Trust is the unspoken assumption in discussions of public policy. So what is trust?
Trust can work two ways, as faith (a belief based on the insubstantial, the future and other truths placed offstage) and as considered belief based on onstage facts and past experience. Like many troublesome English words, these ideas are opposites, but they share the same short and slippery designation. Call them, for this essay, faith-trust and fact-trust.
So, when the mother has just heard her son is in jail for car theft and break and enter, she might say, “He couldn’t have done that, he’s a good boy, I trust him completely,” and the newspapers will dutifully repeat this but no-one thinks it is evidence of anything. She may be right, she may be wrong, but her motherhood mandates that faith-trust will rule her public speech, if not her private doubts.
Conversely, when I set out to cross a footbridge, I calculate whether it will support me based on my previous experience with construction materials, my observation of this specific bridge, my knowledge of my own weight (don’t ask), and by watching other people and vehicles crossing the bridge before I do. When I choose to cross, I may be right, or I may end up in the river (because trust is all about making guesses about consequences) but I have used a totally different form of “trust” in making that choice.
At this point I imagine you are asking what this has to do with economics and governance. Answer: it is the hidden element that explains a lot of inexplicable public choices.
The Bush administration was a secretive bunch who pushed over their 8 years to stow more and more information into hidden places, whether via “national security” classification or black-site jails or offshore prisons or even lost-destroyed e-mail messages and videos.
Why did many people accept all this secrecy? The hidden element, never spoken out loud, was: “They do this to protect the USA – we trust them.” Which trust-twin is this one? Faith-trust.
Take another example: the conduct of the police, with or without Tasers. In spite of some apparently blatant misuse of their power they are virtually never convicted of assault, murder, manslaughter etc. Also, in court their testimony is given weight far beyond the average witness, when a little thought would wonder if this is justified. It seems to me a large element of faith-trust is present here, too.
And then there is the problem of trust accorded to clergy.
Now secrecy, prevarication and promise breaking are, sadly, all necessary elements of governance, whether good governance or bad. Use of force is an essential part of police practice, and religious practitioners work in a realm between worlds, where confidentiality and metaphorical, story-based thought are central, and divine logic can appear to run counter to the worldly.
Given these necessities, how are we to differentiate honest stewards and good guardians from plutocrats and well-spoken thugs? And how, in self-defense, do we detect and detach ourselves from the injurious objects of our faith-trust?
And then there is the other side of faith-trust – faith-distrust. How do we examine the things we have demonized – or which have been demonized for us – and reclaim them if we discover we have been wrong?
Fear and hatred are often called “only human,” but this is not true. Our animal cousins share with us the capacity for fear and anger. Very few things, in fact, are “only human.” Fear is useful to us and our cousins alike, because we learn from it.
But there’s a problem. As the old saying goes, “The cat, once burned, stays off hot stoves. The trouble is, he stays off all stoves.”
In the Tea Party movement, we see the “all stoves” response to government. Having spent a generation, from Reagan onwards, with a government that told them over and over that “government is the problem, not the solution,” while proving this point by changes in law and regulation that squeezed them and removed many protections, they now have fully formed faith-distrust of anything called government.
The problem is that only government, good government, has the power and mandate to correct the maltreatment of bad government. Not business, not finance, not private militias, not NGOs, not churches – only government. Their faith-distrust cuts them off from the primary lifeboat — however leaky it may be — that can get them clear of the wreck.
Fact-trust is one of the elements of humanity that we can call “only human.” To stand outside our own fears and use our minds to judge and our will to go against our habits and prejudices, is a very uncommon and very human skill. Fact-trust is less rigid than faith-trust, and is subject to constant recalibration. But it is the only guide that will equip the maltreated US public to choose correctly and comprehend the shell game they’ve been drawn into.
Whoever feeds you falsehoods feeds you poison, and whoever undercuts fact-trust and replaces it with faith-trust is blinkering and hobbling you, reducing your “only-humanity.”. Faith-trust is not always injurious, but itself must be subject to scrutiny on a regular basis. And what form might that scrutiny take?
I suggest another old saying: “By their fruits shall ye know them.”
“Now secrecy, prevarication and promise breaking are, sadly, all necessary elements of governance, whether good governance or bad.”
Noni, That is an interesting post along the lines of the book a few years back about what is the trouble with Kansas which was followed by somebody’s quip about the trouble with Conneticut. All three try to explain why people seemingly support approaches to government and economics that do square with their own self interest. I think that you are giving the Tea Partiers way too much credit. Just as the trouble with Kansas is that a lot of voters vote GOP because of the perception that the GOP had their “values” and a lot of voters in Conneticut had the perception that Democrats had their “values”, a lot of the Tea Partiers have the view that if you are not northern European white you are not real “Americans”. They jump on “government” as the villian, because it is not nice to say that you hate people of color, but if you talk with these people for any length of time it is that the government is helping people of color that drives them nuts. It is the same notion that drives homophobia–I do not hate homosexuals, but I want to defend the sanctity of tradional marriage, never mind that I have been divorced three times, or I want to protect the children never mind that I am a devout Catholic. Economic self interest is certainly practiced by the elites in society, but not by the rank and file and not if that self interest does not square with more deeply held”values”.
