Trust Our Institutions

Trust Our Institutions

So, this sort of thing. I get a similar feeling about this that I get about the Everything You Do Online Will Be Online Forever stuff.

Roughly speaking: even leaving aside the (broadly correct) stuff that people like Jeremy Keith bring up about it not even being that true most of the time, it's not like people remembering the misdeeds of your past is a uniquely terrible development. Go back a bit and most people would be born, live and die in the same place. (In many places, they still are.) Further, because "community" was a real, irl thing, not something that people are forced to seek out on the internet, you'd be surrounded by a fair number of people who'd known you your whole life and quite probably remembered a lot about you. The only way that you could escape the embarrassing mistakes of your past would be to leave entirely. It's the stuff they talk about in articles like this—the downside of community being "the constant scrutiny, everybody knowing everybody else’s business." You'd hope that the more social form of remembering would be ameliorated by accumulated context and the passage of time, but there's no guarantee of that.

I can't help but feel like it's a similar situation with this turbo-Fake News thing. For most people, for most of human history, The Truth was what we had seen for ourselves or been told by other people we trust. I'm not much of an idea-historian, so I don't know when you'd say that institutions became enough of a thing that people had trust in them in the abstract (beyond personal relationships with their local representatives) but I feel like it can't be much beyond 100 years or so, as (in my mind) it really requires mass literacy and mechanisms for disseminating information (though possibly I'm way off-base with that). I'm not saying that this relative recency makes it trivial—if you were to withdraw e.g. electricity slowly from modern society, the results would probably be quite bad. It's just surprising how much of the solid-seeming foundations of modern states are built on sand. Reductively, one might ask: if all it takes to undermine the foundations of this thing is some nerds working out clever ways to tell lies, should we really have been putting all that weight on them in the first place?

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