Who to trust

As I write this, the US is still sleeping with only a few hours to go until they wake up to the day of the inauguration of their new president. I don’t usually get involved in political debates on my blog and neither will I now. However, I don’t think recognizing that what Trump represents and the rhetoric he uses is problematic and often hateful, is taking a political stand. It’s rather adopting an ethical and humanitarian perspective.

But what has been happening in the US certainly isn’t unique. It is part of a trend that we have been seeing for a while now, in the Western world anyway. And with upcoming elections in Europe, I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of it. Although this development has been and continues to be awful and scary, we can only hope that if anything good comes from it, it is a realization that we just have to do something. All of us. We cannot just sit around and think that the problem is somewhere else. It is here, it is among us, and whether we like it or not we are all a part of the society that has created this. So if anything good is to come of all of this, it is people coming together as active citizens, with a will to work to make all of our countries more humane places.

As a citizen I find these developments horrifying and highly worrisome. However as a sociologist I have to say I also observe them with interest, because based on what social theorists have been saying for years, this really isn’t very surprising.

There is something about the way of the world, which is different from anything experienced before. As Anthony Giddens writes in his book Runaway World: How Globalisation is Reshaping Our Lives, “We live in a world of transformations, affecting almost every aspect of what we do. For better or for worse, we are being propelled into a global order that no one fully understands, but which is making its effect felt upon all of us.”

Technology has played a huge part in this. It has made the flow of information instantaneous and without boundaries; it has made the world a smaller place. However technology, the information age, and new forms of media – like social media – have also helped create a new power center. We are all involved in creating and spreading news, and we are also involved in deciding what news is spread. This in turn creates a distorted world image, one effect of which is an overestimation of risk. Ulrich Beck coined the expression ‘risk society’, which he defines as our way to systematically deal with the insecurities and hazards that modernization has brought.

What this means in practical terms, is an inevitable questioning of the very foundation of our society. No longer do we trust authorities. No longer do we trust doctors to know what’s best for our health. The world has become a scary place with an overload of information, and we just don’t know what to believe anymore. On top of this, there is a lot of false information going around the internet, and unfortunately this false information gets a lot of clicks spreading it even further. And let’s be honest, most of us aren’t very good at recognizing what is false and what is trustworthy. So we trust no one. Or we decide ourselves what is true and what isn’t. Or we believe populist leaders who promise some relief by saying that all this is crap and that they will make life (or America in Trump’s case) great again.

It’s worrying.

So we are definitely living in a time of crisis. But a crisis can also bring with it creativity, clarity, and change. Let’s do that. Let’s use this crisis in a constructive way. And let’s do it together.

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