Noni, don’t make me do this! You are tempting the writing teacher in me. Can’t…control…urge…to…correct.
The two forms of trust you identify are not opposites. (Naughty, naughty.) They are the same. It is only the things on which they rely that differ, not the trust itself. Trust is trust, when we trust someone or something. It’s only something different when used in the sense of a financial or corporate entity.
“Only human” is used to mean “merely human” rather then something exclusively human, as you seem to use it. We are “only human” in that we are not angels. Animals are lower than humans in the same hierarchical arrangement in which we are less than the angels – we are only human – though of course, there are other hierarchical views in which angels are less than humans in god’s love. Of course animals would be subject to base emotions. What animals lack in this hierarchical view of things is higher feelings, those we share with angels, such as a love for justice . Eexcept now we know dogs and monkeys do have a feel for what’s fair. Alas, another mistaken notion. Ah, well, we’re only human.
An excellent subject for discussion, but certainly so complex as to be best suited to an intensive seminar meeting two or three times weekly for several hours each for a year, or two and maybe even three. You’re asking how we may come to understand human behavior including its cognitive aspect. Start with Piaget’s concepts of assimilationa and accomodation.
Move on then to Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontent and you’re only scratching the surface of the theoretical concepts that are involved. A major field of study could be limited to the interaction of individual intelligence with one’s ability to differentiate what you describe as faith-trust from fact-trust. Within that area of study one might include the influence of intelligence on one’s ability to modify established personal concepts of faith and fact based understanding. Way too complex for a blog site discussion. Several PhD dissertations could easily be generated. On the other hand I can recall, dimmly, several similar conversations that took place in smoke filled rooms to a background of the Doors and Iron Butterfly. No, nothing was concluded with any degree of validity.
I love that they asked for “Public Defenders” (and they thought they could bring down our government), undercover FBI agent, sweet. The simpleton Tea baggers keep missing the point. These are the same whiners that were crying when the McCain/Bailin ticket lost. Now they are crying again because their yelling and screaming (because they are haters not debaters or as others have dubbed them screamers not dreamers) did not stop the health care debate or the bill from passing. They think they can scare, intimidate and force others to go along with them by comments like “This time we came unarmed”, let me tell you something they are not the only ones that are armed and not all ex-military join the fringe militia crazies who don’t pay taxes and run around with face paint in the parks playing commando, the majority are mature and understand that the world is more complicated and grey than the black and white that these simpleton make it out to be and that my friend is the point. Do not cry when regular people openly laugh at your group when they see on TV that your leaders are Sarah Bailin, Orly Taitz, Victoria Jackson, Michele Bachmann and your own turn coat Glenn Beck from the LDS. They do more to discredit you group on TV (powerful) than any of comments on the blog sphere. Yee Haw!
i had something to do with building a few bridges in my life. and i can tell you i cross them now because i have to to get anywhere, not because i have “fact trust” in the builders or inspectors.
kharris is right,the distinction between “faith trust” and “fact trust” exists entirely in the mind of the beholder.
i’d go a lot further with this, but i find that my take, based on a few decades of worrying about it obsessively, just gets me in trouble with people who know they are right. you might try asking those tea partiers if they are basing their beliefs on “faith” or “fact.”
but as it turns out, I tend to agree more with Non’s politics than with the tea partiers. just don’t think we ought to be fooling ourselves about how much more “human” we are than they.
What motivates the Tea Party movement is not trust, it’s fear. And that fear has been turned into anger towards the government because the dominant cultural narrative in the U.S. is that the government and the people are at odds. Successfully change the narrative to expose the fact that our government has a meaningful role in preventing tyranny by undemocratic corporations, and you will successfully redirect the anger to where it belongs.
The Tea Partiers won’t engage in a constructive manner unless you show them a third way that does not fit within the false dichotomy they’ve been taught.
And right you are about tea baggers being typically human. There is nothing so inhumane as is human behavior. Or from another side, there is nothing humane about human behavior. The history of man is one of continuous murder and mayhem. Frequently such behavior is based uppon economic need, but we can always count on the pious amongst us to find a firm religious basis for our hate and distrust. Is it not a world of, “My god’s better than your god?” And I’ll kill you if you disagree, or if you jsut prefer your own god. Faith is often the basis for justification of behavior, no matter how immoral.
Good comment coberly.
