Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Fear

I think that this will probably end up as a series instead of a single post. This will serve mainly as an introduction and outline.

What is fear? Fear is natural response to dangers. From an evolutionary perspective this means flight or fight. We evolved with a known danger with a predictable likelihood and outcome. These factors get calculated and we decide whether it would be in our best interest to flee the danger or to fight it. This decision also depends on other factors. Are you alone? Are there others that need your protection? Do you have backup if things go badly? How fast is your pursuer likely to be in comparison to you?

All of these situations need a lot of adrenaline to assist in either path, so the body produces more. This is why we sweat,  get tense, and other thought processes fade into the background. In the natural world, these threats arrive, and are dealt with, and we move on.

Today there are a lot more things that cause us fear. As humans we are living in a world completely foreign to our ancestors. Our fears vary according to where we live, but many of them we cannot solve as quickly as a situation in the wild would be. We are afraid to lose our jobs, our homes, our families. We fear disease, economic hardship, terrorism, rape, kidnapping. We fear police, politics, the poor, the rich, other races, our families, each other, and even ourselves.

What does that mean for us? As individuals it creates a state of constant stress and anxiety that is so common in our society. It leads to increased use of anti-anxiety medications. It also can lead to a feeling of despair, which explains our epidemic of depression. Our bodies were not built to deal with constant stress, and that may lead to the type of chemical imbalances that we are finding.

As a group, humans are drawing more lines between themselves and others. We do this in our daily lives. We refuse to make eye contact with strangers as we hurry through crowded streets wary that anyone we pass could be a pickpocket, or worse. On a larger scale we do it with entire cultures. America has broken all ties with Islamic nations because we are terrified that they are out to get us. Extremists of all types rationalize their actions using fear. Homegrown terrorists are afraid of the government, religious zealots are afraid for the continuation of their way of life, politicians are afraid of the people. In order to make themselves feel safer, people will resort to making others afraid. This is the source of the threat, including the demonstration of power.

Why are we so afraid today? Many people will tell you that it is because of our human ability to anticipate, but that leaves out the distinction between our ancestors’ fears and our own. I do not believe that we would ever have begun building permanent settlements if people obsessed over fears of wild animals in the same way we obsess over our fears today. Others will say that it is because of our global society. This is also part of the story. We are able to see the horrors going on in far flung parts of the globe. The images of 9/11 that are scarred into the minds, certainly of anyone who remembers the event, are mostly those images that were shown on television. People can describe this scene even though they may never have been to New York.

I believe that while these points contribute to our societal fears, the main cause is fear mongering. People who gain by the public’s fear do everything they can to manipulate our fears. This includes not only those who use violence to make others fear them, but also those who use the violence of another to create a solidarity between victims. What does that mean? It means that scared people are easier to control. It means that through manipulation of our fears people become predictable. It means that by convincing people to be afraid of one thing, they can be forced to overlook other things. It means that when people are afraid they make alliances with others who are also afraid. Politics took this to a whole new level when the color coded terror threat level system was created. This is used as a way to tell the people exactly how frightened they should be on a given day. I was reading about yesterday’s attacks in Paris, when I came across an interesting juxtaposition. In two back to back sentences we were told that there is currently no indication of an attack on the U.S., and then told that none of our prediction methods saw the Paris attacks coming. They know that at this moment our fear is already heightened so much that if they told us to be afraid they could lose that carefully crafted control.

Fear is a great way to get people to give things up. If you are afraid of attacks on your home, keeping your protection is important. This is why the same people who garner fear of people outside of the country attacking are the same people who create the fear of having guns taken away. If you are afraid that you will not be able to protect your family, your personal privacy is less important. If you are afraid that a certain type of person is out to get you it makes you less likely to protect their rights. If you are afraid that your child will be hurt by a stranger it makes you less likely to let them be alone.

What can you do? Recognize when someone is using fear to control. Look behind the words to figure out what the speaker gains by having you believe them. The less self-interest, the more likely the story is true. The more they have to gain, the more they will stretch the truth. The more followers they have, the more credence the story gains, and the more it can be bent without breaking.

People in America today have given up a lot of freedoms in the name of safety, many of which we still take for granted. We need to learn to take a step back and figure out why people tell us certain things so that we can truly protect ourselves.

 

Commitment & Classism

A while back I was very interested in purchasing a business. All of the numbers seem like it is profitable enough to support my family. It is a small inn, and having hotel experience I thought that work well. It is in a beautiful place. It seems to attract good people. Looking at the reviews and the website I could see a few things that I would improve, but overall guests seemed to love it, and it works well, so there would be very little to change.

