The Belgian and Flemish societies to which I belong are becoming increasingly controling: administration is created in all kinds of institutions to keep track of decisions, of actions and of activities. Increasingly, every move one makes (from buying a pencil to planning a study trip or taking vacations) has to be justified by paperwork that is added to files that will be used to evaluate one’s work and commitment.
Usually, I attribute this increasing administrative burden (to which I like to give the name “administrative harrassment”) to a growing distrust amongst ourselves, caused by the abuse that some of us have made or continue to make of the loopholes in the systems and institutions to which we belong (e.g. by misusing funds). To counter these abuses of some, we continuously introduce more and more rules and checks for all, to avoid that others would start abusing the system and to introduce procedures that will treat all of us on an equal footing. But, basically, the moving factor here is a spontaneous distrust: we are all considered to be potential abusers. In the end, we get caught up in a system and mechanism that not only sustains itself but tends to grow its tentacles ever more efficiently.
In a discussion with a colleague this morning – as universities are one of the institutions that heavily suffer under the increase of control mechanisms and administration -, another approach to the issue arose. Could it not be that we build these control mechanisms because we want efficiency, and efficiency needs systems of control and feedback loops. But, if we move to organizing our societies on the line of efficiency (and primarily on that line) something happens to our understanding of trust. The fulfilment of the criteria for efficiency becomes the indicator for trust – and that is something else than trust as an attitude that grows in the context of interpersonal relationships. That is the reason why I speak of trust perversion. In a way, the perspective of efficiency is more complex than the perspective of distrust. The latter results from the pain of abuses, the former from a “positive” view on how we should organize our lives together.
Whether we should analyze the situation as distrust or trust perversion because of efficiency craving, I am not sure of at this moment. What is clear, however, is the central issue of trust: how do we live together trusting one another, while daring to react to abuses of trust in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation? To debate these issues seems, in the societies in which I live, increasingly urgent, and it requires a faith commitment to do so: a truly social understanding of trust requires faith. I think, therefore, that this is really, in my own context, an issue of public theology. I hope to be able to pursue these lines of thought.