“By their fruits shall ye know them.”
This is not profound; it is Life 101. With experience, people learn not to believe BS words (which may explain why young voters preferred Obama). This capacity is not limited to enlightened Libs.
“By their fruits shall ye know them.”
When they have a $1T government health care program shoved down their throats against their wishes, full of deceit, and circumventing the popular will and the normal legislative process, they recognize the “fruit.”
The problem is that only government, good government, has the power and mandate to correct the maltreatment of bad government.
Nope, nope, nope. It’s the people who have the power to correct the maltreatment of bad government.
BTW, it’s not just the tea partiers who don’t trust the Federal Government:
“According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday, only 26 percent of the public trusts the federal government most of the time or always.” http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/02/23/poll.government.trust/index.html
It’s you libs that are in the dark here.
sadly, Jack, with whom I agree far more than I disagree, has shown how we lose the ability to teach the Tea Partiers. Faith as the justification for murder has just as often… especially in their minds… been the “faith” of a redeeming social idea such as the French revolution, or the Communist, or the Nazi… and I have had the pleasure of watching the politically correct bleeding hearts come back from a sensitivity seminar and start to beat up on everyone they could call a racist because the poor slob had ideas, or even words, that weren’t as advanced as their own.
personally, I regard “the Church’s” teachings on “faith” to be a mystery. Not that faith is a mystery, but that it is a mystery to me how they have managed to confuse such a straightforward concept. Faith is a matter of taking the next step in the direction you want to go. But people in the name of religion have turned it into something like “do what i tell you or you will go to hell.” now as a matter of fact i don’t see much of that kind of “faith” teaching in my own life as I have heard about it from others.
and i can just about guarantee that some Reader will take what I have written here as an endorsement of “the church” (whatever that is) or of the Tea Party. which it isn’t.
I was listening to a couple of Jesuit astronomers the other day, a lighthearted and funny two guys, not like the sweaty and obsessive professional atheists we hear so much from these days. They said among other things that faith was more like being in love than like standing on a Rock of Ages.
If you want to understand the Tea Partiers, or yourself, it might be worth looking carefully to see what it is they, or you, are in love with. But you need to be very careful that your superior facts are not a stumbling block, as they say.
glad to be able to agree with you. but this lib (?) doesn’t trust the government any of the time. it’s just that like those bridges, i have to cross them if i want to get anywhere.
I don’t know how Sammy expects “the people” to correct the maltreatment of bad government except by voting in people who will make government better. I’m thoroughly convinced that the leadership of the Republican party wants to break government further, not fix it.
“With experience, people learn not to believe BS words.”
Right. That’s why you have elderly Tea Partiers demanding that the government stay out of Medicare. Sorry, but older ain’t necessarily wiser.
“When they have a $1T government health care program shoved down their throats against their wishes, full of deceit, and circumventing the popular will and the normal legislative process, they recognize the ‘fruit.'”
Hmmm. Sounds like Fox News talking points (aka, BS words). But when corporate media talking heads do it, it’s okay to believe BS words, apparently. FYI — a lot of “libs” opposed to the health care reform legislation were against it because it requires a mandate without a public option (i.e., there is nothing to keep the monopolistic health insurance companies honest).
“BTW, it’s not just the tea partiers who don’t trust the Federal Government.”
When multi-national corporations are conferred citizenship with all the rights but none of the responsibilities thereof, nobody should trust any government.
“It’s you libs that are in the dark here.”
If it makes you feel better to think that way, great. Personally, I don’t think you know what a “lib” actually is (hint: if you think Obama is a lib, you don’t know what a lib is). And I certainly have never met the kind of “liberal” that Glenn Beck likes to rant about.
Both parties are run by corporatist Hamiltonian Federalists, they just play to different bases. When they’re out of power, the Republicans love to use Jeffersonian small government rhetoric, but they abandon that rhetoric when they’re in power. (And talk about a liberal!!! Thomas Jefferson was a paragon of liberalism.) When they’re out of power, the Democrats love to use Jeffersonian rhetoric about equality, but they abandon that rhetoric once in power.
The funny thing is that the healthcare reform bill demonstrates the moral bankruptcy and corporate ownership of both parties. The Republicans were all for the mandate in 1994. Obama was against the mandate in 2008. The fact that Republicans decry a Republican idea as “socialist,” and Obama touts that same idea as positive democratic change blinks reality.
