Who Can You Trust?

December 16th, 2013   Submitted by Wendy McElroy

handshakeNot government, not financial or religious institutions, not the media, not health or educational ‘services’, not corporations, not the legal system or police, not the military, not experts or academia. After you eliminate the State, who is left? Society – the dynamic of average people who produce and trade honestly through their own efforts.

A determination to personally disconnect from the state does not involve rejecting society. Quite the opposite. It means recognizing how destructive the state is to everything peaceful and productive, and deciding to live as much as possible within society rather than within the state. The decision can be risky because the state does not willingly cede authority over a single head that it claims as property. And your citizenship, your very birth brands you as part of the State’s herd. How do you minimize the risk of going rogue while embracing the advantages of Society?

The question is especially important for those who wish not merely to survive but to prosper and be happy. In disconnecting from the State and probably from that chunk of society that interacts intimately with the State, it becomes important to find people you trust. These are people who will respect your privacy and your decision to live off the political grid. You don’t need to have a manifest of friends but everybody should have at least one person he can trust.

In his book The Geography of Bliss, journalist Eric Weiner reported on a global quest through cultures to discover what made people happy. He found a key ingredient and common denominator to be “trust”: a basic trust in others, whether those people are many or few, whether they are a partner, family, friends, or community. Humans are social beings with a need for acceptance, companionship, sex, and love. Even strangers enrich us immeasurably through knowledge, trade and culture. Some level of trust is necessary to happiness.

But what does trust mean? It can refer to a belief that a casual acquaintance will deliver the service or good for which you’ve paid. In other words, you believe he is reliable in the narrow area in which you interact. Or trust can refer to an intimate in whose character you have such confidence that you give him (or her) a power of attorney, which is immense power over your life. Ideally, you will have at least one person whom you can trust so profoundly.

A good social network is comprised of concentric rings of people whom you trust to varying degrees or in varying roles within your life. Each ring of person is valuable and enriches your life. The outer ring consists of those you casually trust to barter goods or to pick up mail when you’re on vacation, such as a neighbor; if this trust is betrayed, there is no great loss and people on this ring are easily replaced. The next one might include those with whom you socialize or work because of a shared value or goal, such as libertarianism or the publishing of a magazine; the betrayal here is more significant. For example, it often involves others in the social or professional circle and so impacts your relationship with them. As the rings draw closer to the center, the trust becomes deeper until finally (if you are lucky) there is that person or persons whom you can trust absolutely.

In drawing up the rings of trust that apply to your life, there are danger signs to note about who to include, and standards that are valuable to impose. Only a vague sense of each is possible to present in this brief space.

PEOPLE TO DOUBT, AND WHY

Do not invest more than a casual level of trust in people you know only casually. In today’s whirl of social media, people “fall in love” with texters they’ve never met in person. Fall in love, if you wish, but do not give out passwords, information about assets, the number of guns you own, or anything else that leaves you legally vulnerable. For one thing, the identity of the person with whom you are texting is not clear.

Do not trust anyone who is indiscreet in his speech or behavior. His character may otherwise be stellar. But if a gossiping or drunken friend indiscriminately blurts out everything you tell him – that you own guns or gold, that you are building an extension to your home without permits, etc. — then you may as well throw that information into the wind or publish it on the front page of the New York Times. Don’t take someone’s promise of confidentiality seriously if he spills everything he knows about others to you. This person’s judgment cannot be trusted.

Do not trust anyone who displays a vindictive streak no matter how close you may feel to him at any given moment. Many years after the period in question, I learned that one reason my husband trusted me; he witnessed first-hand how fairly I treated the property division in a bitter split-up with a former partner. Other alienated exs act differently. Many if not most informants to the IRS and other soul-destroying agencies are people who bear grudges and are settling scores. And few grudges run as deep as those held by a man or woman scorned.

Doubt anyone who is overly friendly or who suddenly fits perfectly into your life. Such people may be or become informants who would gladly pocket a handsome reward for turning you in to the authorities. Or they may be people who would be happy to plunder your precious metals when you are away for a weekend. Don’t be paranoid but don’t be a sucker either.

STANDARDS TO IMPOSE, AND HOW

Look at people’s track records and how they deal with others. Give more weight to what they do than to what they say. Are they fair in their assessment of and actions toward mutual acquaintances; do they cheat in business or on a romantic partner; do they take responsibility for their own actions; have they ever lied to you about anything more important than their age? You might want to overlook or discount some bad behavior but at least take note of it and make the ‘free pass’ a conscious decision.

Give weight to a person’s actions but also listen to what he says and watch his body language as he says it. If a person’s actions and words contradict each other, then something may be amiss. He could just be socially inept, of course. Nevertheless, you should proceed with heightened caution until you get a better sense of the dynamic of what’s happening.

