I am often fond of reading Doctor Bart Barrett’s blog, although I disagree with some of the points he makes. One that I agree with wholeheartedly, however, is his post ‘One Dead Child, Two Foolish Parents,’ where he recounts the death of a baby of a disease that the baby could have been – should have been – vaccinated against. (It’s successor, Autism, Measles, Vaccines and Truth. Protecting the Lives of Innocent Children, is also worth reading.) Barrett’s conclusion, in which he makes it clear that he will not see any patient who has not been vaccinated, is a model for doctors everywhere. Vaccinating children – save for those who cannot be vaccinated – will save lives.
But what got me to thinking, at the end of the second article, was this point:
“What has amazed me the most in my discussions with patients (and in the responses to my blog post) is the emotion and anger associated with the anti-vaccine movement. Physicians and Public Health officials are not simply mistaken or wrong, we are often characterized as evil, deceptive, “in the pockets of Big Pharma,” or motivated by greed and avarice. The most gracious of the anti-vaccine responders express pity, displayed in condescending remarks that suggest I have been duped or am simply unaware. To imply that we physicians would either knowingly harm a child or remain wilfully ignorant of information that may benefit a child under our care is an accusation I find difficult to process.”
I find it difficult to process too, but I think I understand it all too well.
Human societies are held together by either trust or force. Force-based societies (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, etc) act on the assumption that people just cannot be trusted under any circumstances. The rulers have no faith in the people they ruled – and, unsurprisingly, the ruled tend to show the same lack of trust in their rulers. When the edifice collapses, as it always does, it leaves behind traumatized people who have no conception of the value of trust. And why should they? If you grow up in a society where the only way to get ahead is to lie, cheat and exploit those under you, you’re going to consider a trusting individual a sucker.
Trust-based societies work on the assumption that everyone is trustworthy until proven otherwise.
Societies like Britain and America rose to assume global predominance, at least in part, because they had evolved legal systems that supported trust. Breaking a contract in Britain or America reflected badly on the breaker – and the courts punished them. There were strong reasons to keep faith at all levels of society. The police, for example, were trustworthy because corrupt officers were rarely allowed to flourish. Government ministers and civil servants were regarded as fair-minded men who put the interests of their country first.
I’m not saying that everyone was perfect, or that there weren’t winners and losers. I’m saying that people were expected to act, at least in public, to a high standard; ‘gentleman’ wasn’t a rank, but a social status most men aspired to hold. The word of a gentleman was always regarded as good.
The problem facing us now is that social trust is falling apart.
Take, for example, the Catholic Church. Hit by a series of sex scandals, the Church’s first (and last) inclination was to circle the wagons, rather than rooting out the guilty and exterminating them. It lost a great deal of trust when it proved itself untrustworthy. Then there are politicians; Nixon uses the power of the Oval Office to commit crimes, Clinton lies under oath, Obama lies knowing full well that millions of Americans will lose their health plans, Hilary keeps going despite a string of criminal acts and lies that would bring anyone else down, UK MPs steal expenses, the EU allows Greece and a handful of other countries to join despite knowing that the Greeks cooked the books (accounting for the financial crisis) …
Should I go on? There are question marks raised over doctors who misdiagnose female patients. Policemen in America are either racists who gun down innocent black children for fun or unfairly hounded when they take thugs and criminals off the streets, their lives destroyed as they are chased through the courts. Politicians in Germany, Norway and Sweden seem determined to keep inviting economic migrants into the country despite the soaring crime rate and social disintegration they bring in their wake. The media fawns on its favoured candidates and attacks those it dislikes for the merest of missteps. Decent teachers are unable to keep order in the classrooms – and criminal teachers are taking sexual advantage of their charges. The bankers live large while ordinary savers lose their cash. And so on … and so on.
You can’t trust anyone these days.
Throughout the West, ordinary people are becoming increasingly convinced that society is breaking down because, at base, they no longer trust. The societies that birthed them, the governments they vote for and fund with their taxes, are no longer on their side. And why should they feel otherwise when their concerns are not just dismissed, but they are personally attacked for daring to open their mouths?
This may not be objectively true. But people are believing it in increasingly large numbers.
The point is not that there are bad apples. There are bad apples everywhere. The point is that we are no longer rooting them out. There are fewer ways to lose – and lose big – by breaking trust.
And so our society is starting to crumble. People voting for Trump or Sanders are doing it because they feel disempowered, because they feel that traditional politicians are no longer remotely trustworthy. And if we don’t clean up this mess, our society will collapse into anarchy …
I wish I felt more optimistic in this, the first month of 2016. But I don’t.