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David Boulton to Josh Holcomb and John Vasconcellos et al: The Ethic of Trust? Ethics 17

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From: David Boulton 
Sent: Tuesday, May 07, 2002 5:18 PM
To: John Vasconcellos
Cc: John Steiner; 

Subject: RE: The ethic of trust?


Good to read you. Great question.

"Is trust an ethic?"

I would love to flesh this out in greater length with all who are interested. I would come back to the relationship between ethics and our sense of ourselves another time.

For the moment, in my view, the simple answer would be 'I don't think so'.

Trust is a natural phenomena of beings. We are born unconditionally trusting. We learn not to trust - we learn to be on self-alert in areas where our trust has proven insufficient to our needs.

Trust is 'inside' - ethics is 'outside'

Ethics are the 'fine print', implicitly, of our relationship covenants and agreements (expressed and unexpressed). On the one hand its against the law for children to be employed to do dangerous work. On the other, its perfectly OK for corporations to manipulate the emotions of children so as to provoke in them a desire to consume things known to be dangerous to their health and well being. Its very insidious and intricate.

In the middle of 19th century we, as a nation, had a conversation about our ‘ethics’ – we decided that people couldn't ‘own’ people. We decided that human beings are entitled to a freedom befitting their human beingness – that human beings can’t be property –can’t be slaves.

150 years later we must again take up this conversation. Today we face the question are human being’s ‘assets’? Do we agree that a person or group of people, may, in the pursuit of their separate economic interests, engage in the intentional manipulation of the behavior of other human beings?

This is the primary regulating ethic of international business and, at its deeper levels, it is the very same ethic we outlawed, in its earlier form, in our civil war.

Today, we have a new kind of Madison Ave:

supported by the financial muscle of wall street,

informed by state-of–the-art-behavioral-science

using Lucasfilm like media effects

under Speilberg-like mastery of attention direction

To manipulate the emotions and thoughts of people toward spending their money on whatever it is that is being sold. On top of all of this, we now add the power of modern information technology to inform how the whole system tailors itself to each individual and maximizes the relevancy of its 'pitch'.

This is what we human are really up against. As most of the world's money and power is aligned behind it.

There is no question about the basic legitimacy of business. Developing ever better ways to exchange with one another so as to support and enrich the lives of all is necessary. The question is whether business is legitimate, ethically, when its intention is to manipulate a buying behavior, rather than to resource learning in a customer initiated buying process. I say no. Its out of line for a business to operate from such an orientation. To do so is to reduce people to the status of manipuable assets – a subtler, better hidden ethic, but essentially the same as: people are property.

All over the world corporations are coming into existence with a new and different ethic. The new ethic is based on mutual respect and mutual learning. In this ethic, a company’s business is based on a learning oriented dialogue with their existing and potential customers. They are learning to ever more optimally evolve the value they bring their customers and they are supporting their customers in ever more optimally learning to differentiate and appreciate the value they are bringing.

We need to bring the ethical differences I am pointing towards to the attention of our nation. And, to the world. We need to call out into the open, like the issues of abortion or ecology, how our politicians think about this.

I believe this distinction in ethics can form the basis for galvanizing the ‘cultural creatives’ whose values, I believe, would for the most part, align with the mutuality ethic. In other words there is a market waiting to be identified for the products of companies who function ethically.

I think the way to change the balance of power, to free ourselves from the tyranny of the prevailing ethic, is to call it out into the open, co create a new ethic and then help it become the ever more significant basis for competitive distinction.

Until there is a fundamental shift in this prevailing ethic, in what do we trust? How do you connect the deep human interior meaning of 'trust' to institutions, that by their constitutional ethic, function by reducing human beings to assets? I don't trust people or organizations coming from that ethic.

Thanks Joshua, 



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