After Charles Green‘s recent Comment of the Day on the post, Public Confidence And Trust (1): Observations On Gallup’s Trust In Occupations Poll, I was pretty sure that there would be an encore when I posted Part 2, an overview of the Gallup poll on public trust and confidence in American institutions. Charlie didn’t disappoint, so here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Public Confidence And Trust (2): Observations On Gallup’s Confidence In Institutions Poll:
…I agree with you that this stuff is as mission-critical as anything.
As you know, my life’s work is studying trust, and while I focus on interpersonal trust, you can’t ignore the systemic institutional issues either. In fact, they are connected.
In fact, I agree with your fundamental point that the cure for what ails our institutions must lie in personal behaviors, personal relationships, personal ethics.
Without taking anything away from that fundamental and massive agreement, let me suggest two tweaks to the issue as you have presented it.
The first is that this is NOT simply a US phenomenon. I recommend even more sobering reading from the Edelman Trust Barometer, a study that has been ongoing for over a decade. See the 2017 version here: https://www.edelman.com/global-results/
That survey covers about 18 western countries: fully half of them report the level of distrust in institutions – business, communications, NGOs, CEOs, etc. – not materially different from what we see in the US.
Second, I want to underscore the counter-argument to your (and my) claim that the answer lies in individual responsibility. Enormous numbers of people and perspectives in effect argue for the opposite – impersonal social engineering.
This kind of argument is found in business in the form of incentives, performance metrics, and a “compliance” approach to ethics. None of it is intended as anti-person responsibility, but I believe it surely has that effect.
I believe it is also found in the global attraction of populism (aka tribalism), which you can also argue is the result of slowed economic growth – but that argument also takes away agency of the individual.
Academia has to take some blame as well, for having focused solely on explaining how things work, without ever offering the antidote, which is an ethical response. When neuropsychologists preach about “how” we come to make moral judgments, they have managed to strip all the ethics out of the explanation, leaving only atoms. It is, i assure you, very bad metaphysics, and it is endemic.
And so on. Apologies for the length, but to put it in one sentence: Yes, the times they do suck, and the answer lies not in social engineering (or fragmented social units), but in a renaissance of interpersonal responsibility.