successful government requires the consent of the governed just as policing requires the consent of the vast majority of those policed, and needs to be two-way. 

Without it any trust at all you have to fall back on order imposed by force - a solution which works only in dictatorships and not very well there.

Certain politicians of all political parties have delivered hammer blows to trust in politics in the last few years, 

(No names, no pack drill, any person who themselves combines a reasonable degree of impartiality with intellectual honesty will admit that there are some honest people in all political parties and some others who are part of the problem of collapse in trust, and I will delete any comments trying to score party points by naming individuals from one party as examples and saying - oh yes it's all X party's fault.) 

However, the media also has a lot to answer for.  Partly that is due to the media's own displays of dishonesty - the BBC's catastrophic failures of integrity over Saville and the Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana and the phone hacking scandal are only three of the worst examples.

But also, the media have not always kept the right balance between healthy scepticism and corrosive cynicism. Jeremy Paxman was a brilliant interviewer, but he openly admitted that he approached all interviews with the mindset "Why is this lying bastard lying to me."  The trouble with that level of  cynicism is that it reduce trust in honest politicians as well as the bad ones. And Paxman was not the only interviewer to adopt that style.

I don't see an easy answer but I think Matthew Syed's article raises important questions and I think the first part if the answer is that all of us need to start being more honest with ourselves and one another.

You can read the article here if you register - there is a paywall but you can get a certain number of free articles.


Jim said…
I think the freudian slip in the blog post actually does answer a lot of your question.

"Successful government, like policing, requires the consent of the government or those policed, and needs to be two-way.

You see it should also require the consent of the governed. That is something that is sorley lacking.

Its not really an issue of named politicians, its not really the media either (though their spin, often lack of understanding of detail and desire for headlines certainly does not help, as we seen with Brexit)

The real problem is the system of representive democracy, it is just not fit for purpose. Consent to be governed has never been on shakier more slippy ground.

We currently have the worst adminstration in living memory in power, I dont use that lightly, I have not forgotten Gordon Browns. The only way said admistration can be removed by the public is to vote in Starmers 10x worse one.

Politicians usually anwer with "form your own party and stand" but to do that and get anywhere takes money, lots and lots of it. Also under FPTP up and coming parties with quite a high level of national support get nowhere as they dont have concentrated support in local areas, UKIP are a prime example here.

See again the system is to blame, that is where the issue is. Maybe if it was recognised the source of power is actually the governed, its that very concent itself that is soverign, If the governed were more involved in the governing, if they had more control and visibility over the taxing and the spending, if the executive and the legislature were seperated, so bad administration could be removed without forming new bias in the legislature, then maybe, just maybe, a more trusting bond between governed and government would form.

But then, as we have seen so often since 2016, so few in government trust the governed.
Chris Whiteside said…
Thank you for pointing out the very non-Freudian typing error, which I have corrected.

I don't agree with everything else in your post, but your point about trusting the people is a valid and important one - trust needs to run in both directions, and it is as important that the government trusts the people as the other way round.

Although I am not a fan of the American approach to gun control, I remember reading one incredibly powerful point made in an article about it - only a government with total confidence in its' own legitimacy (and, the author of the article could have added, which trusted the people) could enshrine in law or the constitution the right to bear arms.

I would like to think that the fact that most of us don't take that view in this country is because we want to keep guns out of the hands of the next Derrick Bird rather than because we don't trust the population as a whole.

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