I love unintended irony. sammy says that we learn not to trust bs as we mature, then spews his own version of bs. Eeeeeverything is libs this and libs that. Apparently, sammy can’t bring himself to type “liberal”. Doesn’t much matter though, because sammy is engaging in bullshit when he attaches “lib” to things he wants to denigrate. There is some “they” who have had health care shoved down their throats, but like “libs” the “they” in question are not clearly identified. Why not? Because sammy’s “they” are equivant to “the Murcan people” that Jesse Helms and Dick Armey and Shrub speak of so often. They are a made up group of people for whom sammy and Jesse and Dick and Shrub pretend to speak. Bullshit, plain and simple.
no, you should think about what Tao said. both parties want government to do what they want it to do. it’s mostly the way they sell themselves to different sets of people that distingusihes them. there may be some sincere ‘liberals’, but if there is a sincere “conservative” i haven’t seen one since Ike.
but if you are talking about the groundlings. the republican voter wants mostly to stop government from violating his human rights… by which he means taxing him for the level of government he insists on. which generally means protecting him from the evil designs of others and not coddling them with all that civil rights nonsense.
naturally the dems are against this. but they spoil it by expecting the rich to pay for everything.
This is the first read of the day for MOI. I find it interesting, the back & forth, as well as being inforative too. This reminds of a Television series that played back in the 2nd half of the 20th Century, about human drama. At the sign off, the comantator used to say, “this is just one of the stories of the city, or words to that effect. Considering the population in this country, to be over 300 million people, then we have that many opinions too, on any given subject, on any given day. It’s great to see all the scholars opinions, corrections etc. I also find the snivel & whine entertaining, almost like watching my cats running on their morning tear @ 6am.
If you actually siad something it would be understandable…why speak in parables?
if we are going to ban parables where will I be?
Norman was just enjoying the kittens play. now if we were real bears…
Correct away, k. These things mustn’t be bottled up, or they’ll cause a complex.
(BTW, does anybody talk about “complexes” anymore? or people being “neurotic?” Ah, the days of James Thurber and Jules Feiffer.)
The chief difference between my 2 trusts is that one is conditional, a decision, and always seen as subject to revision. The minute it is taken as not subject to revision, it becomes faith-trust and seals the believer into a little pocket universe, like a self-contained dream. This would be okay except the real world doesn’t go along with the believer’s belief. Revising what one trusts can be uncomfortable, but nowhere near as painful as not doing so.
Oh, and the usage I have for “only human” is how I hear most people use it. I am sure your usage and etymology is correct, but we could sure stand to upgrade what we use the word “human” for.
You’re asking how we may come to understand human behavior including its cognitive aspect.
Not really, I think we have quite a lot of understanding to be getting along with. But we’re not using it.
Doris Lessing in her 1986 book “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside” looks at our comprehension of human psych versus our use of those understandings, and “what strikes Lessing …as odd is the willingness with which we were willing to entertain such irrational beliefs. And make no mistake, they were irrational. The truths that sweep through a country in one moment are false the next. “To have lived through such a reversal once is enough to make you critical for ever afterwards of current popular attitudes.” But still we cling to beliefs that would lead a generation after asking, “How could they have believed that? … Is there no way out of this prison?
I believe that often, articles of faith-trust and the stubbornness that cleaves to them, never questioned, are the keys that lock the believer’s cell door — from the inside.
Sez me, frankly. But whenever I try to imagine, or read history that discusses, an honest, open, transparent, generous and pliant government, it always seems to lead (fairly quickly) to one disaster or another. For a minor but memorable example, look at honest old Jimmy Carter and his “adultery in your heart” comment. Honest, and doctrinally correct as that comment was, it’s still hanging around his neck (though it seems much reduced these days.)
Being Machiavellian doesn’t of necessity lead to governance that harms and cheats the people.
Example. Canada was furious when the Goods and Services Tax was put in place. Come election time, our Liberal Party led by sly gamesman Jean Chretien ran on a platform of removing it. They got a majority government, cue the confetti, but left the tax in place. Result? Widespread fury, and an orderly retirement of a huge national debt.
Fast forward to four years ago when we voted in a minority government steered by the Conservative Party. They also promised lower taxes, and cut the GST by 2%. This led to — voila! a revenue gap and a shortfal which has put us into a deficit position again. At least, interest rates aren’t what they were in the 80s, but I haven’t met anyone who even notices the 2% difference — except our federal budget.
that’s YOUR article of faith-trust.
a lot of those people who place their faith in something better than the latest “scientific” fad would tell you they were never fooled. and some of them weren’t.
Tao J, “Both parties are run by corporatist Hamiltonian Federalists,…”
I don’t know where this idea was originated, but it certainly is not based on the facts of Hamilton’s career in government. He was certainly from the lower classes by personal background. There really were no corporations to favor or not. He was in favor of strong federal government. If memory serves me correctly he didn’t even own slaves though his father-in-law who was a wealthy land owner may have. He was involved in helping to set up the first central bank, but even that he came to think was not such a good idea though primarily due to some financial manipulation by one of its earliest proponents. Hamilton was serious about collecting taxes and was not against using military force to put down any serious resistance to the government’s central authority.