Cascading Consequences of Terminating Trust

Trust. Who do you know that you know you can always trust? How much does it matter to you? Do you trust your money to buy today’s value next year? Probably not. You know that several presidents have taken “executive action” to tweak the official calculation of inflation to make it look smaller than the increase in the prices you suffer at the grocery store. Now, with the current occupant of the White House caught in over 10,000 lies, how can you trust anyone anymore?

Some things are highly predictable. Others are not. As a general pattern, where I live the weather is quite hard to predict beyond the next few hours. Some days I can predict that it will not rain for the rest of the day. That happens when I have seen the voluminous data compiled into an electronic weather map that shows Santa Fe in the middle of a big high-pressure system. Easy, no rain today.

Predictability and Trust

Rain squallOn other days, I know with a high degree of certainty that it will rain in the area, but whether it happens at my house is a roll of the dice. I can look out west toward the Jemez Mountains and see scattered rain squalls. Whether they reach my garden is subject to a number of factors most of which change as the storm clouds approach or turn north. At that level, the weather at my house is unpredictable. It has nothing to do with trust.

Trust clearly involves predictability, but that is not all. We do not trust or mistrust the weather; we just know it is only partially predictable. When we trust a person, something more is involved – moral motivation. We can predict friends or enemies’ behavior without necessarily trusting them. We may predict an enemy’s behavior without trusting them at all.

Why? Because trust is an integral part of a relationship. The weather does not predict or trust us at all. We try to predict the weather with very limited success, not because of trust but only because of past patterns that we know are often consistent, in general, if not in any specific case. We have certain expectations of politicians, but generally, we do not trust them.

Presidential Prevarication

We can trust some politicians some of the time. That happens when we know that they hold certain values and stick to them when it comes time to vote on a bill put before the legislative body. Various politicians trust each other because they have long-standing relationships involving moral commitments some of which cross party lines. Despite the general untrustworthy character of national politics, it seems clear that politicians have to trust each other to some extent to get anything done. That, of course, is one of the reasons politicians get so little done in this era of political acrimony.

Then, throw into the mix a president who nobody trusts and who trusts nobody. Demanding total allegiance by subordinates but “throwing them under the bus” at the slightest impulse not only causes a great deal of staff turnover. It also eliminates trust as subordinates scramble to predict the next impulsive absurdity or policy blunder devoid of any expert consultation. The sycophants struggle to make sense of their own boot-licking.

Predictable Mistrust

Commentators have recently pointed out, in response to the latest act of trust violation by the pretend-autocrat, that back when impeachment threatened Nixon, he continued to sign legislation the parties considered important for the nation. The parties involved had retained a sufficient level of institutionalized trust to “work together in the nation’s interest.”

In the present instance, however, where prevarication prevails and the only value demonstrated by the president is the self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement of the modern icon of sociopathic narcissism, trust is simply out of the question.

Pelosi and Schumer

Pelosi and Schumer ~ Vox

I doubt that Pelosi and Schumer trusted Trump to negotiate an infrastructure bill in good faith. Yet, they were duty bound to make the attempt. I get the distinct feeling that Pelosi in particular is playing the self-described ultimate player. Cornered by continued failures and court decisions upholding the constitutional separation of powers against his blanket assertion of total executive power, the would-be dictator flails out with increasingly erratic impulse. Even his impulse to be unpredictable is predictable. However, that is no basis for trust.

Sunshine in Ketchikan: The Trouble Ahead

I’d wanted to go to Alaska for a long time. Finally we arranged for a small-craft inner coastal waterway trip on the “Wilderness Adventurer,” from Juneau to Ketchikan for 6 days, to be followed by a road trip from Anchorage to Homer to Denali and return. After 5 days of beautiful weather, kayaking and hiking amid eagles and bears along shorelines and adjacent rain forests of the inner passages, I began to wonder when the more typical rainy weather of the South East Alaskan fjords might commence. Everyone expected overcast skies and spring showers. Rain, wind, and heavy seas were repeatedly forecast but never materialized.

With about 60 educated middle class ‘adventurists’, quite ecologically aware it would seem, there was virtually no conversation about climate change. Surprisingly, one of the guides, in a talk about the micro-climates, flora and fauna of the area, proclaimed that it was company policy to simply describe the patterns observed in the area and that we “are all adults here and you can draw whatever conclusions you want from what you observe.” But it was clear that was not her personal attitude. Wow! Corporate censorship on questions of climate change even from the outfitters of an ecological adventure cruise! The Koch Brothers’ propaganda is feared even in the wilds of Alaska! Economic fear trumps scientific findings once again.

All five days so far have been sunny and in the mid 60s. Highly improbable under “normal” spring weather conditions in the coastal passages of South East Alaska. Look at a map. It’s a prime example of a temperate rain forest, a marine environment with many islands, channels, fjords, glaciers, and rivers, and the wildlife that thrives in such places. First bald eagle(s) I’ve ever seen in the wild, ubiquitous ravens, huge sea stars at low tide observed while kayaking along shorelines. Tropical rain forests have the greatest bio-diversity, but temperate rain forests such as those in South East Alaska have the greatest total bio-mass according to the eco-guides on board. That is due to the typical rainy weather and cold temperatures at this high latitude, unlike the pleasant warm sunny days we’re having here this week.

Everyone on board is so grateful for the weather we’re having, and seem to not connect it to the climate chaos it portends. Dinner conversations reflect quite liberal notions, including those generally related to climate change. Yet, I’ve heard no mention of a possible connection of our momentary personal good fortune to the more catastrophic changes in weather events the world is already experiencing. If this highly educated group can so easily isolate its understanding of climate disruption from everyday experience, then the idea that rational analysis of the now obvious wealth of data and models of accelerating climate disruption past the tipping point can be applied effectively to political decisions seems really far fetched. But we humans so often segment our realms of experience and knowledge.

Of course, we are cut off from Internet and cell phone services because we are far from any towns or cities until we reach Ketchikan in a couple more days. We did picked up wireless access briefly when we stopped at the fishing village of Wrangell for a couple of hours of shore time. But the whole point of the trip was to experience the wilderness in its isolated natural state, from the security of a 145 foot ship capable of navigating the smaller fjords right up to the glacier faces where the big cruise ships with their built-in casinos and gastronomic binges can’t go as they transit from one tourist port to the next. Juneau, where we began our voyage, is overrun by these giant floating hotels that look a little like prison blocks; the town’s streets, of course, are riddled with ‘diamond shops’ and other ‘tourist traps.’

So, maybe we should just enjoy the wilderness while we can. But it does disturb me that a company that conducts ‘eco-tours’ is afraid to even mention the idea of climate change and instructs its guides to be silent on the topic. That seems emblematic of the entire ‘cultural’ problem of the politics of climate change in the industrial nations, right when the most open and honest discussion of the greatest transformation of human behavior we can imagine, is desperately needed.

Postscript: Over the next two weeks, traveling from the Kanai peninsula to Denali, we experienced only two days of light rain. All the locals I asked remarked how unusual it was, and mentioned how exceptionally warm this spring had been. This little anecdote does not prove anything. It is merely consistent with the overwhelming evidence – accumulated by hundreds of scientific studies worldwide over the past two decades – which confirm the certainty of the accelerating increase of climate disruption events toward a catastrophic tipping point beyond which the grave consequences of political stupidity and corporate greed can neither be mitigated nor adapted to. NOAA forecasts rain for Wrangell this weekend.