Wednesday, December 13, 1995

Trust

WHEN the Sex Pistols, with Malcolm McLaren's help, fold their followers "Never trust a hippy" the snotty motto had a double impact. It spotlighted the punks' darkest foe, while at same time pointing out that those who had screeched "Never trust anyone over 30" from the barricades were now, by their own definition, untrustworthy. What is interesting is that these two radical youth movements, the hippies and the punks, although apparently poles apart, both defined themselves by what they did not trust.

The middle English "trust" originated in the old Norse for strong or firm. These qualities are, of course, easier to assess in a sword than in a person's degree of resolve. In the late Sixties, however, psychologists became interested in the possibility of creating and calibrating trust through "trust games", instituting what has become a tug of war between trust as a naive ideal and as a potent method of crowd control.

By the time punk had collapsed into new wave, and new wave sunk to The Knack the territory of "trust" was all but left to Elvis Costello. The narrator of Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, suffered badly from a disease prevalent in American at this time an incurable belief that Elvis Costello was deep. This conviction led him to read the decline of the West into a poster of the singer's 1981 album on which could be seen "The word 'Trust' hovering over his head, and his sunglasses, one lens red, the other blue, pushed down past the ridge of his nose so that you can see his eyes. . . The eyes don't look at me, though." Wooh! Scary!

As "trust" slid out of popular culture, through psychology and into industrial relations, the word was converted into a tool for the pursuit of competitiveness. "Any shortcoming in trust can trigger uncertainty and fear, blocking the flexibility, needed for keeping up with changes in technology and markets," the US magazine, Industry. Week told its readers in an article entitled "15 Ways To Win People's Trust" way back in 1993. Those who still think trust must be earned have lost their purchase on reality trust can now be manufactured in industrial quantities, although regional distribution can still be a problem.

By 1995, trust had become a science. Perhaps think tank kingpin Francis Fukuyama is simply being realistic when, in his Trust The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, he describes trust in economic terms. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that the author of The End of History and The Last Man, was not aware of the depressing quality of his assertion that trust has "a large and measurable economic value".

Fukuyama's cry may be heard in the high temple of the Pounds 25 management hardback, but it is still spoken in the language of the covered wagon the miracle cure medicine man still waves a magic potion in the air You can trust me, the pitch goes, "I'm an analyst with the RAND corporation.

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