Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Try Again 

I posted an essay recently called, "Trust, Reason and Relations," and invited comment. One of my friends did just that. His comments convinced me that I had to go back and revise the document. The revised version is now posted for your consideration.

Again, I solicit your comments about the piece. It has been difficult to write. The problem is that I looked at a topic that we all know but maybe we don't. This is the issue of secular trust or belief. We learn from the first day in communications that spokespersons must be credible. But what does credible mean? Does it mean any celebrity that you can pay to give a speech as former president Bill Clinton just did for the launch of a search engine? Does it mean hiring a smashing model to promote McDonald's hamburgers as just happened? I don't think so. The public sees too many spokespersons. Any educated individual looks upon them as hired flacks and doesn't trust them that much.

So what is trust? The answer is that we don't know from a scientific point of view. No one has successfully traced the pathways in the brain that lead to belief in another or in the outcome of circumstances and events. So, why bother? A good question but failure to understand trust leads to worrisome situations mentioned in the paper. In matters of law, for example, can one trust an eyewitness? Can one trust five eyewitnesses? Well, no. Eyewitnesses are notorious for making things up even when they think they are telling exactly what they saw. Can one trust a detective who thinks he or she has a built-in "bullshit" detector and knows when a suspect is lying? No again. Can one trust anyone who is a message bearer? Yes, but it is not always clear why.

The outcome of this maundering is that it struck me forcefully that we should be spending far more time than we do gauging the trustworthiness of spokespersons we use. I don't know about you, but that is not something I have done much of.


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