Monday, January 12, 2009

Who Can We Trust?

My normal level of skepticism is reaching paranoid proportions. Who can one trust, truly trust?

Can you trust the regulatory agencies charged with protecting you from thieves like Bernard Madoff who got away with his Ponzi scam for decades?

Can you trust the idiots in Congress who allowed Fannie and Freddie to get away with buying mortgages that were clearly credit unworthy, while the executives of these institutions enriched themselves with giant-sized compensation?

Can you trust the incompetent government intelligence services who failed to detect the truth about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs?

Can you trust the bankers and brokers who sliced up credit unworthy mortgages, packaged them with allegedly more secure mortgages and sold them off to other banks and investors who are equally guilty of stupidity?

Can you trust the pharmaceutical companies who pay off doctors to plug their wares, doctors who don’t reveal their ties to these companies? Worse, can you trust them to advertise their products on television with the absurd caveat to consult their doctors on the basis of their advertising claims? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Can you trust the endless barrage of propaganda coming from governments that manipulate photos and create vast fictional accounts to promote their point of view?

Can you trust the media to tell you the truth about anything?

Can you trust most of the advertising with which you are bombarded on a daily basis, especially those who use celebrities as spokespersons who are merely paid to lie about the wonders of the products they are endorsing?

Can you trust the endless stream of misstatements and a vast array of misguided opinions proliferating on the Internet, where anyone who can speak or type can offer anything as if it were the truth? (I yield to the judgment of the readers of this blog. Nevertheless, I cling to the belief that my essays are more questioning and cautionary rather than bombastic or ideological.)

Unfortunately, buried in this clutter of outright lies, half-truths, obfuscations, exaggerations, canards and deceptions are some genuine bedrock truths that get short shrift in the avalanche of what passes for information. How is one to separate the wheat from the chaff?

Remember the days when most of us gave our unqualified trust to priests, politicians, stockbrokers, scoutmasters, teachers, doctors, and a whole array of authority figures? Who has not been shaken by recent revelations and discoveries of malfeasance, manipulation and downright cruelty and deception by those who once basked in our confidence?

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there: our parents, grandparents, siblings and others in our extended families and social circles who have our interests at heart and whose trust and love we treasure. Nevertheless, even in these relationships, trust often goes awry and there is enough evidence of horror and betrayal to question one’s absolute devotion to the idea of the loyalty of friends and family. I’ll drop anchor on this one. It is just too scary and dangerous to surrender to total cynicism. Once you lose your optimism even Little Orphan Annie won’t be singing about the sun coming out tomorrow.

Short of dispensing truth serum to the chattering masses or planting a lie detector chip in everyone now living, I offer my own protective prescription.

Believe nothing at face value. Do as much due diligence as possible. Attempt verification. Ask questions. Get second opinions, third and fourth if you are not completely satisfied. These activities are time consuming and perhaps wasteful, but think of yourself as being a perpetual target who must protect yourself from harm and the deliberate rifling of your money and trust.

Beware of the proverbial “man on the white horse” who has the solution to all the ills of mankind. He or she doesn’t exist. Everyone is fallible.

Recognize that human nature has its dark side. Think of yourself as a human junk filter, not unlike the junk recognizer in your computer program. It may not catch all the junk, but at least it tries.

Of course, you are still subject to be fleeced and manipulated. I know I’m being preachy and have painted this essay with a very broad brush. Sometimes I feel that I’m baying at the moon, merely making sounds of anguish into the night sky.

So who can we trust?

I call your attention to the motto on our money, “In God We Trust.” Substitute whatever non-human supernatural force that suits your faith or fancy and keep your eyes open and your fingers crossed.


Kim Smith said...

Hey Warren! Great post as always. Sometimes I wonder have we just now uncovered all the lies and missteps or have they always been there? Do we just hear more about it today thanks to the media and other sources?

I know when I was growing up things were "kept hushed up" a lot more than today. Now anything goes, hence why I believe we know more about everyone's dirty laundry.

Personally, there are some things I do not want to know about.


geebee090 said...

Good one, Warren. Obviously trust is "subjective". We all ignore about future and try to adapt it to projecting our past into our own future. Cannot be more disappointing as such a projection is tainted with our own and personal subjectivity. The question is then: can anyone trust himself?

hun said...

Message from Europe: greed and stupidity are international deseases. But apart from that, the schools and colleges are systematically dumbing down the masses to manipulate them even better. Just like the Koran schools that teach whatever they want to kids who can't read or write - or even speak Arabic! We in the West are doing exactly the same. And our opinions are formed by ... guess, the official opinion formers. Here is the link to a website that tells us a bit more about what's REALLY going on. It can do so because it's online. Thank you, internet:

Anonymous said...


Trust is not some new progressive or idealistic idea. I write Civil War background books and people have not changed which is my discovery with research. Politics were still corrupt and there were still the naive uneducated people who lived in the backwoods and chose not to believe.

You always have the good and the evil. However, what has changed is the growth of industry and business which includes more people and in turn increases the evil.

This is the information age and we are more apt to discover all of the lies about lives that are put in front of the media and other garbage newspapers.

We need to discover within ourselves the ability to see the difference and make choices dependent upon a developed intuituve nature.

That leads us to character which is displayed by family members who are willing to admit their wrong and correct relationships based upon that humility.

Warren Adler said...

I agree completely, clg. I like your phrase a developed intuitive nature. I've been working on that one all my life and not quite sure I've gotten it yet. Thanks so much for your comment.

Warren Adler said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments!