The Betrayal of Trust?

As I’ve pointed out before, both in this blog and in various novels, public trust is vital for a working civilization on all levels. We trust that there will be water and power. Despite a handful of terrible mass shootings, we trust that, in the vast majority of times, we can walk the streets of our communities without being gunned down. We used to trust the media for comparatively honest reporting, but that trust is rapidly vanishing, and has vanished entirely in the minds of a large segment of the American population.

Because we’re a social species, we instinctively look for individuals in whom we can place trust. Most people don’t trust numbers, and they tend to trust those who try to persuade them with numbers and statistics even less. They want to trust people who are like them and who seem to tell the truth.

But what happens when more and more public figures are revealed not to be truthful in their private lives, or worse, to have engaged in reprehensible behavior that they kept secret through their power? Immediately, people begin to wonder in whom they can put their trust. Americans have already lost faith in most career politicians – one of the reasons why Trump was elected.

More than ever we’re seeing how many more politicians and media figures have engaged in far less than exemplary conduct in their private lives, and the trustworthiness of the media, never that high to begin with in recent decades, is plummeting, as is the public image of business leaders. What we don’t like to admit, either privately or publicly, is that what we’re seeing about public figures isn’t anything new, but merely a revelation of what has gone on all along. What’s different is that the formerly powerless people who used to be abused without recourse now have recourse, and the results are anything but pretty. History has also revealed that revered and beloved leaders often kept secrets that might have driven them from power, had they been revealed, but those revelations usually didn’t come out until much later.

What some powerful people also fail to realize is that, in a mass media and social media society, very little can remain hidden for long, and it’s harder and harder to keep secret personal shortcomings or abhorrent or potentially illegal or immoral behavior. And, no matter who you are, all of us have deeds or words that could be embarrassing or worse if revealed to the world. This isn’t something new. We want to have leaders better than we are, and we want them to be above reproach in everything. But our leaders don’t come from some spotless heaven; they come from society. Yet we feel betrayed when dirty secrets or sexual harassment charges appear in the media.

And that sense of betrayal makes it harder and harder for leaders to lead, and to reach any sort of consensus, partly because each side doesn’t believe it can trust the other, and partly because, when there is a lack of trust, people want absolute guarantees and, too often, an absolute guarantee for one side totally alienates the other side.

Now… if we want to reduce the magnitude of the “trust” issue in business, government, and the media, there’s one fairly straightforward way to elect politicians less likely to engage in sexual harassment, or to choose news executives and anchors who are less likely to use the “casting couch,” and that’s to put more women in charge. While there are some women who have sexually harassed others, according to EEOC figures, men in power are more than five times more likely to abuse their position than are women. Not that this will set well with most men… like most unpleasant facts.

Another possible way to deal with the trust issue is to spend more time verifying those facts that can be verified, rather than blindly trusting people we find appealing and likable. Another way is to be more skeptical and to judge political and media figures by what they’ve done… and what they’ve failed to do… and to evaluate what they propose by what the impact will be… and not by what they claim. We may not ever know all the exact details, but when a tax cut has the greatest immediate benefits for the wealthiest one percent, is it really prudent to trust the politicians who claim that it’s a great benefit for the other 99% of the population? When every nation in the world, except the U.S., has taken a stand of some sort against global warming, is it really wise to trust politicians who ignore this, or who claim global warming is a hoax.

When a political party rigs the representation in a state so that by winning less than half the votes in that state, that party controls 60% of the state legislature, can the politicians of that party really be trusted to be truthful?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to reduce our emphasis on personality or increase our emphasis on facts and actual accomplishments. We might not be quite so disillusioned then.

6 thoughts on “The Betrayal of Trust?”

  1. corwin says:

    Good thoughts. Let me add one. Your money says in God we TRUST and yet that seems to be no longer the case and everything has gone downhill from there. The influence of the church has waned and now everywhere is a mess. Humanism has failed. The church is not perfect; it’s made up of people, but the teachings of the Bible used to be a standard for those people to at least attempt to emulate. Now they have been discarded and look at the result.

    1. Lourain says:

      Considering how many contradictions there are in the Bible, and how some people can find justification for almost anything in it, I don’t think the Bible provides a particularly good standard to emulate.

    2. Nathaniel says:

      Yes, clearly what is lacking in modern society is the solid moral foundation that led to the Crusades, the Inquisition, Colonialism, etc…

  2. Daze says:

    Yes, it’s been proven so many times that the moral foundation from many years of theological study means that priests and preachers are above and beyond all this scandalous behaviour. Oh, wait ….

  3. B artleby the Scrivener says:

    Hiring should be done based solely on the needs of the employer and the qualifications of the person being hired for the position.

    The argument presented by your commentary on statistical likelihoods of undesirable behavior has been used to engage in preferential hiring in the past. If you exchange the word ‘men’ for another group that is similarly correlated to negative statistics, would the argument still hold water, or would the correlation be dismissed as the fallacy that it is? While there is a correlation between men and abuse of power, there is nothing inherently associated with the Y chromosome that leads men to do it, so suggesting that it is because there is a correlative linkage is a rather irrational course that I prefer not to accept.

    1. When there is a greater correlation between men and abuse than women and abuse in virtually every culture in the world, that suggests that the Y chromosome just might have something to do with it.

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