Loss of Trust Underpins our Collective Woes

Trust, or more specifically, Loss of Trust.This has to be the defining issue of our times. In the new millenium we inhabit a world where trust has ceased to be embedded in our communities, nations and in the world at large. We have truly entered an age of anxiety and the effects are compounding. If distrust was a biological entity, the entire globe would be riddled with the virus.
Who do you trust? Who can you trust? In basic survival terms you are meant to trust your parents and siblings and others related to you by blood or marriage. We’ve long had a tradition of trusting friends. Somewhere in the past we grew up trusting doctors, policemen, priests, teachers. Not so good for politicians and salesmen, even if you think way back. You could build up trust with neighbours, with local storekeepers and local tradesmen. Finding decent people to provide good services was not a big ask. Banks were good, lawyers pretty straight. This was not a fantasy world though, all good, no evil. There have always been people with bad intentions towards others, those who lack empathy, seek to exploit, overpower, or abuse, the ones who embody the extreme end of malevolence, mixed in with rotten scoundrels, cunning tricksters, petty thieves and career con-men.
For whatever reason it has been mainly men, not women, who have dominated as well the statistics for violence and crime in general. But nothing stays the same. The incidence of crime perpetrated by women appears to be rising across western nations and by virtue of the fact that there are more categories of crime available in the new millennium, crime now must be increasingly rising. Pop “rise crime” into your search engine for a sampling.

So did something go wrong? Did the rules get changed somehow? When did that balance tip towards less people caring about others? More people following the “It’s All About Me” agenda; more people prepared to severely injure or kill others over quite minor circumstances; more men trawling the online world for degrading images or women and children. Despite global legislation, there is more human trafficking and enslavement now, than in the supposed heydays of the ancient world or in recent centuries. The value of a life, the worth of another human is now significantly degraded in many contexts.
This present era may be the first time we have seen such a large scale malaise of humanity and it concerns much more than killing and warfare. War is the format of choice for humanity to attempt to decimate the numbers of those with different opinions and many atrocities have occurred beyond basic shooting, bayoneting, stabbing, or bombing the perceived enemy of state. Outside of the theatres of war, pockets of decline have been evident in many locations and civilizations over the course of humanity’s recorded history. Roman decadence in the ancient world had many flavours of physical abuse for the emperors to gorge on, that have recurred in subsequent times and places. When one ethnicity attempted to annihilate another in 1930’s Germany, the term used later was Holocaust, but the attempt to destroy other beings en masse has had numerous smaller scale precedents and carnage has continued to present times. ( Online military summary: http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/casualties_of_war.htm )
The twentieth century was pockmarked with military engagements, casualties and deaths on a scale never seen before on account of developing technologies. In addition, the concept of Holy War re-entered our vocabularies, often now wearing the face of Islamic extremism wishing to repel the influences of Western culture, which represent sin in defiance of an Islamic notion of god.
The death toll from the September 11 2001 attacks in New York in no way parallels the amount of terror induced. Close to 3,000 civilians died, with double that injured (http://www.worldstatesmen.org/index2.html )
but the impact on American and Western minds was profound. Whether you choose to believe that forces in America staged the events to enable greater internal and global controls to be enacted, or whether it was al-Qaeda terrorists continuing their persistent agenda to punish America, the generation of fear amongst millions worldwide is a major consequence. That one day changed the nature of reality for so many. Those events eradicated mountains of trust. 911 sceptics remain convinced that Jewish powerbrokers engineered the whole scenario, but either way, this world is no longer the sort of place that enables easy sleeping or faith in others.
War, the enemy, the terrorists, nuclear bombs, biological warfare, AIDS have all been headline-grabbers in the 20th century and all of those remain a threat for millions worldwide, but in many people’s lives it is not the top-ranking threats engendered by others which play the biggest part in their everyday world. Tragically the level of distrust has deeply permeated the most mundane of interactions, transactions between people where once honesty, integrity, good faith, good workmanship, reliability, good service - and ultimately Trust – prevailed. This widespread decline in trust affects not only interpersonal dynamics - relationships, neighbours, work colleagues – but whole companies, sole tradesmen, anyone you might hire to work for you, the other drivers on the road. 
The common denominator in all these examples is that a huge shift has occurred in the conduct of people, in terms of their quality of personal interaction. What this entails is, on the one hand, less honesty, less fairness and reliability, less acceptance of personal accountability and responsibility – and on the other hand self-serving indulgence. Powerful survivalist instinctual tendencies along with a primary focus on monetary gain combine in many interactions to result in scams, rip-offs, fraud and theft – or simply in what fails to qualify as “service”. Where money is not factored in, it is a Me First agenda seen in relationships, or in the driver who ploughs through red lights, or the baby-sitter who ignores your hungry baby. 
This is the fourth wave of decline in collective trust which can be identified.
The first is the larger collective or global level –“us versus them”; the second is decline within the level of national/political and local government bureaucracies. The third is the breakdown in trust for authority figures in our community – the policeman who assaults, the doctor who murders, the teachers and priests and scout leaders who have abused young children, the banker who steals. All examples of human nature, but all examples of professions once held in high regard, but now populated with easily corrupted people prepared to take advantage of their position of trust. Is it a loss of moral compass? Or perhaps a deeply felt sense of empowerment, seeking a means, any means, to rise above those feelings of worthlessness?
So if this decline in trust is rippling out and now manifesting in a fourth, bedrock level of interactions, is there a further worsening possible? Will this spread to engage the greater mass of people in a mode of deteriorating interactions, driven primarily by material/financial gain or personal advancement/empowerment? Perhaps we are witnessing this already.
If public and commercial services continue to decline in New Zealand within the decade beyond 2010, exceeding what we have witnessed during this past decade, ( signified by a lack of accountability, breakdown in quality of service, reduction in services, associated in some instances by corruption/fraud/deceit/ or even apparent arrogance or outright disinterest), then this is a troubling occurrence for our social well-being, but what is of greater concern, is what may be seen as the contagion effect of such ways of operating. When the fourth level of engagement reaches its tipping point a major social upheaval is necessary. The cycles of nature ultimately call the shots and enough is known about general systems theory to predict that a chaotic period is the likely outcome of present and accumulating societal and interpersonal dysfunctions. When we collectively cease to be able to operate as a system, we fail, and need to start over.

August 4 2011 Update 
The above commentary was written some 18 months ago and this downward trend in human conduct remains evident. I keep getting scam calls regarding a computer virus. The caller, a woman with an Indian accent, knows my surname. Many other NZers have had calls of a similar nature and have lost $$$ after inadvertently enabling remote access. This scam is widespread globally.

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