No more trust
Lubna Abdel Aziz, Tuesday 22 Jun 2021

Is this a new and unfamiliar world we are stepping into? All that was once familiar, comfortable, and intimate seems to be shrouded by some strange obtrusive fog, both unsettling and unpleasant.

What is it? The pandemic mask has dimmed our view. Have we been in a battle and are coming out on the losing side. If we unmask our impetuous status we discover the essence of confusion. We have lost trust — trust in our neighbour, our institutions, our government and ourselves.

It is believed that following the horrors and destruction of a war, morality begins to decline. That must be it. Our war is the pandemic and we are experiencing an unmistakable decline in human morality.

Morals are the principles that keep us grounded, united, homogenous. They guide individuals — individuals conduct all society’s institutions.

We wish to affiliate with moral people. We judge them by their morality.

But alas, even the concept of morality experiences changes, with which we have to cope.

When a man is choosing a son-in-law for his daughter what are the qualities he would seek? Yesterday it was honesty, compassion, kindness. Today he might prefer intelligence, success, wealth. There is nothing wrong with either, but subtle changes have occurred since yesterday.

Is one set of values of the past? Not necessarily. Some moral principles transcend Time and Culture, but Morality does not seem to be fixed. Like a moveable feast, a set of morals can be rejected by the young and replaced with more ‘modern’ forms of behaviour. The older generation has no other choice but to accept.

It is indeed a dilemma when those modern traits overwhelm such values as infidelity, cheating or lying. Young people today have become alienated from standard to custom-made morality.

When it comes to institutions we are at a loss as to who we trust. Not businessmen or politicians, that is a given, but do we trust banks, schools, hospitals? Do we trust the press, religion, science?

During the melee of the early days of the pandemic, the world looked to the US for leadership. The US looked to Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the Centre for Disease Control. It was a big mistake.

Fauci, now 80, exhibited little ability and less knowledge. Judging from his emails under scrutiny at present by Congress, Fauci fumbled his way through, rejecting China’s advice to use masks, to limit or ban travel, but soon after he would reverse his opinion recommending up to three masks. He at first thought masks “are for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection” rather than protecting the healthy from becoming infected. This man of science was more interested in how Brad Pitt impersonated him on Saturday Night Live. “That made my year,” he said.

He should have “followed the science” and not TV.

Meanwhile, coronavirus engulfed the world and swept away the trust we had in the media, our source of information.

Whatever happened to the code of ethics and the canons of journalism?

Objectivity, accuracy, fairness and public accountability, the pillars of true journalism… were rolled in a bottle and flung in the deep blue sea.

Does the venerable New York Times still publish “All the News fit to print” or any news not fit to print? How many fabricated stories have been seen on its front pages, and later retracted in some minute, obscure spot in a few words?

How can we trust journalism, once revered, when it is shameless in omitting or distorting facts?

Often governments are partners in this travesty. They feed the media with news and the compliment is repaid handsomely. They live off each other.

Science, we believed followed a totally different course. It is with science that we draw a red line, yes? No.

It is calamitous that science has lost its lustre, integrity and social responsibility. Researchers have been caught altering figures and facts especially when it came to climate change. Scientists have a responsibility to reveal truthfully and impartially the result of their findings for the welfare of the public not the pharmaceutical community.

In 1939 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt informing him of Germany’s intent to develop atomic bombs from enriched uranium. Though a life-long-pacifist himself he could not ignore the threat to world peace and urged Roosevelt to develop an atomic bomb to counteract German threats. Though often derided for it, his heart was in the right place.

History contains striking examples of scientists who demonstrated a strong commitment to social responsibility. It is hard to do that now and cut the funding of big conglomerates.

Evidence that smoking kills was covered up by the tobacco industry for decades, preferring the profit to human lives. Still, there are 1.1 billion smokers worldwide.

Do we have false knowledge about climate change? There are two camps divided in opinion. One stands to gain financially by spreading fake news and building solar systems that do not work.

It is a new world when journalists prefer fake news, and scientists prefer dead bodies. The nature of lying is no longer considered a lack of morality, but a pat on the back, if successful.

There has always been an internal struggle within mankind between the forces of good and evil yet we do little to combat the fakery.

Adam and Eve did eat of the forbidden fruit, where was their trust?

“Morality is a private and costly luxury.”

Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 June, 2021 edition ofAl-Ahram Weekly