Watch how a person treats someone he views as an inferior, such as a waitress. That’s how he is likely to treat you if he ever enjoys a significant advantage in your relationship. Equally, watch how he treats the opposite sex. Some people are almost Jekyll and Hyde in how they treat one sex versus the other. If you are in a committed relationship or if you have a circle of close friends upon whom you depend, consider whether you want to introduce a dissident factor into a situation that is working well.

Give preference to dealing with people for whom others you trust have vouched. But never allow any endorsement to replace your own judgment. If the recommendation turns out to be a poor one, then reassess the judgment of the friend who made it. Take his recommendations less seriously in the future.

Trust your gut. If something seems “off” about a person but you can’t enunciate ‘why’, then don’t worry about being fair or giving that person “the benefit of the doubt.” Give yourself the benefit of the doubt, instead. Proceed with the assumption of civility, as you should with everyone, but be cautious in dealing with the person.

CONCLUSION

People need other each for trade, education, culture, companionship, sex and love…among many other of the intangible things that enrich life. Perhaps the most important factor in having trustworthy people in your life is to be a person in whom they can have confidence. A trader will come back again and again if you deliver what is agreed upon and do so with a smile. So, too, will the people with whom you ‘trade’ emotionally. (The word ‘trade’ here may be inappropriate as acts of kindness are not performed in an expectation of reciprocity.)

Nothing attracts or inspires decency in others as much as manifesting decency in yourself. Mistrust is a survival mechanism but trust is as well. You need both.

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44 Responses to “Who Can You Trust?”

  1. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    Indeed. Good article. Have you been to this webpage?

    http://tillys.com/tillys/brandpage.aspx?bid=172

  2. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    This is a good article. Trust is one of the main reasons I moved to New Hampshire for the Free State Project.

    I just got too sick of the milktoast, gutless wonders of the left coast.

    To be fair, I haven’t made many friends in New Hampshire, partly because I live in North Country and there simply aren’t that many of us up here… yet.

    But the ones I have met seem to have stones. It’s a breath of fresh air, let me tell you.

    I’m not perfect. Nobody is. But I try my best to live an exemplary life. And because of that, I hold people to a very high standard. I guard my time with who I spend very judiciously. Most people don’t. I think people take the exact opposite approach. Most people, I feel, are willing to hang out with other people of low moral character for one simple reason. People of low moral character are less judgmental in many regards. They have a sort of unspoken contract between themselves. They won’t judge their friends so long as their friends don’t judge them. It’s sort of an excuse for bad behavior.

    Libertarians are very judgmental. We actually give a shit about right and wrong and we’re not afraid to point out something that’s wrong. People get really tired of hearing that.

    I think that’s part of why there is such division amongst libertarians and everybody else. They don’t like us because we’re judgmental. And we don’t like them because they are of low moral character.

    Frankly, I don’t know what the solution is. If we stop being judgmental, we’re throwing in the towel. In order for them to be like us, they’d have to adopt great moral character. I don’t know how to get a person to live a moral life, especially when they’ve been immoral their entire lives. It would require them to examine how morally bankrupt they’ve been in the past and that’s simply too uncomfortable for most people to confront.

    Only youths with clean consciences can do it, I think. Or some sort of catastrophe in a person’s life that is so monumental that it really forces a person to do a 180. That day may actually be coming if our doomsday scenario plays out like we often think it will.

    My comment was a bit of a tangent, but I think they’re related.

    • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

      Seth, can you give some specifics? As a libertarian, I like to consider myself non-judgemental of the peaceful actions of others; that is, I don’t think someone, say, smoking a joint or paying a prostitute for sex is immoral or worthy of condemnation. I am extremely judgemental of those who harm others, or are at least uncaring in the fact their behavior can be indirectly harmful. So, when you say libetrarians are judgemental, exactly what do you believe us to be judgemental of?

      • Good morning Shawn: I’ll briefly give my answer and let Seth speak for himself…as the man is wont to do. 🙂

        I don’t consider respecting people’s rights to be an act of morality. (And I am not suggesting you *do*.) If I don’t steal from someone or otherwise harm him, then I have done nothing more than render to him the treatment he deserves. I have done nothing more than a civilized society demands of me and I have done so largely in the expectation of receiving the same treatment in return so that the society in which I live is harmonious.

        So…on to morality. Morality resides in all the peaceful activities that are available to human beings. Just because something is peaceful does not mean that it sustains what could be reasonable called a healthy state of being or a healthy relationship. For example, taking drugs to the point of passing out constantly and destroying your healthy. That’s the person’s choice but I don’t have to approve of it or associate with someone who does so. (BTW, I have nothing against casual drug use and I advocate decriminalization of all substances.) For example, a spouse might constantly and cruelly humiliate his/her partner so as to destroy the other person’s sense of themselves and joy in living. That’s all voluntary — the cruelty meted out and the cruelty tolerated. But I don’t have to tolerate its presence in my life or speak well of it…or be silent about my opinion, for that matter. Indeed, there are some situations in which I feel morally compelled to speak out. The non-physical abuse of children is an example.

