Let me make a sweeping statement. Trust is on the decline, worldwide. Trust, in our institutions, our public services and security agencies, our corporations and even between one another, is significantly lower than a generation ago.
A 2013 poll conducted among 3000 employees of blue-chip companies and institutions across North America, showed that only 32% of employees trusted their own senior management and just 18% believed that their CEOs were a credible source of information. A growing number of weddings now happen with ‘pre-nups’, legal agreements that spell out what shall be his and what shall be hers, in the event of a divorce.
Among people who govern, trust is confidence born of character and competence. Character speaks of integrity and competence, of capability. Both are vital, but with the increasing revelations of skulduggery among our political and business leaders, the character side of trust is growing larger in focus.
So, is the fall from a position of trust a shift? Were our leaders, CEOs and spouses more honest before, than they are now? Maybe, but I doubt that. There has never been any decline. Trust has always had provisos attached to it. It is just that the world didn’t bother about them then. My sweeping statement in para-1 therefore needs to be re-examined.
There is a commonly held belief among most, that given the ‘right environment’, people want to lead honest and transparent lives, be fair in their dealings and adhere to the Christian ‘do-unto-others’ rule. History however has repeatedly proven otherwise and in fact, shown that humans are by nature, deceitful.
The first deceiver may have been God himself, for giving us with one hand and then snatching away with the other, while we have looked on like dumb suckers, barely managing to mumble in our grief,” What can one say? It was God’s wish.” He might be the only one who actually managed to get away with it.
God has consistently deceived us into believing that we’re doing fine and as long as we are good, nothing bad shall happen to us and yet, millions live through grinding poverty and die in pain and misery each year, millions who never even got the chance to be good and reap the benefits thereby. That He made us in His image must have something to do with why we cannot be trusted.
Even our saints and apostles were sometimes deceitful. We had Judas Iscariot, one of Christ’s 12 apostles, who first kissed and then betrayed Jesus to the pagan priests for 30 pieces of silver. The Book of Corinthians speaks of the ‘False Apostles’, holy leaders of men, who pretended to be servants of Christ, angels of light, ministers of righteousness. But they in fact worked for the Satan.
Whoever wrote the Bible hadn’t counted upon all those televangelists in the American heartland who deliver their sermons from inside boutique churches and TV studios, live in multi-million dollar ranches and drive around in Rolls Royces. Just google Kenneth Copeland. I won’t say any more. If I want to remove his name from this page, I’ll need insecticide.
The Mahabharata’s leading protagonist, Lord Krishna, whom we Hindus worship everyday as a deity, forced the leading Pandava, Judhishthir, to deceive the great Kuru warrior, Drona, into believing that his son, Ashwathama, had been killed in battle, when actually it was only an elephant named Ashwathama who had died. The news broke Drona’s heart and his will to fight on, leading to his ultimate defeat and death. This, when Judhishthir was known as one who always spoke the truth. His so-called unflinching adherence to Satya (truth) and Dharma (righteousness) was respected even by his enemies, the Kurus. Maybe the deception of Drona was planned only because Judhishthir’s reputation for honesty would ensure that Drona believed him.
And don’t even mention all those Greek Gods and Goddesses who reveled in all sorts of deceptions. Why, Zeus, the horniest God of all time, came down from the Pantheon disguised as a swan, to shtup Leda, the queen of Sparta, though how someone can be fooled by a swan and even get turned on by an obviously tiny richard, I’ll never know. I told you, women are crazy. But then maybe it wasn’t tiny really, Zeus’s richard. Maybe the geezer had had enough and it was going to be his ‘swan schlong’. Zeus and Leda gave birth to a chic who proved to be nothing but trouble. She was known as Helen, Helen of Troy (¹).
Then we have those holier-than-thou goofballs among us, like that character named Clevinger in Joseph Heller’s Second World War satire, Catch-22, who was forever getting into those excruciating arguments with Yosarian about morality and how they all should be doing the right thing, fighting and getting killed for their nation. At the end of every argument, Clevinger was invariably left spluttering and incoherent with righteous indignation, while Yosarian walked off, smirking.
The desire to cheat, wanting an edge over others, winning at the others’ expense, these are default attributes that we saw our parents practice and we all grew up with. They are the key to our very survival. The end has always justified the means. We are all Darwinians to the core. Even God has right now dug in, with His divine back to the wall. The other guy is coming on too strong
The other day, I was reading ‘Flash boys – A Wall Street revolt’, by Michael Lewis, a former bond trader in the Investment Bank, Salomon Brothers. I am a finance-deaf guy. Fifty pages without either a shootout or a pair of baobabs or an orgasm is more than I can take. But this book really lays bare the evil that goes by the name of Wall Street. It essentially says that the American stock market is rigged to benefit a few – the large investment Banks and their HFTs, High Frequency Traders who buy and sell billions worth of stocks and bonds every day.
The way these guys have rigged the market is by being as close, physically, to the 13 stock exchanges in the US, as possible and installing the latest and fastest computers in their dens. Even though transactions travel at the speed of light through fiber optic cables to ‘black boxes’ inside the stock exchanges, a closer proximity gives a trader a nano-second edge over you.
