The loss of trust between people in modern technological society is still another component leading to the rise of fundamentalism. A loss of trust leads to a lack of a sense of certainty in daily life, which leads people to search for certainty someplace else – namely the spiritual world. To obtain that sense of certainty, one must make a complete surrender to God and to the religious practices and beliefs that surround a particular religion’s interpretation of God. And this, of course, leads to fundamentalism.
In this article, I’m going to explore this line of thought more thoroughly, discussing what trust means, and how the loss of it is so pernicious to the people who live in modern technological society. There are different ways of approaching the subject of the nature of trust, but I propose discussing it from the notion that there are two basic kinds of trust. There is instrumental trust which is a belief that another person will be able and willing to perform a particular task as an independent figure, completing the task in the way that is expected of him. This can be an expectation that a person will perform a task or tasks in one particular instance or that a person will continue to perform a task or tasks over time whenever he is asked to do so. This is an operational trust that doesn’t speak to any aspect of the nature of a person outside his capacity and his willingness to perform one particular task or group of tasks.
The second kind of trust is intrinsic trust. This is trust in another person’s nature insofar as the nature can provide an unconditional emotional grounding for the person doing the trusting. It is a more intangible kind of trust that deals with the very essence of the person being trusted. On another level, it assumes that the person being trusted has a coherent sense of self that is at once both accessible to the person doing the trusting as well as totally reliable.
In the first kind of trust, the focus is on how reliably a person can function, much the same way we would focus on how reliably a machine functions. To the extent that there is an emotional bond based on instrumental trust, it is a bond of conditional liking or loving. The instrumental trust leads to an emotional bond the duration of which is contingent upon the continued effective performance of the tasks for which the receiver of the trust has been designated responsible. In pure cases of instrumental trust, when the receiver of the trust ceases to effectively perform the tasks for which he has been designated, the giver of the trust ceases to maintain a positive emotional bond with the receiver.
This is very different from intrinsic trust where the receiver of the trust is trusted as a reliable person whether or not during any given period of time he is performing tasks which demonstrate his reliability. In this case, a strong flowing continual emotional bond is maintained with the receiver of the trust and goes on existing even during periods of time when there is no necessity to perform trustworthy tasks. This is an emotional bond that typically exists among primates and other evolved animals. It involves the kind of trust on which families are based. Without some intrinsic trust, families cannot exist. The children of primates and other evolved animals need to have intrinsic trust in their parents, if they are going to develop and grow up to be normal members of their group.
But the problem is that as modern technology takes over more and more aspects of daily life, modern machines increasingly act as mirrors and models for all the humans that live among them. And people increasingly adopt their expectations for machines as their expectations for themselves and other people. Which means that people increasingly focus on instrumental trust in their dealings with other people rather than intrinsic trust. They will trust another person to perform certain agreed-upon tasks, but the trust doesn’t go beyond the surface activity of those tasks. It doesn’t go to a person’s deeper nature, trusting who a person is, such that the trust would extend to the person both in terms of how he performs in unforeseen situations, as well as how he relates to people. Instrumental trust doesn’t delve into whether or not a person has a trustworthy character. Or whether or not he is an honorable person. These kinds of questions aren’t being asked, because people are increasingly expected to act like machines rather than like primates. Intrinsic trust is not expected in situations where employers show little loyalty to workers and increasingly use contract workers. There is no need to have deeper trust in a worker, when a person is simply required to do certain work projects and then the boss is done with him. And the worker knows that he can’t trust the boss to give him constant employment.
Few people today like to make the deep commitments that involve intrinsic trust. Many couples feel more comfortable living together indefinitely rather than getting married. Children frequently allow their work to take them to distant cities far away from their home cities with their family ties. And as people move around for work, their friendships shift as well. In today’s world, human connections are increasingly contingent upon the functional needs of the moment. For many people, this contingency in human bonding and the lack of opportunity to have deep grounded intrinsic trust in others creates a very troubling situation for them.
There is still another level in which people experience a lack of intrinsic trust and this is in a lack of trust in themselves. If a person, in unconsciously modeling himself after machines, becomes reduced to a series of different functions required for the different areas of his life (work functions as well as functions required for romance, friendship, family, recreation, religion, etc.), then there is no core self in which to feel intrinsic trust in himself. He loses his capacity to feel a global confidence in himself - a flowing, continual, blendable bond with himself. He has a lot of self-definition with all of his different separate functions, all his different mental parts, but he lacks self-coherence, a sense of unity of self. He feels fractured and emotionally stressed and in danger of losing himself.
One way to feel a sense of coherence again is to become a part of a larger coherence that will help to grow the person together again. And if that coherence cannot be easily found among all the fragmented people that typically surround a person, then a person can look someplace that is not a part of mainstream life in modern technological society. I’m talking about the enveloping cohesive world created by fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalist religion provides an emotional certainty, an emotional grounding missing in most other interpersonal areas of modern society. A firm belief in a demanding God or an enveloping spiritual force provides the ultimate grounding and the intense emotional bond that many modern people need in order to feel whole again. And the other adherents of the religion help to reinforce a person’s commitment, so that he can sustain the benefits that come from a strong bonded connection to God and to the principles of the religion.
Of course, as has been previously pointed out, a fundamentalist believer has to repeatedly hammer his connection to his religion onto his field of experience through many rites, rituals, prayers and other religious ceremonies, in effect because it is hard to sustain his intrinsic trust in his God and his religion, when he is surrounded by so much distracting confusing sensory distortion from the modern technological living environment. He operates out of a posture of what I have called conative acceleration - a speeding up of his will - in order to push aside the distracting sensory distortion in his living environment and focus on building a sense of grounding in his religion and spiritual community. But because he is constantly hammering onto his field of experience with repetitive actions, with rites, rituals, prayers and other religious ceremonies, he begins to increasingly become like the modern technology, the machines from which he is trying to stand apart, with his fervent religious path.
So, in truth, the problem today is not a loss of all trust, but rather a loss of intrinsic trust. Fundamentalism can lead a person to gain back a sense of intrinsic trust through absolute faith and through a tight religious community, but in the process he becomes robotized. Certainly there have to be other more natural methods of restoring a sense of intrinsic trust and a coherent sense of self apart from taking the pathway of fundamentalism.
The topic for this article was suggested by Dr. Jorge Cappon.
© 2015 Laurence Mesirow