Wandering around the sources of trust

It must truly be special if it is something to which amorous couples, governments as well as trade partners attach equal importance.

Looking from afar this phenomenon appears to play an equally significant role in the lives of people but also of animals both where it exists and where it is absent.  Moreover, not only do animals and people trust or mistrust each other or the universe, they both create dramatic situations giving free rein to two of their magic skills: mimesis and mimicry. They know how to dispel the distrust of others. They know how to abuse the trust of others. They know how to use the semblance of trust; they can fall for the semblance of trust. Gaining or losing trust, or knowingly abusing it, is a daily experience of the mental makeup of every living creature; they all do it and they all suffer from it. Nobody can renounce caution in the interest of others, not even amorous couples, even if it should put them to shame. However, with a little inventiveness caution can be deceived. In these dramas that sometimes require long and complex preparations and operate in the grey area between reality and imagination and between semblance and reality, leading to a slow or sudden change in constellations of power, trust turns into a trap that won’’t stop short of swallowing the life of another living creature, or it can turn into advantage, profit, property, capital or even spiritual or sensual pleasure – which is not necessarily one-sided.  We are all familiar with the ingenious series of deceitful psychological gestures that occur in folk fairy tales in the form of tricks and ploys. We slowly drip their opium into our children’’s ears by reading them bedtime stories.

It is, of course, difficult to imagine in our daily life the kind of profit that might not result in loss for the other side, or one that is not be based on a series of debacles or failures.At the moment of committing a crime, criminals might spontaneously wet themselves or defecate from joy or excitement, writes Dr. Schranz, a pathologist and royal forensic expert. The dissimulation necessary to carry out inventive or shrewd actions returns the blow. It is quite similar in the everyday workings of the world of trade or office politics. Good manners prevent me from enjoying the collapse, debacle, fall or outright death of others and they prevent me from showing the jealousy that consumes me when others succeed or prosper, from stopping my chest heaving with my own successes. This effort results in a great deal of physical tension, a tension that has to be released somehow because, if it is not released, it will be diverted into my system, making me ill.

Compared with reality, dissimulation is also a kind of simulation. Both are weapons of self-defence and of creating a semblance of power, although, undoubtedly, they are weapons of very different kinds.

Naturally, the role and result of shrewdness in folk fairy tales and the criminal inventiveness consumed in the form a bedtime story, vary locally. Greek mythology endowed its gods with the shrewdness and inventiveness of criminals – something both animals and human beings are endowed with – elevating the phenomenon of trust into the sphere of the universal. Many abused Zeus’’ trust,  above all his sister and his wife Hera with her bovine eyes but Zeus himself abused the trust of others by transforming himself, in accordance with his human need, skill and imagination, into a cuckoo or a swan in order to acquire Leda, Hera, and so forth, or in order to tie up and kill his own father Cronos, after he had fallen asleep, intoxicated by mead.  Moreover, immortal gods can be duped not only by other immortal gods but also by ordinary mortals. What mythology really tells us is that the skill and intention of mimicry and mimesis surpass the intentions of gods and human beings. What comes first is the animal; the human comes later. But whether the intention is an animal or a human one, the capacity for trust somehow, strangely, always surpasses restraint and fear of crisis. If it were not so, hardly anyone would ever subject themselves to the risks of research, experimentation, travelling or trade.

Trust is primordial, constant, ancient, typical of all mammals, and most probably linked to motherhood and motherly care.  Mammals are all at the mercy of their own capacity for trust. Their nature and the pattern of their character traits include perceptiveness and a playful predisposition to gaining and abusing trust and to enjoying risk. Their distrust, on the other hand, is the result of upbringing, derived from the experience of their ancestors, from an abstraction, rather than from concrete knowledge. After all, not everyone is equally shrewd although everyone has a proclivity for simulation and dissimulation, mimesis and mimicry. Yet depending on one’’s level of inhibition or liberation one can, to a varying degree, mislead others or be misled.This is a significant discovery and claim made by anthropology. The trust which, in spite of everything, is present in Greek mythology or seafarers’’ tales, does not necessarily provide evidence of exceptional qualities or their absence in an individual, but is rather a universal force of life. Greek mythology situates this phenomenon within a multilayered hierarchy, thus teaching people how to coexist with dramatic situations based on trust, distrust, the loss of trust or the abuse of trust.

