Monday, August 19, 2013

107. Hope and trust
In an interview on YouTube, the Dutch philosopher Paul van Tongeren explained the notion of hope. It is partly active and partly passive. It entails an expectation that ‘things will be all right’, depending in part on one’s own actions, but also, to a greater or lesser extent, on outside forces that one cannot control.
This brings the notion of hope close to the notion of trust, which I discussed extensively in earlier items in this blog (nrs. 68-76). And this appeals to intuition: trust has to do with hope. Trust also is an expectation that no great harm will be done, while one is dependent on outside forces, of people, organizations or (social) systems that one cannot control. Up to a point, outcomes can be influenced by one’s own actions, and one needs to take responsibility for taking such actions.
Trust is to a large extent emotional but it can be based, in part, on a rational assessment of reasons why others may be trustworthy or not, such as self-interest (including reputation), morality, and friendship.
But the scope and force of one’s own actions and rational inference of trustworthiness are limited, and beyond those limits trust entails a leap of faith, a surrender to hope.
A key question is whether people one is dealing with will be prepared to incur losses to honour promises or commitments. Pressures of survival will reduce the trustworthiness of people, the extent to which they are prepared and able to take one’s interests at heart. Under such pressures also hope will dwindle. 
In the trust literature there is a distinction between trust and confidence. In trust one can exert influence, and one has a choice: afterwards, if something goes wrong one can blame oneself for having trusted. In confidence one has no influence or choice: one is inevitably subjected to the powers or forces that be, which one can neither avoid nor influence. Think of God, legal laws, laws of nature, the economy, a dictatorship, or social systems. Do we find this difference also concerning hope? I think so: In case one has no influence and no choice we would speak of resignation, or despair, rather than hope.
However, resignation, and certainly despair, without hope, choice or influence, are scary, difficult to bear.  And so one may convince oneself that the powers that be are benevolent, against all evidence. The classic case is that of ‘father Stalin’, who must be right in his suspicions and purges. It would be unbearable to face reality. Something similar may have applied with Hitler. Here, one fools oneself to turn resignation or despair into hope and to nurse trust.
Markets were seen as a source of hope, in opportunities of labour or entrepreneurship, with a measure of trust in behaviour and institutions, which one could influence in persuasion, in so far as they were personal, and in democratic control. Now markets seem to have become an impersonal, autonomous force beyond control of governments and democratic institutions, destroying both hope and trust. This also is scary, so that some people convince themselves that markets are fundamentally and unquestionably benevolent, in spite of the evidence.