In a world of distrust are Indians too credulous?

By Prabhakar Mundkur

Edelman publishes an annual Trust Barometer and the report for 2017 is just out. Its contents are fitting with the beginning of a new era – the era of post-truth. According to Ralph Keyes, author of the book ‘The Post-Truth Era’, “at one time we had truth and lies but now we have truth, lies, and statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false.”

Lie to me

‘Post-truth’ made a controversial entry into the renowned Oxford dictionary as the ‘Word of the Year 2016’. As per their definition, it’s ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.[su_pullquote]‘Post-truth’ made a controversial entry into the renowned Oxford dictionary as the ‘Word of the Year 2016’.[/su_pullquote] For instance, “In this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire.” Or one might say, “Some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age.”

One must then suppose that the Edelman Trust Barometer 2017 is reflective of this new age. In fact, the 2016 report summed up the year gone by in the phrase ‘the growing inequality of trust’. However, they’ve gone a step further this year in describing it as ‘trust in crises’.

Unprecedented crisis of trust

Edelman assesses the level of trust that societies put into the four institutional pillars of a nation – government, business, media and NGOs. They open with a visualization of the trust gap back that has been widening ever since 2012. It isn’t hard to see why the widest chasms have been in the United States and the United Kingdom – 2016 has been a tumultuous year for both. But France in the third position might come as a surprise to some.

The trust gap between the public and the government widens in 2017. | Photo courtesy: As provided by the author

India looks the other way

In observing the Indian perspective, it is astonishing to see where India finds itself placed as compared to the rest of the world. We appear to put an immense amount of trust in our institutions. This isn’t reflective of just the mass population, but the so-called informed public as well. The study defined informed public as ‘the online population above the age of 18’. On the other hand, the mass population represents the entire population of the nation, excluding the informed public, and this accounts for 87% of the global population.

The average trust in institutions by the mass population Vs. the informed public. | Photo courtesy: As provided by the author

As per the study, those countries with a trust percentage over sixty are referred to as “trusters”. In the mass population context, only three countries feature in this selection – India, Indonesia and China. It isn’t a matter of simple coincidence that these are the world’s most populous nations.

There is an evident disparity between the informed public and the mass population.

As per the Census of 2011, overall literacy rates in India may be 74.04% but this hasn’t kept up with the rising population. In all likelihood, the illiterate quarter of our population has a certain hope and faith that they put into the institutions, simply because they know no better. A dis-informed public is an unfortunate groundwork for the gullible. In effect, the mass population in these three nations is left far behind every other country in the world.

In government, we trust

[su_pullquote align=”right”]A government that was accused of every scam in the book, lost by the biggest margins and yet had a trust rate of 57%.[/su_pullquote]

Putting the spotlight on trust in government, it’s understandable why this has evaporated at such a rapid rate among Western societies.This is in stark contrast to India where we’ve seen a 10% upswing over last year, with the present government sitting pretty at 75%

For curiosity’s sake, I looked up the same figure in the Edelman Trust Barometer of 2013. A government that was accused of every scam in the book, and lost by the biggest of margins still had a trust rate of 57%! Staggering, to say the least.

Trust in government is evaporating. | Photo courtesy: As provided by the author

Media on a mantel

The popular rhetoric in public domain has been that the media is dishonest and cannot be relied upon for presenting the truth. Nonetheless, it should come as no surprise anymore that Indians are immensely trusting of their media! At a time when trust in media is plunging to all-time lows in the rest of the world. The recent discourse over demonetization unlikely to have been in scope for this year’s report, but that will certainly pose an interesting picture next year.

Trust in media all over the world is plunging to all time lows. | Photo courtesy: As provided by the author

Fragile: Please handle with care

Edelman’s appraisal raises a significant question – are Indians more trusting than other populations in the world? Data suggests the answer be in affirmative.

Greater sections of society are likely to be taken advantage of, marked by or arising from credulity.

Putting trust in the fundamental pillars of our great nation isn’t adverse. But one certainly hopes that we aren’t all too gullible. It is wrong to betray this trust, as it is said, ‘trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair’.

Prabhakar Mundkur currently works as Chief Mentor at HGS Interactive. He is also on the Advisory Board of Sol’s Arc—an NGO involved with education for children with special needs.
Featured Image: Global Journal
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