Trust, a disappearing commodity?
Who or what can you trust?
When you eat your steak or your hamburger, do you wonder if in fifteen to twenty years you will be struck down by some nasty bug that scientists swore couldn't be transmitted from cows to human beings? Can you trust what is served up on your plate? The other day Kraft Suchard had to withdraw its stock of Toblerone from shops because they "discovered" it contained genetically modified soya which is (temporarily) illegal in Switzerland. Can a company trust its suppliers? When your surgeon announces you need an operation or that a caesarean is necessary, are you sure he's not simply increasing his monthly income at your expense? Recent statistics indicate that a strikingly high percentage of people in Switzerland, compared with certain other countries, have had one or another part of themselves removed by a kindly doctor.
Who or what can we trust? Is this just rampant paranoia? Or are dominant materialist interests such that the importance of our well being and our physical integrity is quite insignificant? Some twenty years ago, when the French were considering going over to nuclear power so as to be independent of Arab oil sources, it was argued in full page adverts that nuclear power would be cheaper, cleaner and more reliable. It predictably turned out to be none of them. Did the experts of Electicité de France really believe what they were saying? Can we trust what experts tell us when the very fact of being an expert implies they have a vested interest in defending such a point of view? In comparison, wondering whether you can trust the Internet when sending your credit card details appears somewhat trivial - at least on a personal level, even if general distrust would be disastrous for world commerce.
Trust in commerce
To be able to commerce (in the broadest sense of the word) there has to be trust on both sides. What exactly do we mean when we say we trust someone or something? That he, she or it will live up to the promises made or the expectations created, whether that be to keep a secret, to send some goods, to be reliable or to be what he, she or it pretends to be. "Trusting" is having the necessary confidence to believe that these conditions will be fulfilled when we can only be sure later, if ever.
Selling rare stuff
Has trust become a disappearing commodity? Economists preach that scarcity is a prerequisite for a product to be marketable. If everybody has access to something for free then who would be silly enough to pay for it! If trust is becoming rare, then companies can step in and sell it, provided, of course, that they can by trusted themselves! This is what e-trust are doing. With the backing of organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which are supposedly seen as free of vested commercial interests and therefore trustworthy, they sell trust. This is done by a process involving auditing web sites according to certain criteria and providing a "seal of guarantee". Additional control is done by the Internet community itself which is invited to report any breach of trust. The outcome, however, remains unclear. What will be the impact on public confidence in such purveyors of trust when they become financially dependant on those they are supposed to certify as trust-worthy?
Behind the veils of trust
Trust is absolutely essential for all human exchange. The difficulty is that trust depends on there being a delicate balance between self-assertiveness and collaboration. This natural order has been disturbed by the prevalence given to competition in human affairs. Following Darwin with his idea of the survival of the fittest, commerce is one-sidedly seen as a battle in which the best wins. But the "best" at what? Fitness in commerce is measured almost exclusively in terms of the capacity to accumulate material riches, not in terms of appropriateness to a "larger order of things".
ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, email@example.com