        Morality, like the respecting of rights, is in my self-interest. I treat people well — that is, I act in a civilized and moral manner — because that’s the type of human being I want to be: I want to be a person who treats others well …unless or until there is good reason not to do so. The reason is because I think being such a person gives me the most satisfying relationships with others and, given that the people in my life are a significant part of what makes me happy, I am promoting my own happiness by being decent.

        I don’t generally use Randian terms but a fair and very, very rough description of immorality is “that which is anti-life.” This would make morality “that is pro-life.” In my experience, characteristics like telling the truth and compassion are pro-life and, so, they are moral even though they are not mandated by respect for rights. In my experience, lying and cruelty are anti-life and those are behaviors upon which I pass judgment although I would not prohibit them by law or force.

      • BTW, I’m not very judgment either. Generally speaking, behavior has to harm another person — as cruelty does — to get a rise out of me. Even self-destructive drug use doesn’t phase me much…except if I must tolerate it in my own life in some way or it is hurting a person for whom I care.

        • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

          Thanks for the response, Wendy, and it sounds like you and I have a similar take on these things. Yes, drug abuse or addiction can obviously be very unhealthy, not only to the user, but to his relationships, as those who care about him may feel hurt by his drug abuse and possibly even abandon him. To me, that doesn’t make such a person immoral, but they certainly are misguided and not thinking clearly. OTOH, you mention non-physical abuse of children: while a parent may have a right to behave that way from a stricly libertarian sense, I *DO* condemn it as an immoral act, for ultimately, it *IS* harmful because the child will grow up with a lot of issues. While I wouldn’t directly interfere, I wouldn’t likely sit idly by and not speak up, either.
          There are many things I can personally disagree with that others may choose to do, but for me to truly *judge* it as immoral means it rises to the point of being harmful to others, at least indirectly.

      • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

        Shawn,

        Pretty much anybody who is an apathetic and ignorant, state worshiping, self-centered, spineless hypocrite is immoral in my book. The lifestyle choices they make is usually just a reflection of that.

        So, while I don’t think watching football, drinking beer, or smoking pot is an immoral act in and of itself, if you’re tacitly supporting the fascist warmongering police state and also spending 12 hours a week watching football, spending $400 dollars a month drinking beer and smoking pot, and spending your free time with others talking about banalities, then your priorities are all messed up and your zombie like ignorance is a long-term indirect threat to my well being. And while you may not be violating the NAP yourself, your low character is enough to make me not want to have anything to do with you. And frankly, you wouldn’t want anything to do with me either, considering I’d be constantly pointing out how evil the state is and how ludicrous all of your state-myths are.

        Hope that answers your question. =)

  3. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    I think that there are some people who don’t know what morality is. There are people who believe morality is defined by living by a set of rules they have been taught by their parents or are written in some “holy” book. The way I see it immorality is initiating harm to others. If what one is doing is not initiating harm to others it is not immoral regardless of what some “holy” book says. Some “holy” book might say that it is a “sin” or “unholy” but if one is not initiating harm what they are doing is not immoral. Some people define something that a person does as immoral when what the person is doing is not harming anyone. Like I said because some “holy” book says it is or some religion says it is.

    ” Judge and prepare to be judged.”

    – Ayn Rand

    • Eli XavierNo Gravatar says:

      What is your definition of morality, and why is it the correct definition?

    • HR: I agree. Morality is a tough one with which to wrestle and I think many people take the easy way out of just accepting authority, in one form or another. The non-aggression theory, upon which natural rights rest, is a cakewalk by comparison to morality. It became quickly clear to me that it was ‘wrong’ to beat up someone in a back alley but it took a while to work out what was the best use — the moral uses — of those peaceful hours that I’d liberated by *not* beating up someone in that back street. Thanks for the post, HR.

      • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

        Suppose you must beat up this person in a back alley to avoid the person beating you up?

        Suppose the other person in the alley claims title to the alley and claims a right to charge people a fee for using the alley, and suppose he refuses to let you leave the alley until you’ve paid the fee. You dispute his title and your obligation to pay him any fee, but you’re willing to leave the alley to avoid conflict with him. Your willingness to leave does not satisfy him, because in his way of thinking, you owe him this fee, and if he permits people to leave without paying it, he licenses theft undermining his business model (or idleness model if he pays someone else to beat you until you pay).

        Are you a thief, or is the other person a mugger?

        Morality is complex. In my way of thinking (reflecting moral standards that I prefer), I may be entitled to exclude you from an alley without payment of a rent only if you personally have explicitly agreed, contractually, to respect my right to do so in exchange for due consideration from me. In this way of thinking, no one has any conventional property rights that another person is bound to respect outside of an explicit, contractual agreement.

        Furthermore, in my way of thinking, any party to a contract may withdraw from the contract at will. A contract always reflects the will of the parties, and wills are malleable. No contract may impose terms on the parties in perpetuity.

