In the old days it was easier to build trust, but we can’t go back to the old days, because anybody who spoke the way they did in the old days, we could not trust, because we have discovered new ways of tricking people, and once learned, these cannot be unlearned.
A long time ago if somebody cried it meant he was really upset, but then we learned to pretend to cry, and now you can’t trust it.
So what to do?
People have developed new ways of signaling their trustworthiness. It is like an arms race.
Literature is a tool in the smoking out of forms of deceit and the development of new forms of trust-signaling. For example, the romantics tried to signal trustworthiness by going on endlessly about their inner feelings. It wasn’t because they were self-indulgent. It was because at the time they were writing the fakes had not looked within enough to talk at length about their feelings, so somebody who did talk at length about his feelings was more likely to be trustworthy. Of course that is not true anymore and hasn’t been for a while — but that is why romantic literature gave way to a bracingly ironic chilly style. It was to teach people that you couldn’t trust somebody who analyzed his subjective experience to be trustworthy — he could be a self-regarding monster. And so on.
It means you can long for the simplicity of an old way of expression — eg the Bible –but must be very wary of anyone who uses that way of expression today — most likely they are a trickster who are looking for an unusally gullible audience who have not encountered that trick before. The pious fraud carries the tricks of an outmoded era into a vulnerable population that has not yet gotten the news.
It’s not something to be lamented, but something to be noticed, because every new form of deceit gives rise to a more refined and sophisticated way of building trust.
In the old days you could just write a religious parable. But nowadays to have the simplicity of a religious parable you must have the deliberate ambiguity of Kafka.
It’s not something to be lamented because the new forms of signaling trust are more sophisticated. But nor is it something to be celebrated as the new ways to build trust do not lead to people trusting each other more than they once did. They trust each other exactly as much. And that’s, give or take, and for the most part, exactly as much as they should.