Singed earth

A scalding post by Janet Stemwedel, on the expectation of trust. It’s a ventriloquial sort of post, speaking in the voice of someone else. It’s variations on the theme: “you should trust me.” It’s extremely well done.

Yes, I used the cover of friendship, your loyalty and my apparent track record of not-misbehaving with hundreds of women (including you!), of being a good guy except for one single lapse of judgment (which I swore was not as bad as it sounded, because that woman who you didn’t know was trying to take me down), to ask you privately to convince a couple other people that I was still a good guy. I guess it was awkward when you discovered I’d split up the list of people who needed convincing and asked other people to do this too? And when you discovered that I described the task with one of the people I assigned to you as “getting her to put down the pitchfork”. In retrospect, that probably seemed kind of manipulative of me.

But you should trust me, I totally get how what I did was wrong, and I won’t do it again.

Sure, I haven’t actually acknowledged that lying to you and trying to manipulate you to protect my reputation and relationships was a bad thing to do. I haven’t acknowledged that it harmed you. I haven’t said sorry.

But you should trust that I am sorry and that I won’t do it again. I shouldn’t need to say it.


You may remember that yesterday I quoted a comment that Janet posted on Martin Robbins’s post:

I[t] would be a mistake to think that Bora hurt exactly three people here. Or that he has apologized to all the people he harmed.

I say this as someone he harmed, someone he has not apologized to as yet.

I wondered when I read it and then when I quoted it what the harm was. Now I know. Now we know.



  1. latsot says

    Trust is strange thing. We computer scientists have a a lot of trouble with it. Part of the problem is that we have an intuitive grasp of why we should trust people and organisations but our intuition is notoriously flawed. Another part of the problem is that trust is often a fiction: we’re often right to trust people we know well, but living in society means we have to trust people we don’t know well. We don’t always have a choice. And we create fiction to justify it. Do you stand over the plumber the whole time when she’s fixing your pipes? Of course not, you rely on some vague assumption that she probably won’t steal your stuff because she’s a professional….and…and… nobody would employ her again if she stole…..right? Do you imagine your doctors and lawyers don’t gossip about you to their friends, regardless of the assumption of confidentiality? Perhaps I’m just friends with the wrong sort of doctors and lawyers.

    One of the mistakes we all make is allowing people to explain why we should trust them. We want to trust people and we want them to justify our trust. Authority is quite a bad reason to trust someone, but is one of the most common reasons we do so anyway. We tend to think that if someone is in charge, they’re probably in charge for a good reason. We expect them to be monitored and regulated in some way: we appeal in our minds to a ‘they’ who wouldn’t allow bad things to happen because, after all, we trusted those people who screwed us. And the ridiculous part is that we invite people to tell us why we should consider them in charge of a situation. Odd. We sometimes go farther than that. We sometimes attack people who complain about breaches of trust by people and organisations of authority. We sometimes defend people who have done awful things because of their authority. Or because we’ve bought into their authority, I’m not sure.

    This is what I see happening in Zivkovic’s case. He was trusted because he held some authority: the ability to help people in their careers. It doesn’t matter whether that authority was earned or bestowed; Zivkovic abused it and now he seems to be asking that people trust him again based on that authority (which is no longer bestowed or guaranteed by an authority, it must be based solely on people’s impression of his reputation) rather than on his own conduct.

    I think a lot of people will buy it. We almost can’t help it. We’re left with the impression that he’s done great things and helped lots of people and if a few flibbertygibbets object to being targeted for systematic sexual harassment, they’re just spoiling Zivkovic’s magnanimous mission to make the world a better place. Largely by getting his end away.

    I have no solution. We’re all idiots. We trust too readily and we have to. Presumably it leads to good things more often than it does bad, but it makes us easy to manipulate and slow to condemn abusers.

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