With the proliferation of fake news in real news cycles and the advent of alternative facts as actual facts, there’s little wonder that trust is in short supply these days. When it comes to formerly stalwart institutions such as media, government and business, untangling the Gordian knot of what’s legitimate and what isn’t has become such a chore that giving into the undertow of a questionable new world order or living in a perpetual state of doubt appear to be the only viable options—save for losing one’s mind altogether.
While believers and skeptics may reside at polar ends, what they share in common is an acute sense of distrust for, well, just about everything. To say that the whole of society is collectively experiencing a massive case of trust issues only underscores the fact that although ideas and opinions may vary wildly, it turns out the underpinnings of belief are not based on anything that resembles objective reality—and probably never were.
According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, consumer confidence in establishment organizations such as business, media, government and NGOs has been steadily declining over the past few years, leading to historically low levels of trust in the most recent study. Among those who participated in Edelman’s global report, which surveyed adults over age 18 in 28 countries, trust in media fell to an all-time low of 43%, trust in government dropped to 41% and trust in corporate leadership cratered at 37%.
For media- and tech-savvy Millennials, the erosion of trust has become so severe that only 2 out of 10 major institutions—the military and the scientific community—garnered a majority of positive support, according to a poll of young people conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. In the same poll, 88% of Millennials said they “only sometimes” or “never” trust the press and 86% of Millennials said they distrust Wall Street. Millennials were equally dubious of government, with 74% saying they “sometimes” or “never” trust that the federal government will do the right thing.
When it comes to religion, Millennials’ views have become markedly more negative over time, with 55% of Millennials surveyed by the Pew Research Center rating churches and other religious organizations as having a positive impact on the country compared to 73% of young people responding to the same question five years ago. Indeed, an increasingly negative or neutral view of organized religion is reflected in older respondents as well, with each successive generation being less positive about the church compared to their elder generations.
The underlying causes for why so many institutions have failed to earn trust nowadays may simply be a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. At least that’s what some guy named Winston Churchill once said. Or, maybe society’s collective distrust stems from some people’s personal echo chambers that have been telling them that living in this overly connected, overly globalized world just isn’t worth the hassle after all, and it’s better to revel in the remembrance of things past. At least that’s what some guy named Marcel Proust once said. Or, maybe—just maybe—the current epidemic of distrust is due to the overwhelming deluge of lies and misinformation that have become part and parcel of the zeitgeist and essential to everyone’s current daily media diets—for the foreseeable future, at least.