Have you seen the news about how a 9 year old girl was walking her dog in front of her house and had multiple neighbors call the police on her parents for neglect—even though these same neighbors walked multiple blocks to school alone when they were in kindergarten? Have you noticed the vulgarity that permeates our online interactions and our entertainment? Have you noticed how kids no longer play pick up sports in the street or park with the other kids who live nearby? The dominance of cruel dehumanizing smartphone aps like Grinder and Tinder which encourage us to treat each other like objects? To say nothing of the fact that Twitter positively encourages trolling and Xbox live is by in large a pit of snakes. Did you notice that Facebook censored Dennis Prager because he won’t condemn our president? And so on, and so forth, and the examples could be piled up indefinitely. It’s not exclusive to the secular or leftwing either, non-Christians have the same reaction when they look at Robert Jeffres or listen to Jay Seculo live. What’s happened here? It seems like we were at least somewhat sane last year, and now everything has gone off the rails and the only thing we can enjoy together is Stranger Things and Duane the Rock Johnson.
Our Trust is Gone
These things are merely symptoms of the deeper disease, the indicators of our real sickness. What they have in common that they indicate we no longer trust each other. At all. We’re safer than we’ve ever been, richer, more comfortable, better connected, with less crime, and yet for all that we’re more alienated than ever. Why? Because although we’re better connected, it’s not to people we trust; though we’ve never been nicer to each other than we are now, we don’t accept the data because we don’t trust it either. Now we form enclaves and retreat to groups we have vetted because it’s too dangerous to behave otherwise. We don’t trust our food (Organic vs GMO), our future (every decision our government makes), our eyes (Photoshop), our priests (this one is deserved), our doctors (somehow we really are against vaccinations these days) or really, anything outside our immediate family or personal experiences. I personally have had people I play pick up frisbee with shun me once they found out I was not a fellow leftist via the internet, even though all we did was talk about our shared activity while we were together. I don’t even blame them really, that’s where we’re at now as a society.
What’s happening is that our culture is in free fall and we are attempting to restore trust (because trust is absolutely essential to life, the same as oxygen or sleep) at the same time its being torn apart. We were a melting pot in America (a phrase you don’t hear much anymore) but at some point the walls of the pot were melted too and everything spilled out in every direction and now we’re looking around confused as angry mobs denounce the insufficiently enthusiastic. The social bonds that hold us together are being, and have been, frayed. The chaos is where we’re at now—that moment before it’s begun to be put back together in a completely different form while things are still in free-fall. And I don’t know what caused it. Was it targeted marketing done this to us? Has the abolition of our founding Western values? Or was it the spread of post-modernism encouraging us that feelings, not thoughts or reason, is all that matters? Does it even matter what the cause was since we’re here now?
There’s an interesting historic parallel to this, and that’s the American line during World War 2 after the Germans infiltrated the ranks with 150 operatives during Operation Griffin in 1944. The Nazis, desperate to blow up the remaining useful bridges to slow the Allied advance, selected their best remaining English speakers and had them hone their skills by conversing with America POWs, outfitted them some vehicles and uniforms, and sent them behind enemy lines to engage in sabotage and misdirection. The result was spectacular. We grew paranoid, asking each other difficult trivia questions in an attempt to find out who and wasn’t was a genuine GI. Suddenly, spies were everywhere, all around, and the guns were out. Nobody was exempt, not even foreign senior staff, of the idea that they were really a spy. It would have been funny if people hadn’t been killed in the frenzy.
We now function in this same zero-trust environment, almost everywhere, almost all the time. Everyone you meet starts as an enemy operative working behind the lines against the cause, with the result that small differences are put under a magnifying glass to see if they are detrimental or harmless. In this world it’s essential that before you say anything you take the time to gain the trust of those around you by introducing yourself and laying out your loyalty credentials. If you don’t, slight disagreements are taken to mean you’re operating from a completely different set of values and have totally different goals, and that to the extreme. That godly man who has four children in AWANA and has for years patiently shepherd difficult or troubled boys? He was suspiciously unenthusiastic about our new regime, so we told him he can’t use the bathroom while on campus, just in case he’s a child molester. If he’s not a child molester he’ll understand.
In Fairness to the Overzealous
One way to fight back against the zero-trust milieu is to be hyper vigilant against the smallest error and then call it out when you see it so others can be warned. The Christians that patrol the blogosphere and twitter make a point of over analyzing every little thing are doing this in an attempt to widen the net of trust. The two that come first to my mind are James White’s podcast, and Phil Johnson’s blog (although there are plenty of others.) Is this the best solution? I doubt it. Guessing the course of events by examining a few small movements doesn’t always work out well, and it tends to make you judgmental or pessimistic if you do it for too long. But sometimes these men are helpful and can offer valid suggestions on strengthening your own power of discernment. Andy Stanley was fingered for a heretic by the pyromaniacs long before he tipped his hand into Marcionism, and Rob Bell was spotted well before he made his move into apostasy, to say nothing of how Mark Driscoll telegraphed his ruin ahead of time. And that’s important to call out. And since this is a valid way to combat our zero trust problem, I’m not going to come down too hard on them; although I do personally despise the secular leftist version of this solution.
Some Other Solutions
There are other ways to fight back against the zero trust problem of course. Checking out completely through apathy is one solution. Becoming a totalitarian ego maniacal zealot who squashes all dissent by telling others what to think is another. Become a hermit or going Galt is a third, but it comes with just as many problems as the first two. Futilely pleading for peace and manners and begging people to listen to each other is another low impact solution that can make you feel better but fixes nothing. Hunkering down, pleading ignorance, and ignoring most of what goes on around you is actually not a bad way of coping, all things considered. But if you ask me, I think living by the wisdom of the Bible, showing respect to everyone, particularly those who rule over you, and being well read is about as good as it’s going to get right now.
Where does Society go from Here to Restore the Trust?
Candidly, I have no idea. What form does our larger society take after the burning fire of destruction is over? I don’t know. Who’s values will we adopt that won’t be so polarizing now that post modernism is bearing its poisonous fruit? Will it be a return to some kind of scientific modernism, a new bloom of Christianity, or further trip down the nonsense rabbit hole? Not sure. But I do think our impulse to vote as a block with those we most strongly identify with will get worse. That we will stop selecting mates from other viewpoints I think is likely. That there will be less room for ecumenicalism is assured, whatever else happens. In the meantime we ought to be aware that saying something positive about someone your group already hates and as it war with will only get you marked as an enemy sympathizer. But who knows? Perhaps we’ll be spurred to do things in person where its easier to get to know each other and build bridges.
All that to say: its bad out there, and the vast majority of people who are craving trust don’t trust you. They may want to, but they’re also thinking that hunkering down and ignoring you is a much safer plan, because generally it is. So before you write your post or retweet that article, remember that you’re in a zero trust environment and be aware that if your words don’t commend you to being trusted, you won’t be; you’ll just be making it worse.