I e-mailed the owners an offer directly, knowing that we might have issues if we tried going through a bank since we do not have a down payment. The response was bit rude, but I respect that they do not want to carry the contract. That’s fine. What bothered me was the off-handed reference they made to money as a proof of commitment. I know that people expect a down payment, and that banks will not proceed without one. My father had said something about ‘putting some skin in the game’. He was also referring to money, but I thought that there were other ways of showing commitment.

I brushed off the comment and proceeded to try to find some way to finance this purchase using the business itself as collateral. Everyone is more than willing to do that part, after all that is what a mortgage is. But without a down payment or additional collateral, I could find no way of doing it. We spoke to banks, bought nicer clothes, searched online, and pursued every avenue we could think of, even crowd-funding. In the end, the fact that we do not have enough money in savings means that we cannot buy this business, even though it would more than pay for itself and support us better than we are living now.

To me this seems like nothing more than a way to ‘keep people in their place’. I would think that if my family threw ourselves into the business, worked there for free for a few months to observe and learn, as we survive off of what little savings we have, would show commitment. If we quit our jobs to focus solely on the business, that would show commitment. Our intention to let our children run it when we retire would show commitment. All of these things we are willing to do. But to the world, if Donald Trump saw the place was for sale and wrote a check for the total that would show more commitment. Even if he never saw the business and never even thought about it again.

There needs to be a way for people to break through this barrier that we have found. Today we could work our entire lives, saving every penny for this purchase and not save enough. Even if we never took a vacation, did not send our children to college, and worked until we were too old to run the place ourselves. Eventually we were forced to give it up.

And this business is relatively inexpensive for this type of thing. I use the example of Donald Trump because his ‘small 1 million dollar loan’ would nearly buy it in full.

The Hard Work Fallacy

In America, everyone has the opportunity to make it big. All it takes is hard work, a goal, and determination. That is the principle that made America unique. This principle is still taught in schools and propagated by the media. But it is false today. Before America, a person’s station in life was pre-determined by their family’s position. If you were born to the right person, you had power. Today it is not rank or station, but the inheriting of money that makes this true.

There have been times in our history when people can move up simply by hard work, but today that is not the case. Every time I hear an interview with any influential or famous person, the question comes up in some form, ‘How did you get where you are today’. Inevitably they will give themselves credit, ‘hard work and determination.’ Rarely do you hear people say ‘luck’ or ‘my parents’. The people who are in these positions believe that they are there because they worked harder than the others, so they deserve it more. This is what they need to tell themselves in order to make them feel entitled to what they have.

Some of them I have no doubt worked very hard, maybe even more than their peers. I do not believe that the fact that the CEO of the company who had their child ‘work their way up’ happened to have a child who got to CEO by chance too. It is a good thing that Jr. has experienced different jobs that they now supervise, but I have a very difficult time believing that their career was not fast-tracked. I do not believe that Justin Beiber worked harder for his ‘career’ than Joe Blo who quit his day job to practice in his garage and play every gig he can.

In the real world, people work as much as they need to. Many of them put a lot of effort into moving up their companies, or at improving their craft. What a person needs to survive comes down to some very basic things; shelter, food, and water. The people who have to work 40+ hours a week to get these things for their families work very hard. To quote David Siegel, CEO of Westgate, “I can no longer support a system that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive.” (Daily Kos). He is referring to the supposedly ‘socialist’ planned policies of Obama that support the worker by taxing the wealthy. He literally says that the people who work under him are ‘unproductive’ and that he, as the boss, is the ‘productive’ one. I’m sorry, but WTF?! By definition, the people producing things are being productive. The people he is insulting are the very people who are working so hard that he can afford his mansion.

The scary thing is that Mr. Siegel, and others like him actually believe that they work harder than the people who work under them. This is a twisted interpretation of the ‘hard work reaps rewards’ fallacy. This belief is what allows people to not pay their workers a decent wage. The boss thinks that because these people have not reached the same level of status and wealth, that they are lazy. This is what allows CEOs to make hundreds of times more than their employees do, because this is what makes is so that the CEO does not feel guilty about it.

I am not saying that the principle is bad. I strongly believe that everyone should get an even shot at success, and that effort should be rewarded. I am not posing a solution to the problem at the moment, but rather bringing attention to the fact that people believing the story for their own peace of mind is part of the problem.