        I don’t always add “in my way of thinking” to every statement of my personal preferences, because it’s implied, but I often do so to emphasize that I recognize few if any “natural” rights. Practically all rights are contractual in my way of thinking, and the terms of contract reflect personal preferences, not universally inviolable standards.

        I did say “practically all” there, but I don’t claim to be an anarchist. My way of thinking clearly presumes rights, respect for which is not contractual or voluntary in any sense, and I’m keenly aware of this presumption, precisely because I’m not comfortable with coercive rights. A right to contract presumes in the first instance that no one may compel me to accept terms of a “contract” (a contradiction in terms).

        By contrast, Seth seems to assert standards that I’m bound to respect without any agreement on my part. He may correct me if I misread him. He also insinuates that I’m dishonest when I’m only making assumptions differing from his assumptions. He’s free to do so, of course, and I learned long ago not to take this sort of thing personally, but insisting that others are “immoral”, because they make different assumptions, does rub many people the wrong way, so it’s not very effective at selling standards that Seth and I both prefer.

  4. gdpNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent article, Wendy! The concept of “Circles of Trust” is a good and useful one.

    My own philosophy for some time has been that “Trust is earned, not `given’,” and that it obeys a “Matthew-like” principle that the more one earns, the more one can earn — whereas in a breach of trust, the more one loses, the more one can lose.

    Beware of people who say “Just trust me,” because such people are usually the least trustworthy. “Just trust me” is the signature of the con artist and the sociopath.

    But those persons who quietly demonstrate by their actions instead of their words that they are trustworthy in small things will usually prove to be trustworthy in greater things as well.

  5. CharlieNo Gravatar says:

    “that chuck of society” ?

  6. I do not wish to cut off the discussion of “wherein does morality consist” but I want to open a parallel discussion of “who can you trust?” Who do you trust, and why?

    • Eli XavierNo Gravatar says:

      Personally, I come from a cultural background that espouses strong and close familial connections. As a result, I generally trust my family much more than peers or friends, and have little need for ‘external’ sources of trust.

      • I envy you, Eli. I don’t have family connections, although I would have liked very much for them to exist. You are a fortunate human being. And, from your post, I have the impression you appreciate your good fortune.

  7. Dana NutterNo Gravatar says:

    I’m glad to see this subject brought up. There may be a few out there who remember me as being fairly active in “libertarian” type groups on antisocial media before finally giving it up about 1 1/2 years ago for a several reasons (which I’ve already addressed elsewhere ad nauseum though I did make a very brief return before deciding a blog would be a better outlet for my rants), but you did well to touch upon some of my main reasons that has absolutely nothing to do with the state or politics, most notably that I didn’t really *know* any of those people I was interacting with online, nor did they really know anything about me. They were, and still are, very much strangers to me and vice versa. I’ve also through much trial and error noticed that a professed belief in “libertarian” principles does not equate to someone having good character any more than being a left-wing O’Bomber worshiping socialist means someone lacks character. In many cases those that have other beliefs are just ethically illiterate, confused or possibly just apathetic to the truth.

    People are just people and in all too many cases, those I’ve met online regardless of their claimed acceptance of strong ethical values that I share, have shown themselves to me to be no better than any random person I might meet on the street. As a result, I’ve virtually completely extracted myself from the entire scene except for reading an occasional article that might catch my eye, such as this one. It may just be the shallowness of online interaction but so far I’ve met absolutely nobody that I would put much trust in, even at the level of the most outer circles. And while I wouldn’t mention speecific people, I can actually say what little I did learn about some people repulsed me enough for me to know that they could never qualify to fit within any of my social circles for one reason or another. Some reasons relating to uneasiness about their general character and in a lot of instances just a mismatch for my aesthetic preferences (ex: I don’t care for druggies or drunks either), and in more cases than I’d could have ever predicted they were just plain arrogant assholes. I think I got more from people playing Yoville than in any of the hundreds of redundant Libertarian/Anarchist/Voluntaryist oriented groups. As of now there are no circles at all, unless I include my feline family.

    As time goes on, I’m finding my first instincts to be much more accurate than I’ve generally given them credit for. I’m now making it a point to give more credibility to my well-tuned bovine scatometer. Trust is most certainly something that is earned. I think Frank Zappa said it best, and it’s now my default position regardless of how pessimisstic some may find it.

    “I think that being cynical is a positive value. I think that nobody should trust anybody else. I think that all people are assholes until proven different, and I think that if you take that point of view, you’ll be dissapointed less in life.”

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      I respect this sentiment. A lot of people in the libertarian community think that it’s like a giant fraternity/sorority where others in the group are automatically “friends.”

      I completely disagree. I am glad that they are libertarians, and I am glad to be surrounded by more libertarians than less, which is why I moved to New Hampshire, but it doesn’t make them automatically my friends just because we share the same political philosophy.

