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  • iamandrewwilson

A matter of trust: #01

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

You are cocooned at home. It’s lasted more than a few months. Perhaps you’ve been wondering why the birds are singing so loud. Perhaps you’ve been watching videos of Arnold Schwarzenegger feeding his miniature horses. During this time, you also may have noticed a common trend when identifying the most effective responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On 15th April, Mark Lawrence Schrad, a professor of political science at Villanova University (U.S.) and author of Vodka Politics, wrote in Foreign Policy:

High levels of trust seem to be a common feature of countries with the most effective coronavirus responses, measured by slow spread and low mortality.”

Countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Iceland, have all been reported to have had an effective response to the pandemic, not only because they each have a competent and well-functioning welfare state, but they also rank high in terms of political and social trust.

Similarly, anthropologist and activist David Graeber has, in a Diem25 video, made the connection between the lowest levels of political trust with the most ineffective response rates:

“Countries with the greatest infection rate are those where nobody believes what they read in the papers or have any trust in their authorities … they don’t’ believe what they read because the papers usually lie, they don’t believe the politicians because they invariably lie.”

Here, in the UK, it is unremarkable to claim that trust in our political establishment is minimal. A November 2019 survey identified that trust in politicians had dropped to unprecedented lows. There is even a website dedicated to the persistent lies, falsehoods and misrepresentations of our current PM and his government.

Likewise, with the media. YouGov figures from a December 2019 poll show trust in our news has fallen, with less than half of the country believing BBC news journalists are honest and impartial.

A quick glance at the Cambridge English Dictionary might help to remind us of what we mean by trust:

“to believe that someone is good and honest and will not harm you”

or “that something is safe and reliable.”

‘Nobody trusts anyone in authority today’ asserts journalist and documentary film-maker Adam Curtis in an article published in 2014:

“It is one of the main features of our age. Wherever you look there are lying politicians, crooked bankers, corrupt police officers, cheating journalists and double-dealing media barons, sinister children's entertainers, rotten and greedy energy companies and out-of-control security services.”

What makes this suspicion worse, claims Curtis, is that practically no-one ever gets prosecuted for their scandals.

Consciously or unconsciously I think this claim will resonate with many of us. From phone-hacking to the financial crash, high profile tax-avoidance schemes to money laundering in world football, from the Windrush scandal to the burning of Grenfell tower, from an infamous drive to Barnard Castle to the death of George Floyd, we have all bore witness to actions and events that have contributed to a diminished trust in authority.

I don’t suppose there has ever been a golden era for trust. If it ever existed perhaps it was in our imagination(s), right next to the big rock candy mountain. Yet, it is perhaps here, within our imaginations where it might be most appropriate to play with our complex notions and expectations of trust.

Over the coming weeks, I will be experimenting with various approaches, beginning with writing, video and sound. With regular contributions to the Call Centre blog page, I will overlap both my personal experiences of the current pandemic with the many wider social, cultural and political predicaments. This will be a continuation of what I have started here, a playful meander through the complex terrain of trust, and its implications on our interpersonal and political landscape.

As Arnold may have whispered to his miniature horses. I’ll be back.


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