I wrote a while back that I did not know why I continued to watch Undercover Boss. I think that I watch it because I hope that this experience will teach the bosses about the fallacy they have been living. What I keep seeing though is entitled people who think that the hardworking, struggling people that they meet are the exception, rather than the rule.

Even though I understand why those in power believe what they believe, I do struggle with why they cannot see that they were mistaken. In the last several years there has been a lot of media coverage and research that shows that people do struggle, and do work hard. I do not want to believe that the people in power are just evil, greedy thieves who want to watch the world burn. I think that they truly believe that they are right, and are justified in what they are doing. It is the challenge of admitting that they are wrong that keeps them clinging to something beautiful in principle, blissfully unaware that they are actively breaking down that principle with every check they cash, every pay raise that they refuse, and every time they think that just because they know someone that person is the best person for the job.

I would love to start a conversation about how we can go about bringing awareness to the powerful without the tried and failed method of simply shoving how wrong they are in their face.

CHAPTER 7 (WIP) – SELL SELL SELL

Jessica meandered through the mall, looking for nothing in particular. Everywhere sale signs beat down on her as she realized that ‘sale’ means nothing when you are broke. No matter how much off, if you have no money, it is still prohibitively expensive. About this point Jessica realized how dumb it was to come to the mall when she had no money. This was a place where everything had a cost, and without money even walking was not fun.

Jessica walked into a small deli and grocery. The smells of food that was not ramen tempted her taste buds. She paced up and down the aisles as the signs that said “Sale!”, “Buy 2 get one Free!”, “40% off!” seemed to push her down. She was hearing them in her own head. “Sell!” “Discount!” “Value!” It all made Jessica feel ill.

The deli connected to a hospital wing, where Jessica went to the desk and told them she was not feeling well. The lady at the desk asked for an ID and insurance card. When Jessica provided these, the lady did not even look at them before proclaiming that this hospital was too good for that insurance, and told Jessica that if she could not pay for care herself she would be escorted off the grounds, ill or not. Jessica turned to the door and decided to go to a park to clear her head. When she got outside, Jessica found the park very relaxing. At least for a little while she could escape the money grubbing and the constant marketing.

As soon as this thought occurred to her, Jessica realized that the sounds still echoed in her head, “Online Reputation.” “Social Media Marketing.” “Page Rankings”. As she shook her head to get rid of the voices she noticed that the grass was made of paper money and all of it with a picture of Franklin. She jumped to her feet and plucked as much as she could get her hands on. Soon she was surrounded by others doing the same thing.

Jessica filled her arms with the bills and headed for the exit before people stole them from her. At the edge of the park a man in a suit directed her to deposit her armload into a chute. When she shook her head he told her that she would be taken to prison for theft if she did not let go of her spoils. As she did, the man in the suit put on a visor and punched a few numbers into a calculator. He handed her a small slip of paper as he said “15 minutes plus commission, your pay for this morning is $5. Thank you. This field in worthless now, tomorrow we hope to see you at Downtown Park for the next reaping.”

Jessica left the park confused and dazed. She felt the check slip from her hand and dropped down to retrieve it. Suddenly mud splashed into her face. At first she thought she must have done it when she landed, but after wiping her eyes she saw black dress shoes with mud on the toes. As she looked up she saw a man in a black suit and black sunglasses holding her check. He looked at it, reached to his right and handed her three dollar bills. “Uncle Sam needs to keep you safe” was all he said before walking away, leaving Jessica in the mud with nothing but $3.

As she looked across the now desolate field, she saw people putting up tents while the suits talked about selling mineral rights while people still saw value in it and how to convince workers that collecting as much as possible as quickly as possible was in the worker’s own self-interest.

Jessica thought that no matter how rich she was she would never treat people like slaves. A voice behind her began to speak. “You have to spend money to make money.” Jessica spun around to find that no-one was there. “Money fuels the American Dream.” Jessica frantically looked for the source of the words.  “Putting down your own money shows commitment.”

Everything became a blur as Jessica called out, “But how do I show commitment when I am broke?”

Jessica ran toward the voice, “We will tell you how much is enough commitment.” responded the voice of the bank. Jessica stopped running. If she emptied all of her accounts and committed to survival based on the investment, wouldn’t that show more commitment than the richest man alive buying it outright?

Jessica found herself alone in a sea of black. She had only her three dollars to keep her company as she suffocated from the lack of air in this space. How would she ever escape this well of poverty when in order to grow she needed wealth?

Jessica found herself gasping for air as she awoke to hear Kenzie’s training videos, “Sell, Sell, Sell!” “Motivate!” “Upsell!”

Chapter 8 – Collateral Damage

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