      Frankly, I don’t share a whole lot in common with most people, libertarian or not.

      I agree with the Zappa quote. I’ve lived by a similar approach. Mine is that respect is earned, but treating strangers with respect should be the default.

      That is to say, it takes a long time for a person to earn my respect, but that doesn’t mean I go around treating strangers disrespectfully. In order for me to treat another person disrespectfully, they’d need to give me a reason to.

      • Even if I were to agree with Zappa — and I don’t — I wouldn’t treat strangers or those who had not ‘revealed’ themselves as assholes with anything less than total civility. The reason? I don’t want to be an asshole myself. That’s not the person I want to spend every moment of my life with for the rest of my life. I’d like to do *that* with a decent human being whom I respect.

        As for not agreeing with Zappa…there are several reasons I differ. 1) People are fallible and moody. They can say and do things that are offensive, etc. I look at who a person is 99% of the time and judge them by that rather than when they are angry or pushed to the wall. I look at their character which is 99% behavior. I don’t expect perfection. For one thing, I can’t offer it in return.

        2) In most cases in which a person’s self-interest is not threatened, in my experience, he will behave with decency. If you a threaten a person’s self-interest, then of course he will be in conflict with you. And he *should* look at you with suspicion or defensively. I don’t expect people to be self-sacrificing for my benefit. All I am saying is that — all things being equal — I find that most people are decent. That’s one of the beauties of libertarianism…any conflict in self-interest between people is minimized.

        3) I’ve known and I currently know very good people who are not assholes. 99% of the time, they are rock solid in their decency. And 100% I can trust them with a confidence or the equivalent thereof because their slips in civil behavior aren’t in that area. Perhaps I have been more lucky than most in my associations… but I don’t think so. I’m legally blind in one eye from a DV incident with a former ‘lover’ and I lived on the streets as a teenager. I could stack my reasons for becoming a cynic up against anyone and, yet, I’m not a cynic. Nor am I naive.

        4) Speaking purely for myself, were I to adopt the “everyone is an asshole” attitude, it would be an excuse I was using to stop trying emotionally. It would be a more comfortable emotional place for me to be at times rather than keep myself open to possible — or, actually, inevitable — disappointment, etc. As I said, even the rock solid decent people have that 1% behavior. As it is, I find the 99% so overwhelmingly worth the trouble that closing those people out of my life seems ridiculous. Again, speaking purely for myself.

        • Dana NutterNo Gravatar says:

          Well, the term “asshole” may be extreme but I don’t disrepect anyone by default but I do treat all strangers with caution. I simply expect the worst from them and anything that deviates from that is a bonus to me. And by “expecting the worst” I don’t necessarily mean malevolence. I simply figure they’ll at the very least have little or nothing of value to offer me, as that is usually the case since my own interests tend to be ecclectic and mostly removed from the mainstream.

          The timing here couldn’t have been better because it sort of coincides with the blog I just wrote. Libertarianism, at least the purest variety (anarchism) that I adhere to, is not a political belief. It’s the ethically driven rejection of all politics as a means of achieving anything. I can’t define myself by what I am not, nor expect to meet people based upon what I’m not. Logically it would be like meeting another non-stamp-collector and expecting that person to be compatible because I don’t collect stamps either. I had actually started going to a local atheist meetup to find a social outlet. For this same reason, it proved to be a failure. I am not, nor ever have been part of any “movement”. I was just seeking a place to socialize.

          At this point political or religious leanings are no longer a criteria for the people I seek to be around. What little interest I may have had in libertarian-minded communities has long since passed. I’m just going to go back to my state of personal anarchy that I’ve been in my whole adult life and do what suits me regardless. As much as I’d like to build my circles, finding trustyworthy people is very tough.

  8. StormNo Gravatar says:

    It is all about risk assessment as any part of our life. As Seth said, we are not automatically friends, nor are we inherently trustworthy because we share a political belief.

    That said, we ought to examine the positive as well. We can take a gamble to some extent because of a shared political belief. We can more likely trust the person to not involve the police for instance than we could the population as a whole, keeping in mind that this is only ONE of the many inputs we need before we actually extend that trust.

    Through watching those behaviors that Wendy mentions, we can make smart choices and discover some wonderful relationships. Caution with optimism also would be my approach.

    As an aside, I am glad that some others took a chance on trusting me because of my posts and exhibited behaviors online, despite not being able to check me out via official channels. I’ve gained not only some wonderful friends in real life, but the love of my life this way.

    • Dana NutterNo Gravatar says:

      That’s the way I see it. You give a slight bit of trust and gradually increase it as someone proves their worthiness, and back off if they prove otherwise.

  9. SChaser42No Gravatar says:

    “Nothing attracts or inspires decency in others as much as manifesting decency in yourself. Mistrust is a survival mechanism but trust is as well. You need both.”