If you place a ‘buy’ order, the HFTs will come to know of it, get inside and buy, a fraction of a second before your buy order reaches the exchanges and has had time to make the purchase. Then, having reached there first, they’ll turn around and offer you the very same stock at a marginally higher price. And you’ll suddenly find that the earlier offer is no longer there.
A one-cent difference, over 1 billion shares, is $10 mill cool and if that transaction is one in a million going on every minute, you could be losing a lot of dough, to someone who has an unfair edge over you. I always knew something was fishy. I wouldn’t go anywhere near the stock market with my cash. What are mattresses for?
Flash Boys must have had some pretty convincing arguments, because hours after its release, the book has triggered independent investigations of HFTs, by the FBI and the New York Attorney General’s office.
And it should. The American economy depends upon the trust that investors have on its financial system. If that trust failed and investment stopped, so would the ability of publicly listed corporations to borrow and therefore, to expand and to employ. In this respect, Flash Boys gives us the bird’s eye view of a disaster in the making. Trust is everything.
When he was controlling all the madka (numbers) rackets in the 70s, the Mumbai underworld don, Varadaraja Mudaliar, once caught one of his runners cheating on a customer who had put the equivalent of 10¢ on a winning combination. Before he had him tossed out of the 20th floor of the Oberoi Trident Hotel in Nariman Point, Vardha Bhai is reported to have told the man, “ While on your way down, I want you to keep repeating ‘trust’, ‘trust’, ‘trust’.”
The don didn’t give a flying fig about the customer who had lost his winnings, though he did make sure that the man was reimbursed in full. He just wanted to send out a message to all those poor sods, those daily-wage laborers, who paid into the system in nickels and dimes hoping for a windfall. A message that the madka racket was a fair one and there was always a chance they would hit the jackpot if they kept playing and if a runner should cheat them, they’d be reimbursed their winnings, come what may.
Deceit comes in shades. The most deceitful by far, are the elected representatives inside a western democracy, who peg their political survival on being able to build an air of transparency in the media, about them. Among them, the ones to watch are the tycoons who go into politics, after suddenly developing a social conscience and beginning to mouth platitudes like ‘I want to give back to the society’ or ‘I want to make a difference’ or ‘money doesn’t matter to me anymore’ or even ‘I want to run it like a business’.
In order to help aspiring tycoon-turned-politicos set up a façade of transparency and fair play, western societies have devised ingenious methods of subterfuge which try to convince the hoi-polloi that they won’t use their elected offices to benefit their own interests. Note that I singled out ‘western societies’. It is because the west takes pains to project itself as the very fountain of probity and civilized behavior. What others think of them is paramount to the west. Rich politicians in the east, such as rich Indian politicians, are far less bothered with the farce. Not that that in itself is a better thing.
One piece of sophistry that a western tycoon-politician uses, to show the public he has no personal axes to grind or no conflicts-of-interest while he is in elected office, is a financial oxy-moron called a ‘Blind Trust’. The tycoon puts all his assets into a Blind Trust which is then administered by a trustee he has appointed. The trustee has full discretion over the assets and he can buy and sell anything he chooses. He can invest and divest in any asset without the tycoon’s approval and without keeping him informed. All that the trust beneficiary (the tycoon) sees is periodic financial statements prepared by the trustee, which do not disclose to him where his money is invested, only how his investments are doing. This is supposed to remove any conflicts of interest that may arise while he is in public office.
This is an oxy-moron because no sane person will want to hand over the keys to his kingdom to someone else and not be anxious to know how his personal assets are doing or be able to decide which assets should be in his portfolio.
Almost all Blind Trusts are therefore usually entrusted to close friends or legal representatives, thus defeating their very purpose. So, here we have a tycoon turned politician who is able to manipulate his assets under the full protection of the law, simply by making it look he doesn’t know anything about them. Cute. Wait, there is more. He does not have to disclose info about his assets if they are in a blind trust. Convenient, no?
Among couples even, deceit is now fashionable. There are dating sites now available for folk who just want to have affairs – Flirt.com, heatedaffairs.com, benaughty.com, cheaterville.com and plenty others. Men constitute 70% of the subscribers, says a poll, but women are fast catching up. It was all started in 2002, by a Canadian – ashleymadison.com. Its slogan? ‘Life is short. Have an affair’.
The number of people turning to online cheating has blossomed since Ashley Madison started. Last year a Japanese start-up crossed 1 million subscribers in just one month, 45% of whom were women. Is marital deceit a phenomenon of the times? No, I don’t believe so. We humans have always been cheaters. Caesar, King Hank VIII, Dick the Lionheart, they were all philanderers and their wives were no better. King Dick even had his women put on chastity belts before he sped off to the crusades.
I know what you’re thinking. I don’t have an account in any of the above websites. I’m flirtatiously happy in my marriage.
I just love having an unlisted phone number, that’s all.
(¹) There’s more on Helen of Troy, facts you never knew about her, in my piece, “The broad called Helen” at the following link:-