If Hemingway is right that the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust that person, then we are in for a very long path back from the wilderness of a deficit of trust in our public institutions an din the people who are responsible for them.
Demographics, the division of attitudes and interests and beliefs into boxes, tiny statistical compartments, gives political, marketing gurus and practitioners a vocabulary of talking points. It also provides the illusion of a menu of the people in those tiny papier-mache boxes, as if they were discreet, immutable and committed to those specific perceptions, to whom to direct those talking points, in an attempt to “win” their purchase loyalty, their votes and their dollars for the campaigns to mount their respective sales pitches. For those of us cynical enough to believe that we are still holding to the tenet ascribed to Richard Nixon in the “election of a Coke Bottle” the American political and economic footings, on both sides of the ideological divide, depend on the euphemism, ‘the sales pitch”.
Garnering train-loads of cash from the most wealthy sources, (those whose perception of how the world should look and operate is mostly congruent with the voices they are buying) and then hiring message machines to tailor messages that are guaranteed to arouse the “base” of the selected demographics, using words, phrases, music, larynxes, and even “pitch-men-and-women” and the latest digital graphic techniques is just another form of profiteering. Seduction, regardless of the agents of the act, and regardless of the specific purpose of the act, remains seduction. And whether one is the seducer, or the target of the seduction, one is merely a transactional component of a much larger machine.
It was a highly respected philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, who told us never to be the means for another’s ends. And when the national and international leadership of the agenda of the world’s people is reduced to the massive accumulation of wealth and the influence that wealth can “buy” (however indirectly) then a legitimate case can be made that we have been embedded in a circle of seduction, through our own apathy, indifference, fear, and eroding balance in our personal, civic, provincial, national and international “trust” account.
Ironically, while serving one’s personal career ambitions, along with the interests and agenda of those writing the cheques, having already agreed to be an agent in order to serve the trappings of “success” and having agreed to “mouth” the talking points of the party establishments in order to continue the flow of cash and political “acceptability,” political actors sell out the public interest, the national agenda, and the search for and pursuit of global peace, security, environmental safety and security, including those underlying issues of income disparity, opportunity deficit,
and the germ of political ego and narcissism that infects all governments through the Burke maxim, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Parents, very early, can see their “innocent” children try to manipulate them into the child’s favour starting even before the child has an articulated agenda….a smile brings another smile. And what parent is not amenable to the child’s happiness. The currying of favour has begun, perhaps unconsciously on both parts, but nevertheless it has started. A little later, if the relationship has become a little more problematic, the parent sets some boundaries, possibly with explanations to justify those restrictions. And a balanced and caring, mutually interdependent relationship can be and often is forged, through a narrative of several chapters in the shared biographies. The parent learns which “levers” are effective in achieving compliance, and the kind of comportment that is both desired and acceptable. Some of these “conditioning” incidents develop out of societal norms and conventions, in the belief that all parents share a belief that they wish for their children to “fit into” those same norms.
To the degree that the child “fits” the expectations of his family, and then his daycare, and then his several classrooms, through a cumulative pattern of interactions, s/he achieves what the world deems success or failure. The pillars of that foundation are enforced through the parade of multiple encounters, with friends, foes, coaches, opponents, mentors and advocates, up to and including one’s taking his/her place in the “gainfully employed” category, or not.
And although “classical conditioning” of the kind Pavlov envisioned with his “dogs” is stripped of the nuances of highly sophisticated intellectual content, and equally highly sophisticated vocabulary and presentation skills, we all have developed a reservoir of “conditioning” skills just to manage our daily chores and relationships.
Smiling at the bank teller, (if we still visit one), smiling at the doctor, the accountant, the lawyer, and especially the teacher/professor/thesis advisor/department chair, supervisor, and maintaining a “professional” attitude and demeanour (even if the circumstances do not warrant such a veneer of respect) is still both expected and most often delivered. This is especially true in a cultural climate in which millions are without work and are therefore ready and eager to take the place of those who present ‘sand-paper’ to their organizations, especially if such ‘sand-paper’ is a response to unjust policies and supervision. We find ways to eliminate the sand-paper from our organizations, in the wrong-headed belief that our efficiency and our effectiveness as supervisors and managers depends on “no reports” of contention flowing upward in the hierarchy to whom the supervisor reports.
Psychic serfdom, political compliance, (also known as political correctness) has become the paint-by-number survival kit for aspiring entrants into the job market. Justifying this obsequiousness is the mantra, however specious in various situations, that ‘the seniority of management’ warrants obedience, and loyalty. It is not hard to witness the rust on the mantra in the current United States administration where “loyalty” (translate sycophance) is expected and demanded by the president. When Comey promises “loyalty to truth” (placing truth above personal serfdom) he is fired.