    I quoted this part in particular on my FB page earlier today. The part that stood out to me is that I can go on not trusting anyone, and be rarely disappointed. But rather than tending to think of everyone as assholes until proven differently, I view everyone as blank sheets of paper. They are each handled with the same care and respect from the beginning. With each action people take, a mark is made. And no sheet, including my own, would be represented with flawless perfection.

    For my online, social networking relationships, I’ve learned to read (“listen”) more and “talk” less. That has spilled over into my every day life with anyone. With what FB has done to make privacy that much more difficult, I’ve guarded my privacy and those for whom I love much more jealously online than I ever had to in real life. That is where I suspect most underestimate what ill-placed trust can cost. But when it comes together well, the relationships can beyond compare. Never in history has someone had the opportunity to have such close relationships at one time all over the globe.

    • Good advise, Storm Chaser. Thanks for posting.

      • Dana NutterNo Gravatar says:

        I still have an empty Fakebook account for reading what a few others say. But for privacy and other reasons am no longer active, nor do I have anyone on my list of fake friends.

        I disagree with the idea of “close relationships” with people around the globe. Online acticity is at best superficial. Without the nuances of in-person interaction it’s really difficult if not impossible to truly know someone. At best you they are penpals.

        • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

          Email approximates penpal activity, but general forum/comment text among avatars, each of which might or might not have anything to do with the personality of the person using the avatar, is at best factitious. Obviously, no one exists online. It is impossible to “have a relationship” with someone online. Those who consider themselves to be engaged in online relationships have already allowed the NWO to change their behavior pattern, have already digested too much of the wrong-colored pill, have already become lost inside the matrix.

          One key goal for the NWO is to trick as many people as possible into considering their online avatars as having real lives of their own. It is part of the agenda for transhumanism & technocracy, of getting people accustomed to receiving orders from Common Core computers that spit out nonsense disguised as career counseling. All online relationships are literal relationships with computers. Love your tamagotchi!

          Does your ATM (bank machine) call you by your first name? That’s a rhetorical question — of course it does. If someone was using your stolen bank card, would the machine know enough to call them by their first name, or would it continue to assume that it’s having a relationship with a card?

          • Hello again, Vanmind: You state, ” It is impossible to ‘have a relationship’ with someone online. Those who consider themselves to be engaged in online relationships have already allowed the NWO..” I guess I am a victim of the New World Order because I have online relationships with quite a few people. Admittedly, I have met them in person as well and that may be a prerequisite in your view but the relationship is still online. I use my own name, I express my own opinions, and people can relate to *me* on forums such as this one. I exist online in the same manner that I exist on the sheets of paper upon which I write a letter and — from your comment “email approximates penpal activity” — I’m assuming you think it is possible to establish a relationship through email correspondence.

            I grant you, there are more barriers to relating and more opportunities to fake personalities online but such handicaps don’t make the forging of relationships impossible — merely more difficult. The Internet is just another way to communicate. And lies or posturing, etc. will always be part of any type of communication. As for the computer being a machine like an ATM…I think it is a machine (or tool) akin to a telephone. It facilitates communication, including the communication of falsehoods. Indeed, decades and decades ago, I imagine someone might have written a critique similar to yours about the new telephone contraption that didn’t allow you to see and so know who you are dealing with.

            • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

              And if a hundred people started posting socialism-friendly comments on various forums while using the avatar name “Wendy McElroy,” what then? What if I started using the avatar name “Wendy McElroy” right here at this site? Confusing? Fraudulent? What, exactly? Does IP come into play? Is it possible to steal a virtual identity, seeing how the word “virtual” presents the identity as not being real in the first place?

              Until recently, no telephone pretended to be in a position to talk to you itself. There’s a big difference between a telephone qua tool and a “Siri” app. Have people stopped complaining about standard voice-menu systems because they’re now ubiquitous? Was everyone who ever bought a tamagotchi having a relationship with the person who wrote the program that got burned into the toy’s circuitry? Was the tamagotchi itself alive and ready for love?

              Has the individual-feminist named Wendy McElroy ever posted anything at all on the internet? Where’s the proof of that? Is it the digitized text? Is it the carefully-spelled avatar name that mimics a real meatspace name? Is it the acquaintances who make assurances that “online McElroy” is the real deal? Is it the “official” registration with the centralized “authority” for domain names? How does one transfer one’s identity into a computer? By becoming Jeff Bridges?

              What of “pseu-tard” insults? Considering how they target only avatars, are they insults at all? Should I get upset over sticks & stones arrangements of pixels I see on my screen? Was it just a bot that arranged those pixels? Was it an avatar? Should I care? Homer Simpson shakes his fist at the scrolling-text sign in Times Square, because he thinks the sign is insulting him. Can fictional characters lose their identity too? Could anyone hurt Siri’s feelings? How about the feelings of a tamagotchi? When kids play online shoot-em-up games, does fragging someone else’s avatar mean they’re killing the real person in real life? No? Then how can an online insult make any real person feel insulted? Here’s a hint: it involves digesting the wrong-colored pill.

