Defined by Disillusionments


Last month, The Economist ran this article laying out the latest signs of the the erosion of public trust in government. “Only 40% of citizens in the mostly-rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development expressed confidence in their national governments in 2012, down five percentage points from 2007.”

I’ve reading and writing about the crisis of institutional legitimacy for years now, and I was pleased to learn this morning that this recent article in The Economist was more popular than any other article tweeted by the magazine in all of 2013. I interpret this as a sign of rising public awareness of the deep lapse of leadership not only in government but also in business and organized religion.

In 2013, our disillusionments and disenchantments define us and organize us more strongly than our illusions ever did. Sure, some people still cling to ideological fictions (e.g., God, country, democracy, free markets, etc.) But even the most ardent believers don’t really believe anymore, in my reading of the zeitgeist. They still espouse belief, but they no longer feel it. We are now a global community of cynics, and a steady stream of fresh evidence continues to vindicate and reinforce our cynicism. In turn, this cynicism feeds hopes of redemption, which explains the success of Barack Obama’s dazzlingly hopeful  campaign in 2008. The subsequent abdication of the very spirit of “Yes We Can” has understandably deepened our distrust.

This is certainly a trend worth watching in 2014. We should also closely watch related trends and metrics such as declining voter turnouts in state and federal elections.

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