Why do we distrust?

The fine Duluth News Tribune columnist Sam Cook asks an important question worthy of dominating the public discourse: Why do we distrust people? Why do we expect the worst?

He writes in today’s column that he passed a man on a street in Duluth who was muttering to himself, enough so that it gave him pause. He passed him, somewhat fearful in the process, but the man just continued on, living his life.

“I’m still ashamed of my reaction to him,” Cook writes.

Why is it so easy to distrust, to expect the worst, to let our wariness or our perceived differences escalate so quickly? Why is the “other” so often assumed to be evil or potentially harmful?

I was talking about that with a wise person I know the other night. He suggested that maybe it goes as deep as our very survival as early humans. Maybe, he said, as we evolved, it was in our best interest to assume that an animal might want to eat you, that an unknown plant was poisonous or that another clan might want to kill you if you ventured into their territory.

Maybe that’s just how basic it is: We’re hard-wired to be on edge, to constantly imagine the worst-case scenario.

That dog might bite. That man might hurt me. With a little extrapolation, those basic survival instincts among a few extremists can escalate to horrific violence on a grand scale.

The world seems to have gone off its collective rocker these days. He suggests it starts — as the old song says — when we’re always afraid.

Why are we always afraid?