Our frightened, fake world
It feels like the world is out of sorts Of course civilization has been here before. Some might compare it to the cultural anomie that followed the Great War. That at least could be ascribed the widespread horror of the trenches. As John Buchan observed in his novel Three Hostages, "the moral imbecile ... had been more or less a sport before the War; now he was a terribly common product, and throve in batches and battalions. Cruel, humourless, hard, utterly wanting in sense of proportion, but often full of a perverted poetry and drunk with rhetoric--a hideous, untamable breed had been engendered."
Today we live in a lesser kind of anomie, the more disturbing for the vagueness of its origins. There are no trenches we can blame this time for today's moral imbeciles. And there is the nagging suggestion as just as there proved no way to rid the world of these "batches and battalions" of future Bolsheviks and Nazis until the even greater tragedy of World War 2 burned nihilism off the planet there might be a crisis in the 21st century too.
All the same "trust is collapsing in America," as Uri Friedman writes in the Atlantic in 2018. "At a time of prosperity ... only a third of Americans now trust their government 'to do what is right'—a decline of 14 percentage points from last year ... forty-two percent trust the media, relative to 47 percent a year ago... 'In God We Trust,' goes the motto of the United States. In God, and apparently little else." And the anomie is not confined to America. The Sydney Morning Herald reported the same affliction in sunny Down Under.
After a year when voters worldwide thumbed their noses at mainstream politics and the elite, a landmark annual survey has found trust in major institutions is eroding at a rapid rate. And the effect is particularly pronounced here in Australia.
"We're talking about a trust crisis that is causing a systemic meltdown," says Edelman president Richard Edelman. Social researcher Hugh Mackay told Fairfax Media: "The big picture for Western societies, but especially Australia, is that respect and trust for institutions in general is in decline. That's not a healthy attitude for any society."
Yet the more we talk about it the less we are able rid ourselves of the depression. This malaise has made commenting on current events an exercise in frustration. The facts about almost anything are so much in dispute that writers are merely left prating over the annoyances that bedevil us all. Trending on Twitter today is the complaint about #ThingsPeopleTakeTooSeriously. We live in a state of permanent outrage.
The desire for novelty has been replaced by a deep yearning to be left alone. It is almost as if we would pay the media NOT to send us into a daily lather of anger until the subscription runs out again. But a self-imposed media silence would not answer the worrisome question raised by all mysterious historical anomies, whether like the Lost Generation of the 20s we are doomed to be cleansed by fire before emerging into trust and faith again.