With their one and only nameless and omnipotent God the Jews have given our polyphonic history a radical turn. Their great shepherd of a God will not be deceived. He is privy to every intention. He won’’t be affected by the well-worn methods of mimicry. This is no playful God, interested in human variety. It is these qualities that truly distinguish him from the human race. And that is why we have no other option but to trust in this unique God, runs the unreal logic of the Jewish high priests. He is omniscient, better than anyone else when it comes to discerning facts from claims, semblance from reality, truth from opinion. Come to think of it, he is actually not very different from humans when it comes to insight. People are able to discern semblance from reality, truth from opinion, facts from claims not only when they do not want to as result of some powerful interest. Sensually, they are equally omnipotent. Nevertheless, their instinct for self-preservation often forces them to know nothing, see nothing and understand nothing or, in other words, to make a choice based on their interests, as if they had no access to the content of their own consciousness – to the extent that they sometimes themselves come to believe the great theatre of self-preservation staged by their own consciousness.

The great Jewish shepherd of a God sees through the animal theatre of simulation and dissimulation. He splits up conceptual pairs and orders them in a clear-cut hierarchy, so that even the dimmest and basest individuals can label their sins. Just as He separates darkness from light and the sea from the heavens, He separates good from evil, cataloguing human actions in ethical terms. We don’’t have to do anything except follow him, in unshakeable trust, up the high steps of the hierarchy. If I ever demand that you sacrifice your own son, you will have to sacrifice him. Right now I do not demand it. The Almighty does not eliminate a live victim from his flock, far from it, yet he does break the local sovereignty of the fairytale trust in personal shrewdness guided by personal interests. He offers His people an ethical judgment, a freedom of choice, reward and punishment which only He can control and maintain as the sole condition of action. In this case, trust relates to the superhuman and faith in the superhuman has to be collective.

The Christian God cannot be distrusted even in this very abstract sense. More precisely, in this ethical sense we have to secure and regain his trust a thousand times each day. But not even the Christian God can change the order of things. First comes the animal, then the human. First I act and only then do I analyse the outcome. At least since the time of the Tridentine Council every Christian has had to sum up all animal sins committed against the creation and the created, that is to say, he has had to elevate them from an instinctive level to the level of awareness. Animal action has to be assessed on the human level. It is no small task and no small change, trying to fit both conscience and responsibility into our actions, to plan their consequences, so to speak. But that is not all. From the human we have to extrapolate to the superhuman, and from the superhuman back to the human. After all, He has already sacrificed His own son for our spiritual salvation.

Eli! Eli! Lama sabaktani? Ever since then this question rings in our ears but finds no understanding.  This won’’t increase or decrease the universal competence of trust or the aggression of mimicry and mimesis necessary for survival, procreation or even for death; only its forms of expression might turn out more coarse or delicate. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment did not correct universal ideas and proportions originating from varying periods and from identical experiences. The only thing they did was to place side by side the great systems originating from various periods and similar experiences.  They smuggled back polyphony. Not a polyphony of individuals or a polyphony of character traits but rather a polyphony of systems which human beings created out of the play of their character traits, from their animal and human qualities – which they called culture.