              Try this on for virtual size, a guy trying to use a telephone as a communications tool ends up running into an advanced voice-menu system pretending to be a “life” form. It’s silly, of course, for any real person to pretend over the phone that they’re someone else — even though the person at the other end hears a mere facsimile of a voice. Likewise, it’s silly for a person to climb onto a stage of people doing improv and then insist that everyone use their real name & discuss serious issues — even though everyone on stage is using their actual flesh-and-blood bodies to project & emote. Which is more “real?” Which is analogous to an internet forum?

              • Vanmind: You make a lot of quick-fire assertions and quasi-arguments that would take hours for me to make a response. I trust you understand if I only pick out one…the one that seems to me to best capture your main point. You state, “Has the individual-feminist named Wendy McElroy ever posted anything at all on the internet? Where’s the proof of that? Is it the digitized text? Is it the carefully-spelled avatar name that mimics a real meatspace name? Is it the acquaintances who make assurances that “online McElroy” is the real deal? Is it the “official” registration with the centralized “authority” for domain names? How does one transfer one’s identity into a computer? By becoming Jeff Bridges?”

                First of all, I’m not claiming anything remotely similar to transferring my identity into a computer by posting any more than I claim to transfer my identity into a piece of paper by writing upon it. Both are merely mediums through which I express my thoughts.

                Second, the fact that you may not know whether I am real from my posts is no different than if you pick up a book by Wendy McElroy and read it. How do you know there is a Wendy McElroy? Your question is a philosophical one that reduces to “how do you know the reality of anything you do not directly and empirically experience?” and it is nothing new to the internet. It is a question as old as philosophy itself.

                Generally speaking, I defend the possibility of human knowledge in the absence of 100% because all I mean by knowledge is that I have good evidence to believe something and no evidence that to disbelieve it. On this basis, I “know” where Australia is on a globe even though I have not flown over it or seen the nation from space. I have credible reason to believe the positioning of Australia and no reason to disbelieve. Ah! — you say — everyone may have been lying to you and there may not be an Australia. That’s within the realm of possibility but if you discredit knowledge on the basis of it being hypothetically possible to be wrong, then you discredit not just one piece of knowledge but “everything.” Because everything you believe could hypothetically be wrong. And, yes, that would include knowledge of things you experience empirically because, after all, you may be hallucinating, you may be X, you may be Y. If you want me to doubt something I have specific reasons to believe it true, then you need specific evidence that it is not.

                But this is far more philosophical than I think the column merits. I think it addresses a fairly basic psychological question, and I’m interested in people’s answers. Who do you trust? And why?

                • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

                  On the contrary, it is not a philosophical question at all, for you are conflating virtual reality with actual reality. There is no such thing as bitwise philosophy.

          • Dana NutterNo Gravatar says:

            I won’t say there are no “relationships” online, as all interaction constitutes some type of relationship. It’s just a matter of degree though. My point mainly being that online interactions change the way people behave. They do not act the way they would in public when dealing with others face to face. This can manifest itself in one extreme of the other. The first tend to be people who are hiding under a cloak of anyonymity. Without their identity being know they seem to feel free to be complete jerks to everyone out there, exhibiting the type of behavior that in real life would likely result in offending someone to the point of provoking a physical altercation. On the other end of the spectrum are people who are not hiding, therefore have to put on their best public persona, usually bringing out the worst cases of narcissistic behavior I think I’ve ever seen in people. In either case the real person is still hidden. Then there’s the fact that so much is lost in written forms of communication. Vocal intonations and body language communicate a lot more than we often give credit for. That doesn’t exist in blogs, chats, IM’s, text messages, etc.

            Online interaction isn’t without value, but I’d hardly call anyone I’ve met online “friends” by any sense of the word. I will give some credit though because it was online venues that enabled me to easily get the word out to people I knew after the Chilean earthquake at a time when most of the city was without electricity and landline services.

            • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

              Yeah, good stuff. The fact that one can achieve the same level of online comfort either by trying to be like one is in real life or by being a total cyber-cad character is … telling.

              Best to be the cad to preclude all pretense of matrix-style quasi-reality.

              Scenario One…

              …people pretend to have real relationships with avatars online, and end up with faces buried in smartphones for hours on end as they “socialize.” Hey, look how that works out for the NWO.

              Scenario Two…

              …people accept that online relationships are unreal, and end up using smartphones for direct voice communication, for looking up things, and for storing files. Hey, look how that works out for everyone except the NWO.

            • Hey Dana: I think we may be simply reporting different experiences. I met my best friend over the internet, and I met him in person only considerably later. The meetings then and subsequently confirmed my opinion of him. It is difficult to argue with experience and usually folly to try. You and I just differ in our online contacts. Admittedly, most of my other ones have been fairly superficial except when I am dealing with someone I previously knew in person.

