How Do We (Re)Build Social Trust?

“Would you consider not being insulting by default?”

“Awww, did someone’s feelings get hurt? Screw you, douchebag!”

If you’re on the internet, you’re no stranger to it. This type of interaction is part of the increasingly radical polarisation that shows up everywhere. In this era, a public request to assert a personal boundary — no matter how reasonable and nonviolent its presentation — is nearly guaranteed to provoke a disproportionate response.

The words “politically correct” have become a flak-shield — by its proponents and opponents alike.

“I’m not politically correct!” is one noteworthy politician’s attempt to give himself permission to be a jerk with impunity. The reason that it works and even earns applause (shocking as that is) is at least partly because social criticism has become unyieldingly partisan and impossibly fragmented.

For example, he is accused of being misogynist. That’s the buzzword which is expected to galvanise women — especially self-identifying feminists — into action. But it specifically ignores his similar treatment of men. In fact the buzzword itself inoculates us from collectively perceiving reality: he’s actually misanthropic.

I should clarify — I’m not saying that he generally hates people. I mean that his is a cut-throat style of leadership — people who actively support him will be loved and rewarded. I believe he draws that line very close to himself, and he seems pretty fickle about it. If you happen to find yourself outside of it, all bets are off.

His opponents should have the clearly dominant hand here. His crass, swaggering belligerence and sketchy track-record should have instantly disqualified him from any public credibility.

He should have been laughed out of contention!

But he hasn’t been. Why? Well, not only are the critics made weak by division, the baffling, trivial, territorial infighting between various sparring ideologies (and micro-ideologies) has created an environment of latent rage that said politician has been able to tap into and evidently unite in his favour.

The truth he is leveraging: focusing on political correctness does not provide a way forward.

I believe in respect of people. That’s what I take politically correct to mean. But the way it has been effected is largely a focus on the negative — a constant preachy indictment on everything which (and everyone who) doesn’t reflect our chosen course for society.

Instead of championing respect, it goes out of its way to aggressively disrespects its infringers:

  • Don’t mistreat people.
  • Don’t offend people.
  • Even a little.
  • Ever.

Indeed, in our current socio-political climate, a micro-aggression can get the same attention as actual aggression. We’ve lost any cohesive cultural perspective on levels.

  • A flippant comment can be equated to rape.
  • An unpleasant facial expression can be conflated with assault.
  • A tasteless joke can be directly linked to lynching.

These supposed intents of what our society should not be are enforced by demeaning, cajoling, mocking — in short, shaming. And with that intent, it seems like no rhetorical device is out of bounds — using the most inflated, reactionary and pathological language is apparently regarded as acceptable practice.

The tricky thing here: shaming only works if critical mass is strongly in your favour.

And…it is not.

It also only works if your targets accept the shame you’re trying to heap on them.

And…they do not!

Additionally, and this is no small irony, shame is one of the primary intents that social justice warriors claim to reject.

This just adds to the dissonant hypocrisy, and so fuels the broader anger — the system’s would-be insurgents behave in the exact same ways that they call out the so-called establishment for.

Whether objecting to tone or content, armies of social justice warriors do not bring progress. (Nor do, uh, their intentionally offensive, equally reactionary opponents, if that needs to be said!)

We aren’t going to solve problems by escalating controversies.

If there is any hope of resolution, it is in backing up and identifying common values. Deep down, the PC and the anti-PC crowd want similar rights and similar freedoms. We simply have to find the language that resonates in those frequencies.

By identifying those underlying tenets, I believe we can build something better.

We are rebuilding a broader society that has never had such profound and unpredictable engagement before. We used to be able to get away with assuming we were all on the same page — that we knew who our usses and thems were. We assumed that we knew the values that connect us. We thought we could call out anonymity from anonymity.

We no longer can.

It’s tricky, delicate work — more delicate than some allow, less delicate than others insist.

There are alternatives to this approach to reconciliation. Like we could have our society entirely collapse under the weight of all its inherent contradictions.

I’m not advocating that. We should be aware though that some politicians might be. Whether they know it or not.