Who Do You Trust?

Civilization has inflated the “great man theory of history. A19th-century idea in which history is largely explained by the impact of great men or heroes; highly influential individuals who, due to either their personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or political skill utilized their power in a way that had a decisive historical impact.

It’s fostered the myth that societies invariably have some superior individual who epitomizes the best in our humanity to lead. Someone with exceptional integrity and vision and echoes the collective conscience. In essence, someone who can be trusted above all others.

Yet, in the ‘60s and ‘70s the most trusted person in America was the TV news anchor, Walter Cronkite. And, by the time The Daily Show ended in 2015, Jon Stewart was considered the most trusted person in America.

Given the general state of affairs in the U.S. and world today, the question, “Who Do You Trust?, seems more important than ever.

The usual suspects — all along the watchtower

  • Politicians — No way. Inasmuch as these people operate within totally dysfunctional systems, the only thing they appear to do is advance their self-interests at every opportunity. Indeed, they now do this so well that, with respect to issues related to public well-being or needs, nothing said or done is believable anymore — and certainly not trustworthy.
  • Media — No way. To the extent any objective or crusading investigative journalism continues it’s been swamped by the tsunami of competing sources and voices. Thus, the media has devolved into filter bubbles and echo chambers with large-scale, fact-free zones of tabloid gossip and absurd nonsense. As it now stands, the loudest, most persistently shrill voice dominates the short attention span of the 24-hour news cycle.
  • Legal System — No way. From top to bottom —

laws written to protect wealthy and politically powerful special interests, to blunt force law enforcement, to judicial processes dismissive of major crimes against society by rich and powerful in favor of pursuing petty crimes, to mindless discriminatory warehousing and stigmatizing of minorities

— no one exits this system feeling any sense of fairness or justice. Rather, it feels more like a stealthy inquisition clothed in hypocritical rule of law rhetoric that’s substantively devoid of humanity, integrity or context.

  • Businessmen — Between unstoppable globalization and technological innovation today’s gale force winds of creative destruction has narrowed the window of survivability dramatically. Increasingly, only exceptionally large, ubiquitous entities with a market share somewhere between monopoly and oligarchy can survive.

Still, while owners, investors and shareholders struggle mightily to appeal to their customers/audience they assiduously avoid touching the flame of any socio-economic-political controversy for fear of public backlash or political retribution. Thus, trust has become relative to economic self-interest.

  • Bankers — No way. Greed personified.

This is a group that has repeatedly displayed a total disregard and contempt for the public’s well-being and social responsibility. Pure self-interest behavior and zero concern for anyone else’s needs or interests makes them extraordinarily untrustworthy.

  • Silicon Valley — The most innovative culture of our era effuses lofty rhetoric while obsessed with trivial pursuits. Indeed, venture capital has become chicken capital.

Despite being awash in the capital, knowledge and expertise needed to improve societal well-being at scale, the pontifications of these people never match the opportunities within their grasp. Rather, we’re treated to inflated and self-righteous claims of making the world a better place one profitable, but socially and politically irrelevant, service or app at a time.

  • Educators — This is a mix of well-meaning bureaucrats and dilettantes. They operate within a system that rewards the status quo while giving lip-service to innovation and change. Consequently, any trustworthiness is contingent on the direct overlap of immediate self-interest and societal interests.
  • Religious Leaders — These people can rationalize anything and everything as excusable in the context of salvation myths. Of course, this conveniently obviates the real devastating consequences of contemporary events on real lives in the real world. Reliance on such myths was always a matter of faith but never a basis for trust.
  • Family and Friends — Primarily on the basis of familiarity, these people are elevated to be exceptionally trustworthy, yet generally strong proponents of the untrustworthy biases, emotions, gossip and opinions reflected in the voices listed above. But it’s common for even this trust to erode as legacy baggage becomes stifling or push comes to shovel over dominance, lifestyle or money.
  • Scientists — It’s a love-hate relationship with these people. Based on personal biases and orientations we tend to see them as either with us or against us, and often find them contradicting each other and what was previous claimed. While we know some information conveyed is valuable, there’s a general inability to discern the consequential nuances of what and who is trustworthy usually.

To be sure, we can always find people who are trustworthy exceptions in most of these groups. So, while truly great people of historic stature must exist, they also must be exceptionally rare.

Even so, given the currently level of noise, conditioned distrust and the fragmented complexity of our contemporary existence the task of identifying the trustworthy exceptions is more challenging than ever. But the reality is that, even when such individuals are found, whatever trust exists initially tends to end up as issue specific or transitory and erodes quickly.

The fact is that in today’s highly polarized, 24/7 world of media scrutiny and fake news no one can match expectations of life on a pedestal for long. Like us all, they, too, have shortcomings, flaws and foibles that eventually surface.

What’s remarkably strange is how we, as a society, blindly continue to pursue trustworthy demigods, only to abandon them as soon as we realize they’re not omniscient and superhuman.

There must be some way outta here, said the joker to the thief –

The point here is simple. Individually and collectively, there’s a growing realization that the most important, yet scarcest commodity in this time of accelerating change is trust. As we go forward this represents a historic, epic dilemma inasmuch as we’re faced with a finite number of options:

  • Resignation — Accept the risk of continuing to rely upon untrustworthy persons, organizations and institutions and hope luck is on our side
  • Imagination — Wait for artificial general intelligence (AGI) to emerge and hope it’s benign and can rationally guide us
  • Participation — Develop a new institutional form of collective intelligence whereby we jointly participate in actively learning how to guide ourselves

Resignation — Under the best of circumstances, continuing to rely on those from groups already found untrustworthy is a fool’s errand.

As discussed in detail elsewhere (The Evolution of Mind Games, Civilization’s Anti-Human, Not Machines and Our Twilight Zone & What Comes Next), there’s absolutely no reason to justify the hope that people from these groups will suddenly and permanently become more trustworthy. That they’ll consistently act in ways benefitting our collective well-being as we face the accelerating pace of change and complex challenges ahead.

Imagination — Unfortunately, waiting for the emergence of AGI to guide us requires a reliance on the same groups already considered untrustworthy. Moreover, it hopes, without justification, they’ll be wise and capable enough to both

  • develop a benign technology, and
  • relinquish decision making power to advance our collective well-being.

As discussed in detail elsewhere (Why You Should Fear Artificial Intelligence-AI, Artificial Intelligence (AI) Community Is Playing A Risky Game With Us and Our Twilight Zone & What Comes Next), neither outcome seems remotely plausible.

Participation — That leaves us with the option of trying something new. To create new institutions aimed at developing a trustworthy collective intelligence. To trust ourselves, as a society, with real skin in the game.

This endeavor starts with the creation of a large-scale learning organization. One engaged in experiments designed to discern how best to collectively set our political agenda and goals, assess options for issue resolution, make policy and decisions on actions to be pursued, and evaluate the results.

As discussed in detail elsewhere (Reducing Education & Knowledge Gaps, One Story the Media Ignores Completely and A New Process to Fix Our Political System) this is doable, both as a practical and technological matter.

There should be no illusions, however. This option has a steep and protracted learning curve.

It’s certain mistakes will be made. But, as a collective, long-term endeavor, these mistakes will be instructive learning experiences, not occasions to assign blame.

The key, from the inception of such a new institution, is that such an institution needs to operate in an unofficial, parallel manner. Prior to any official role there needs sufficient, widespread confidence its performance exceeds the untrustworthy alternatives. It’s only at this point it and we can incrementally assume more direct responsibility for responding to the changes and challenges ahead.

The choice is yours. Who do you trust?

But, make no mistake — the hour is getting late.

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Doc Huston

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