              • Dana NutterNo Gravatar says:

                Well, yes it is possible for online contact to be the intial meeting place. But the person you mentioned is someone you eventually did meet in person. I’m just saying online contact doesn’t supply enough information, and the impressions we get are highly suceptible to being corrupted by the medium and the effects it has on people. I’ve devoted a whole section on my website to the dangers of “social media” with regards to security, privacy and psychosocial effects. To some extent that carries beyond the mainstream sites into all online contact.

                Just as an aside. I recently received and e-mail from someone that crawled out of the woodwork from an incident about 12 years ago. This person had sent me death threats in the past (I later found out he was on probation and as a result violated and returned to jail), and from all indications is very mentally unstable. Yes, it’s important to use caution online. Most notably I would say it’s important to guard you location so people like this won’t be able to find your home. There’s a reason I’ve always maintained a PO box to use when I must publish an address.

  10. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    Great stuff, Ms. McElroy, thanks. One grammar nit: it’s “Whom Can You Trust” for the title.

    • Thanks, Vanmind. I know you are correct grammatically-speaking but I am sticking with “Who Do You Trust?” because “whom” sounds wrong.

      • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

        Sure thing, it’s hardly my call.

        Here’s a good weekend-study subject for everyone regarding the dangers of lazy language, direct from The Underground Grammarian himself, Richard Mitchell.

        http://www.sourcetext.com/grammarian/less-than-words-can-say/inde x.html

        Non-spoiler bottom line: never write “for the audience” you anticipate, because in such a case the writer and the reader both are equal parts offensive and offended.

        Perhaps, though, it’s no biggie. Can’t be too anal, even when trying to set an example. If some innocent shop owners get murdered during the impending “revolution for social justice,” it’ll only turn out that way because they happened to have an income that fell within the top one percent. One percent is a close enough figure, it’ll get the job done with a bit of extra damage that’s merely collateral — anything else like “0.001%” just sounds wrong, it doesn’t have the same agitprop zing, it’s not a valid sound-bite created to target a specific audience.

        Oops, a few cops happened to read the wrong address again, and another innocent died. It’s a good thing “War on Drugs” and “Homeland Security” are still great sound-bites.

        Whole word see-say
        It’s the best way
        Read good! Read well?
        Yaaaaaaaaaaaay, team!

  11. Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

    Wendy, I have always been too trusting of people in person. Perhaps that explains my extreme cynicism about politicians and other public figuires. Your advice to note the body language shown by a person is worthless for some of us who have no ability at all ato read body languiage. Asbergers types in particular understand logic but have little real empathy for how others emote. It all comes down to risk evaluation vs beneflit analysis. Nobody is trustworthy in toto so you guess at how much to trust anyone and hope the benefit is worth the cost. So far everyone I have trusted has burned me at least somewhat. I doubt I will find real trust in the short atime I have left. As always, I love your writing.

  12. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    Wendy, I’ve been thinking about this topic over the past week.

    I think it’s safe to say that I, and just about every one of us, trust total strangers all of the time with our lives.

    When I drive on the road doing 50 mph and there is oncoming traffic also doing 50 mph, I trust that NONE of the drivers will intentionally, or accidentally, swerve into my lane causing a head on collision, killing me.

    When I fly on an airplane, I trust that the pilots will get me there safely, and I trust that the mechanics who serviced the plane before take off did so competently.

    When I eat at a restaurant I trust that the cook hasn’t spit in my food, or poisoned it.

    That being said, I also trust a mountain lion to be a mountain lion. Or an alligator to be an alligator. So, I treat them with extreme caution.

    I trust police to lie, beat, cage, and steal. And so, like the lions and alligators, I avoid them at all cost and act with much precaution when they are in the vicinity.

    The list goes on.

  13. Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

    Seth you are really trusting human nature not strangers. You expect people to react according to their perceived best self interest. Still one might avoid suich things as driving when lots of drunks are on the road.

  14. JacobNo Gravatar says:

    Trusting someone or something is an affirmative act. I think it is essential that one engage in such activity with intelligence and effort. The easiest method to successfully trust, but the most difficult to employ, is to undertake the work of examining the “wake.” The “wake” is what trails behind, as in the wake of a motorboat. Everyone excepting newborns has one, and their wakes trailing behind them contain the records of their lives. Extend trust to persons, groups and organizations with an abundance of blessings in their wakes. Withhold trust from persons, groups and organizations with evil, immorality and disaster in their wakes. Modify these rules as prudence would dictate.

    Many years ago Paul McCartney was filmed in an interview with David Frost. At the end of the interview, David remarked that his reports showed that Paul owned businesses throughout the world and that all of them were profitable. He then asked Paul to explain how he could achieve what Wall Street could not. Paul remarked that he had one rule that he never breaks: He only does business with people he trusts.

    Trust is not a gamble.