Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Who do you trust?"

Encylcopedia BritannicaGood question!

Here are some of Joel Achenbach's answers:

Google and Wikipedia are pretty good, but they're just starting points in the quest to find out what's going on....

I trust nature, resilient and resourceful as it has shown itself to be for some 4 billion years in these parts.

I trust the scientific method, for being so relentlessly self-correcting, and for having the courage to view truth as provisional.

I trust the future. Could be foolish. But trust always has an element of faith. I trust the future to give us a better world. (Cross my fingers.)
Achenbach picked up the "Who do you trust?" meme from this nicely short Washington Post piece, in which Philip Kennicott asks the same question in the wake of the death of Walter Cronkite. Kennicott writes:
It was deeply disturbing, but not terribly surprising, to learn that under the guidance of a stern man in a lab coat, ordinary people would torture innocent victims in the infamous Milgram experiment carried out at Yale University. Cronkite was a white man in a tie, with a calm, reassuring voice, and he could have talked us into almost anything, if he wanted to. But his legacy is a paradox: We trusted him to teach us to trust less.

The nostalgia for Cronkite is nostalgia not for a lost golden age, but for a brief time when three large media corporations held a monopoly on the airwaves, when trust could be sorted out easily and quickly with the shorthand of race, class and education....

But there is no aura of trust that public figures can put on like a bespoke suit. Trust has been shattered into a million little pieces, which was, perversely, the name of a dubious memoir endorsed by Oprah, unofficially the most trusted woman in America. Replacing it is a host of smaller and more precise ideas. Transparency. Authenticity. Accuracy. A different world, and not necessarily a worse one.
(Photo of Encyclopedia Brittanica by Stewart Butterfield.)

6 comments:

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

George Orwell. Anton Chekhov. Marcus Aurelius. Montaigne.

Among living people? As Eisenhower said, "Give me a week and I'll think of one."

Jason (the commenter) said...

Anton Chekhov. Marcus Aurelius. Montaigne.

But can you trust the translators?

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Good question, Jason, but you can compare translators and get the gist. As a reader of prose, I like to find the most accurate and readable (two qualities that may not coincide) translation I can, for my own pleasure; but it would be hard for any conscientious translation to significantly distort Chekhov's honesty, his lack of illusion, his love of reason and freedom.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Okay, I'll be daring and say who I trust: Neal Stephenson, Sei Sh┼Źnagon, Pedro Almod├│var, Hanuman, and Hong Zicheng.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Interesting! The only one I've read is Sei Shonagon. I trust her to be witty and observant, a good teacher about a culture that's exotic to me. I've seen an Almadovar movie or two, and I trust him to be -- well, the same things I said about Shonagon, plus a clever visual storyteller. Haven't read Stephenson -- too many words. Just looked up Hong Zicheng on Wikipedia -- sounds like my kind of guy, a kinsman of Issa or Tu Fu: not too many words.

Jason (the commenter) said...

If I know Almodovar has written and directed something, or Stephenson has written something all by himself, I don't even ask what it's about. I just throw my money at it. That's trust.

Haven't read Stephenson -- too many words.

Who would have thought that in an age where people are thought to have short attention spans that a baroque writing style, drenched in philosophy, would sell? He's a heroic author who requires heroic readers.

I've been thinking about trust for several days, and I think the best way for someone to gain our trust is to trust us. Don't tell us everything, leave problems for us to work out. Then when we understand what you are trying to say, it will be all the more meaningful.