Robin Jourdan examines trust in democracy in her third blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Is trust in democracy in crisis today? No, and yes. The Pew Research Center (2017) reported that nearly 60 percent of countries worldwide are operating democracies; an all-time high. But, fewer than 20 are in practice “fully democratic” governments.
Conversely, economic-governance policies like the democracy-connected Washington Consensus are in decline today, some wonder if “faith” in democracy is endangered. Of course, what is meant is “trust”. Democracy can creep into despotism and dictatorship in response to distrust of leaders and growing inequality, both seemingly abundant today. News sources tell us that young people worldwide are increasingly disillusioned with democracy. This disillusion grows out of feelings of betrayal from political gridlock and ineffective governance. Globally, they are less partisan rather than less democratic in their leanings.
Social intelligence signals that when party affiliation becomes a religious, tribal-like identity, the odds stack against compromise as is evidenced today. Some put the blame on information glut, wars, and lack of credibility. How might this impact a world leaning more on technologies that are increasingly connected and autonomously sensing for a command-triggering fact?
Facts aren’t the problem. They are uncomfortable, sometimes inconvenient, and a free society must allow for them. The phrase “post-fact” is a coping mechanism for those reacting to facts that cause them to question their belief systems. Politics and politicians spin and lie. Always it has been the case. When prominent voices in the room change the facts to fit their view of the world, it’s concerning. Note that people over age 50 are worse than younger people at distinguishing falsified facts.
The public has faced railroading before. Minstrels and magicians did this as a show. Playing this out to the later-half of this century means an intensification of today’s overwhelming news flow; to game the system and grow distraction. Without efforts to also raise our collective social intelligence, the most vulnerable will live in a dystopia. Incremental improvements do little if polarization grows. Fact-checking costs to businesses may become financially unsustainable. Mountains of data and a further breakdown in public trust poses a potent risk.
If technology isn’t the provider of trust in the second half of this century, it must rest with us. For example, if 100% of birth certificates are issued; this has the potential to shift society in a transformative manner. Birth certificates document the birth of a person. Once supplied, the contractual obligations with the government begins; i.e., access to the rights, privileges, and consumption of citizenship. Shockingly, millions today don’t have this vital record.
When a consumer doesn’t trust a brand to deliver on its promises; if afforded choices, they vote with their wallets. Every brand has to build trust, i.e., faith, even if that brand is governance.
When we feel the system is rigged against us, disillusionment grows. Intelligence must evolve to stay ahead of the magicians. Not to learn how the trick is done, but know that it is a trick. Democracy isn’t a given: it is messy. Democracy isn’t an economic system. Consumers of democracy win so long as they have trusted options available. This is not true in systems that limit choices and access to them. Faith in a democracy means to believe in the people to decide; and if flawed, trust to choose again.
© Robin Jourdan 2019