Our institutions: seeking trust or demanding loyalty?
I’ve written in recent posts about individual agency and the macro (arguably meta) matter of Truth. For those who subscribe to the notion of absolute truth, there will be a range of views about where such truth originates and how it comes to be known. Some will argue that it is ingrained inside every person naturally. Others will argue that an individual can tap into the source of truth once he/she knows where – and how – to look. Yet others will say that truth is intermediated to us via other people or institutions of various sorts. Or a combination of all of these.
In the western world, everywhere you look, institutions are increasingly under stress. This seems to be happening regardless of whether they are agencies and departments of democracy and government, universities, corporations and companies, the military, or supranational organisations. There is a palpable sense of besiegement in all quarters.
I think this has a lot to do with a crisis of confidence in institutions generally. In the past, there would usually be a general consensus about institution’s core purpose that could be simply expressed, e.g. excellence in education, reasonable profits for shareholder within legal and compliance requirements, etc. However, every institution is now expected to play the role of activist in bringing about social (and sometimes political) change. There is everything good about making sure institutions are good corporate citizens and minimising risk of injury, avoiding unacceptable pollution etc., but the nature of what is required is suddenly radically different to before and has reached the point of subverting their original core purposes.
Sure, core purposes have always changed over time as societal outlooks have evolved, and such change wasn’t always uncontentious let alone smooth, but the last decade or so has seen massive upheavals in bewildering ways. I don’t much like using the expression because it is too much of a catch-all, but what seems to be behind most of it is the “Woke” agenda. Its incursions into just about every place in society bear all the hallmarks of the Communist playbook used for capturing institutions in Eastern Europe in the late 1940s, initially by stealth from carefully placed insiders and then by force from within. By the time the general population had worked out what was going on, it was way too late to roll it back because by then the ability to terrorise dissidents and to mobilise a mob had been established.
There are long articles and entire books devoted to the Woke revolution and I won’t attempt to replicate those here. Instead, I want to make two observations.
Firstly, the crisis of purpose in our institutions reflects our collective crisis of purpose generally with the loss of norms based on the concept of absolute truth. In a world well advanced in postmodern sensibility and as a result devoid of meaning, why should institutions stand firm, or indeed why should they stand at all except as tools for the use of arbitrary power?
Secondly, this loss of nerve makes them more vulnerable to a deliberate campaign to undermine through orchestrated conflicts and illogical dictates that offend common sense (a clear echo of totalitarian takeover techniques), resulting in dissenters simply giving up and walking away.
Amidst all the cognitive dissonance, trust between institutions and people completely breaks down.Is that a bad thing?It depends who you ask, but I think that is the point.Loss of trust is the means by which a different type of relationship is required: that of total loyalty, with ever more tortuous tests of that loyalty and sanctions for non-compliance.Trust no longer comes into it.