The cult of distrust

There is a resulting disorientation, where plausible human sentiment now has a menacingly self-fulfilling quality. There is now the cult of suspicion, where everything seems tainted. But the cult of suspicion has weakened our grip on reality because, in part, it is driven by a desire to reassert our own innocence; we reclaim our sense of virtue by making others an object of suspicion. There is now the cult of hyper partisanship, where no issue can be taken on its own terms. Partisanship performs the same function of affirming innocence in the face of reality. We must be virtuous because we are with the right party or with the right cause. There is a cult of shrillness, again to affirm innocence. In a society where visibility matters, I assert my innocence not by being exemplary, but by being shrill. There is much to get angry about and condemn. But we see its need in a mood of triumphalism rather than as occasioning sadness. There is the excessive fascination with hypocrisy, which as Judith Shklar had pointed out, is a "splendid weapon of psychic warfare, but not a principle of governance". There is a cult of distrust. Again, distrust here does not perform the function of allowing us to discriminate between worthy and unworthy. What it allows us to do is hold on to our conception of the truth unchallenged. Since no one is credible, I can hold on to whatever I believe. This is not a discourse coming to terms with reality, it is grasping for auguries of innocence.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, and a contributing editor for 'The Indian Express'

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