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Should We Trust Our Institutions?

Robert Dimuro

Posted on November 22, 2020 13:23

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There's no virtue in trusting institutions that haven't earned our trust.

Many pundits and prominent intellectuals talk about the need to trust our institutions and that many of the problems we currently face stem from our inability to do so. This is a concern shared by conservatives and liberals alike, albeit with different focuses.

Conservative talk show host Mark Levin talks at length about the preservation of civil society. For Levin, this entails a moral adherence to our Judeo-Christian heritage and a literal, inelastic interpretation of the Constitution. In other words, Levin calls on us to trust our religious institutions and the timeless nature of our founding documents in the assurance of our collective prosperity and well-being.

Liberals tend to have a different emphasis when it comes to trusting our institutions – one that is more pragmatic than philosophical. Neuroscientist Sam Harris asserts that we must trust what the science and data tell us – more specifically, what the scientific consensus and the consensus interpretation of data tell us. This epistemology leaves no room for skepticism, cynicism, or intuition outside of expert domain. As such, if the majority of experts believe that man-caused climate change is a serious threat to human civilization, or that shutting down whole economic sectors is the best way to handle a pandemic, or that widespread voter fraud is a myth, one has no basis to believe otherwise.

In the same way that conservatives call on us to have unwavering trust in the institutions they value, liberals call on us to have unwavering trust in many of our bureaucracies, international organizations, election processes, etc. In other words, liberals’ trust in expert consensus comes part and parcel with their trust in centralized government authority.

In my opinion, as soon as science becomes intermingled with politics and economics, as it does when the CDC and WHO issue Covid-19 guidelines and when scientific assessments about climate change skew perfectly along partisan lines, there's significant space for healthy skepticism of majority and minority consensuses. The most blatant example of economics/politics tainting expert opinion is when health experts lied about the effectiveness of mask usage to ensure the availability of masks for healthcare workers. When science is used as a tool to manufacture a specific outcome, it ceases to be science and turns into propaganda.

Our polling institutions also seem to be subject to political bias, as they didn’t correct for their inaccuracy in predicting 2016’s election results. However, since Nate Silver and the consensus of statisticians deemed the polls to be accurate, we were told there was no reason to believe otherwise. Moreover, despite the dishonesty, bias, and incompetence of various institutions in 2020, we’re still lectured about the virtue of trusting these institutions to this day.

In my opinion, there’s no virtue in trusting institutions that are less than transparent and have engaged in untrustworthy behavior. Our living in a civil society doesn’t hinge on whether or not we trust our institutions – it hinges on whether or not we hold their feet to the fire.

Robert Dimuro

Posted on November 22, 2020 13:23

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Source: Phys.org

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