Wednesday, July 11, 2007

So I've been thinking a bit about issues of trust recently. There was an article that surfaced on Digg recently that I think illustrates a problem very nicely and cluelessly: Government is Violent Pornography

The thesis of this article, despite the weird title, is that governments are a form of bondage, in the sense of b&d sex games with handcuffs. Once you're in the handcuffs, you're in their power. They can do whatever they want to you. If they aren't trustworthy, you are fucked, and not in the nice way. And they further say that you are born into this situation.

This is true, as far as it goes, but it's also clueless. Why? Because they ascribe this problem to governments, and governments only. But it's the human condition. When we are born, we are at the mercy of our environment. We are at the mercy of our neighbors. Our parents. And this doesn't suddenly go away when we grow up. The folks who wrote the article seem to think that if somehow we got rid of all the governments, the problem would go away, but of course it wouldn't - you'd just have a different, possibly worse problem.

Even aside from the big brother aspect of their argument, we are not free. You can be the cleverest, richest tycoon ever, and be killed as you're handed into your limo, by an out of control bus. You can assiduously avoid eating anything unhealthy, and be killed by e. coli on your organic food.

So we have systems in place to deal with this. Traffic laws. Driver screening programs. Health codes, and health enforcement systems. Recently the Chinese government murdered its top food safety official because of the embarrassment caused by his inability to control businesses in China who weren't taking proper safety precautions, and who were engaging in fraudulent activities to make their food appear more valuable than it was. It didn't help, of course, that he was taking bribes, but in fact it's unlikely that he could have made a difference anyway - Chinese government officials simply don't have that kind of power.

The fact is that our lives and our safety are always in the hands of others. Our success is in the hands of others. If someone over whom we have no control acts against our interests, we may die, or lose everything, or even be thrown in jail, due to no obvious fault of our own. And yet the alternative is to trust no-one. And it's not possible to live like that. Literally not possible. Even if you move to Alaska and built a log cabin so far off the grid that nobody knows you are there, grow your own food during the summer, hunt for moose during the winter, and never see another living soul, you could wind up being killed in a forest fire triggered by the actions of a neighbor.

And the fact is that trusting others generally is good for us. I live a much nicer, happier, healthier life than I would if I lived in a log cabin in the forest in Alaska, completely off the grid. Trusting Andrea has improved my life so much it's hard to fathom. I didn't have a choice about trusting my parents, but here I am, and glad to be here, thanks to them. Even when Andrea does something that's hard to take, like the great cappuccino intervention of 2007, she's doing it because she wants me to be happy and healthy. A lot of things my parents did that worked, and a lot of things they did that didn't, were done because they wanted me to be happy.

The bottom line is that we really have no choice but to trust. So the question isn't should we trust or shouldn't we, but can we trust more wisely or less? And the first question to ask is this: are we ourselves trustworthy? Even toward our own interests? I think the answer to that is less obvious than it seems at first blush: how many people do you know in the world who do not exhibit compulsive behaviors that are against their interests? I can't claim to be such a person. Can you?

Since I'm not such a person, it's actually stupid for me to think, when someone makes an observation about me that contradicts my own self-image, that they are wrong. And it's crazy for me to think, when I am having trouble getting along with someone else, that it's their fault that we have a problem. It's crazy not to trust other people. Literally crazy. We just have to do it with the right mental attitude, and not get too attached to doing it well (since we can't). Life is better with trust, even if trust doesn't always work out well for us.

Er, P.S. the great cappuccino intervention of 2007 wasn't a big deal, although I still maintain that three double cappuccinos in one day is a perfectly reasonable number, as long as it's not every day. Particularly considering how little milk I use in each one (don't want to spoil the yummy coffee goodness).


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