Similarly, whenever a marketing agent denigrates either the organization or the product or service it generates, s/he is dismissed. Whenever a political candidate disses the ideological “box” previously shared with the donors, the dependent candidate is thrown under the bus, and a new “widget” (candidate) is found to replace him or her.
Essentially, the process, through attrition, arrogant dismissal, fearful trashing, and the power of purchasing precisely whatever the money already amassed wants renders all participants, both consumers and producers, of the political agenda, and therefore the agenda of the jurisdiction in question, as eunuchs to a master who controls the words, the images and eventually the agenda of the jurisdiction.
And then the wars of opposing “machines”, even machines calling themselves “independents” who have tried to extricate themselves from the worst leg-irons of political parties, or corporations take the same “seducing” or warring steps to defame and destroy the opposition.
It is the metaphor of war, the absolute pursuit of absolute victory, including the elimination of truth, facts, national and international public interest, that drives the system, based on the personal career ambitions of its operatives. Clearly, that equation is lethal for those banking their careers on its stability and authenticity and it is also lethal for the advancement of the public interest.
On the personal career level, of the practicing politicians, (and that seems to include each and every one in the arena) their sacrificing themselves on the altar of power, and that power purchased though the wealth of the deep pockets, renders them as instruments of an agenda cooked in some board room where the names and the real agendas of the participants trumps their individual and unique perspective. Hence, the voter loses (most would argue lost long ago) trust in the individual representative and thereby in the process in which they are each enmeshed. Without the trust of the voter, ii the integrity of the person and the democratic process, a serious level of disengagement, detachment, apathy and cynicism forms a sand dune of separation between voter and representative.
Over and above the personal career issue, the public interest is defined, along with the relevant “data” or facts or science, by those holding the internal code, through their underwriting of the actors and the system.
Of course, a kind of cultural conventional cover exists to normalize these glaring failings. Corporations increasingly expect even demand of their workers a kind of obsequiousness to those in positions of authority (even if those individuals are not exercising that authority in a “responsible” manner)….and the language that normally tries to make such an unjust system legitimate includes “we are all working on the same page, right?” and “we are all one happy team here” and “everyone must comply with all system requirements in order for the system to operate efficiently.
Under the rubric of efficiency, (read cost cutting) so many rules and regulations are imposed by those in desperate need for control, whether that need is identified or even monitored by those in supervisory positions of those middle managers. After all, without an open door policy that is enforced, whereby a worker can, and is encouraged to, take supervisory decisions to the next one, two or three levels of authority and responsibility higher in the organization, the injustice perceived and alleged coming from the original agent, will remain locked within the department, keeping the secret of the abuse of power from the eyes and ears of those who have the authority and responsibility at the senior levels.
So there is the blatant purchase of our attention and ‘consumption’ not only of products but also of personalities and their ‘promises’, with little more than a thin veneer of factual information, and a giant dollop of theatrical effects, by which we are lured into conformity.
And then there is the outright buy-out of those products and personalities by those with the deep pockets. And then there is the framing of the agenda by the puppeteers whose hands are manipulating the strings of their puppets, for the purpose of using those puppets to ‘front’ for their sometimes hidden, sometimes flagrant, agenda.
Profit in cash, investments, dividends, or repeated success in electoral politics, or persistent rising stock prices and the bonuses that accrue from that dynamic….these are all at the heart of the human side of the enterprises.
And the balkanization of both the electorate and the elected representatives into some titular “identity” marginalizes both groups into the “means to achieve the ends of others” whom they neither know nor fully comprehend.
We are engaged in a massive duplicitous scheme of self-sabotage, as citizens, journalists, financial agents, corporate executives, political operatives and left out of the equation are those fighting to decide between food and prescriptions for good health, those who are rendered worthless as the poor, the incarcerated, the racially unfit, the uneducated and the refugee. Who, facing such imposing odds would not be likely to bend, if not break, under the weight of such gloom, depression and hopelessness.
Occasionally, as is the case of a young indigenous man in Alberta, when facing his own suicide from a high bridge over a fully flowing and deep river, finds the morning sun shining from above, as a warm glow, moving from his forehead to his nose and chin, and providing the kind of energy that permits his depression to slip from his consciousness and his shoulders. And then, having reversed his decision to take his life, he searches for ways to help others, creating his own indigenous art murals, attracting the critical acclaim of his peers and turning his attention to public service “so others will find the same kind of relief and promise and new life that has been opened to him. Statistically such examples are rare and for their uniqueness, are so memorable.
However, unless and until there is a dramatic shift in where power lies and how power is deployed, and for which agenda items (in the public interest) it is used, such stories of individual reclamation will remain the exception and not the rule.
And along with that kind of rarity, the missing trust for the other, the key to determining whether that trust is or is not misplaced, will continue to remain hidden. And so long as we do not trust enough to find out if the other is trustworthy, by trusting first, we will operate from a kind of deficit that is mountainous, even when compared with the American national debt.