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The Trust Fault Line
I have been writing about the COVID culture war in these journals, breaking down two active propositional sets: the COVID Thesis and the COVID Antithesis.
Given the complexity of the situation and its rapidly shifting information landscape, these propositional sets have often been changing, and I sense a higher-order understanding of this distinction is needed. My sense is that this understanding boils down to trust. Some new definitions…
COVID Thesis: having trust in the government’s assessment of the COVID situation and their response measures.
COVID Antithesis: not having trust in the government’s assessment of the COVID situation and their response measures.
Another move can be made here: a trust fault line can be applied to the hyperobject of the culture war itself. I was talking to Chris Kavanagh at The Stoa about this and referenced Michael Barkun’s term “stigmatized knowledge.” How Barkun defines the term: knowledge claims that have not been accepted by those institutions we rely upon for truth validation. This can be contrasted to “institutional knowledge”: institutions we rely upon for truth validation.
The definition is rich, and the “institutions we rely upon for truth validation” part is the crux. My overall sense is this: trust in the institutions that many of us rely upon to help us determine what is true, hence help us define reality, is the real focal point of the culture war. This is the point where memetic tribes, and those who get captured by them, get polarized.
Trust is a spectrum, and there seems to be a fault line on that spectrum. Depending on which side of the fault line you are on, you either become attracted to the Thesis pole, and trust in the legacy institutions we rely on for truth validation, or you become attracted to the Antithesis pole, and do not trust the legacy institutions we rely on for truth validation.
We can repurpose the classic pick-up artist mantra here, “attraction isn’t a choice,” and argue that trust isn’t a choice either. Your experiences, temperament, ambitions, and the incentive structures influencing how your livelihood is sourced will determine what side of the trust threshold you fall on, and what pole you are attracted to.
Looking at the etymology of the word trust, the German in me is naturally drawn to its etymological predecessor: trost, a word that means "comfort, consolation.” This resonates. If you trust someone, especially someone who you rely on or has some responsibility for you, then you feel comforted. Trust brings trost.
When you were young, you may have had trust in your parents. You may also have grown up trusting your government, the news, schools and academia, along with the experts they produced; basically, you trusted the “institutions we rely upon for truth validation,” or, said with more punch, institutions that had a monopoly in telling you what is real.
When I weave between worldviews and experience the ontological states that come with them, I can feel how comfort shows up in my body differently with each worldview. Worldviews attracted to the Thesis pole - the view that has trust and trost in our legacy truth validation institutions - does bring a sense of comfort to my body. The world is still crazy, but a certain sense of comfort is at the centre. I feel stabilized, and my body can relax.
When weaving into worldviews attracted to the Antithesis pole, I stop being comfortable, and start to feel anxious. The weight of the responsibility to understand the world, or to quickly find someone who does, becomes urgent. I risk becoming distressed, because I do not trust those in power to stop all the existential risks we are faced with, and I risk becoming paranoid, because I do not trust those who have power over me.
The trust is broken for many now, the Thesis position is bleeding, and many are being drawn to the Antithesis position. The trust has broken down so badly here in Canada the culture war has turned into a “soft war.” This was first seen with the Freedom Convoy protests and blockades, then with the subsequent invocation of the Emergencies Act and the freezing of bank accounts.
The “theater” of this soft war, aka COVID, might be coming to an end, but new soft wars will surely be emerging. In the book Soft War: The Ethics of Unarmed Conflict, Michael L. Gross and Tamar Meisels define soft war as:
By contrast, soft war is a much broader concept and includes all non-kinetic measures whether persuasive or coercive, including cyber warfare and economic sanctions, media warfare and propaganda, nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience, boycotts and “lawfare.”
While a soft war is happening in Canada, a hard war is happening on the other side of the world. Russia is invading Ukraine, China could invade Taiwan, and a multipolar world order may soon be upon us. As John Robb says, “history has restarted.” What other crazy stuff will now unfold in the coming months and years with the restarting of history?
Will international hot wars influence intranational soft wars? Will soft wars become hot themselves? Will IRA-like skirmishes start popping off across Europe and North America, with militarized Physicals combating Virtuals-controlled state enforcers? Are we entering the world of billionaire warlords, megacities as warzones, super-empowered individuals as chaos agents, and a perma-crisis unabashedly creeping towards a “world in chains” scenario?
Or maybe we are just heading back to normal. I do not know. I do know my “apocalyptic mood” is here to stay though. The world is uncertain and scary for many, and when things get uncertain and scary, people become extreme in their attraction to those they trust.
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