It is a question of our age – arguably the question of our age – which links every story that is probably interesting you right now. It screams out of the allegations that a paedophile ring operated at Westminster. It is triggered again by the government's desire to rush through emergency surveillance legislation in the name of combatting terrorism. It is at the heart of the debate about the future of the NHS. It bedevils the arguments over independence for Scotland. It will be up front and central and decisive at the next British general election. Whom do you trust?
Comes an answer that is as popular as it is succinct: trust no one.
Trust No One
The paradox is that we still want to trust. The New York Times columnist, David Brooks, makes the interesting observation that we will now trust people we have never met with our money, our cars, our pets, even our homes. Peer-to-peer swapping and renting is booming on the internet. Sensible folk will take the precaution of checking the reviews and star ratings of the person with whom they are dealing, but that still involves putting trust in the recommendation of a stranger about the likely behaviour of another stranger. It seems we'd now rather trust an individual we don't know than a big institution that we have come to know much too well.
Unless you plan to hide alone in a cave, life can't be lived without trust. I go to bed at night trusting my neighbours not to burn down my house while I sleep. I get up in the morning and turn on the tap trusting the water company not to have poisoned the supply. We want to be able to trust banks, because we need somewhere to put our money. We want to be able to trust the media, because we need reliable sources of information. We want to be able to trust the doctor, the police officer and the judge. We even want to be able to trust our politicians. At least just a little bit. If our default assumption is that everyone who aspires to govern us only does so in order to lie to us and cheat us, then making meaningful political choices becomes impossible.
Trust no one is not a good motto for a happy life nor for a functioning democracy. Most of us intuit that. We mourn that we can't trust our governing institutions and yearn to see some restoration. There's a great prize here for someone in politics to win, if only any of them knew how to go about grasping it.