We can take an even closer look at this concept. In Hungarian, trust (bizalom) means that, although we lack exhaustive knowledge of something, yet we entrust ourselves to it based on our positive experience or, despite our negative experience. At the same time, the Hungarian term is close to the terms faith and erroneous assumption. However, this is not necessarily the case in other languages. In French the phenomenon of trust (confiance) means betrothal and even faith. The Latin word (confidentia) presents the phenomenon in a transitional state, a promise not yet fulfilled.The German (Vertrauen) does not involve any transitional period, the word is unreservedly, immediately and directly linked to the phenomenon itself. It has not always been that way. In Middle High German it denoted betrothal (vertriuwen, vertruwen) or mixing (vermählen) with something, and it was in this sense that Luther, like old French, located it in the vicinity of faith. The German term assumes a preliminary ethical decision. The Hungarian language places it between necessity and inevitability, and French puts it in the vicinity of hope and fulfilment. In terms of forging terminology this difference between the three languages and the three ways of thinking is at least as essential as the difference between a Hungarian who seeks money, a French who gains it and a German who earns it. It is likely that we will only ever be able to orient ourselves between the moving human goalposts of trust once we learn to understand not only the historical content of the awareness of our own language but also the local narratives.

Trust in financial matters and politics is not a local narrative, yet it has hardly anything common with the universal one.  I might say that over the past twenty years the deficit of trust in capitalism and democracy has grown significantly and in parallel. What makes it more difficult to understand the source of this deficit of trust is that the causes of the financial crisis and the disenchantment with politics are not identical in old and new democracies. The same anti-capitalist or neo-liberal statements have a different meaning and completely different consequences in Paris and in Budapest.

We have to grab these terms by the neck in all their formal identity, by means of their dictionary form so to speak, in order to see clearly the levels on which a fundamental link exists between different uses of language, as well as the different directions they take as a result of the differences in meaning, or the processes that are taking place mutually, with both the old and new democracies unknowingly generating problems because of mutual misunderstandings.

The use of language in the established democracies could generally be said to be dissimulative while in the new democracies the use of language is traditionally simulative. Since dissimulation is a kind of simulation these two approaches do not, in fact, contradict each other. In any case, the old democracies are worse off than those involved in public discourse traditionally admit, while the new democracies are by no means as badly off as public discourse constantly claims. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the way we assess reality does not take place in only one simulative and one dissimulative way but varies widely depending on language and region.  Nevertheless, dissimulative patterns in the established democracies do no pursue a single common life strategy that functions, in relation to the outside world, as the Wall of China. Surprisingly, individually the established democracies are aware of the way they deal with reality. Their behaviour and language usage is reflective. Individuals and institutions are keen to separate the ethic of their conviction and responsibility, not to succumb to changes of mood or to fickleness, to stay unflappable in critical situations, not to exaggerate or overdo things or become histrionic and lose common sense – and thereby also the trust of others. The reflective consensus is based on vast logistical structures, including the basic principles of the urban organization of life, scientifically evaluated and usually mutually coordinated systems of record-keeping and management, along with extensive prior experience of colonial rule and the related disciplines of scholarship such as ethnography, anthropology, psychology and statistics.

All of these, in turn, are based on independent philosophies with their multiply controlled and confirmed mother-tongue thesauri of definitive terms. The most conspicuous mimic sign of consensus is the smile. If trust on an animal level is the dominant feature of almost every human being or even perhaps all mammals, this given can serve as the basis of the organization of modern society. Since the end of World War II in the established democracies the political path of this age-old understanding has been very smooth.  In the new democracies, on the other hand, its human content, methodology, history of its political career, are unknown. Consensus has to be cultivated and kept alive not through declarations but through each instance of dialogue between each individual and others, on all occasions. The dialogue must not fail, the minimum level of success being a jointly issued communiqué of failure.All that needs to be done in the interest of success is to carry out the following three operations: define, argue and agree. The will to define, the necessity to argue and reach an agreement with regard to the future is framed by legal awareness.Only issues accepted by agreements can be the subject of a dialogue.

In the new democracies it is more difficult to overcome the simulative use of language.  The usual purpose of circulating historical descriptions is to conceal events or to give them a wide berth. Simulation is linked to the individual, to a covert individual intention, to representing family or tribal interest which abhors reflection, and that is why an outsider may find it impossible to interpret it; yet the specific family or tribal connection reveals much about the illegal or criminal consensus that guided its birth. Those who simulate don’’t speak about it; they are able to gain insight into themselves and know that by revealing each others’ secrets they would reveal the secret of their own methodology. If it is terms rather than narratives that are our starting point, the picture gets even more complicated. In the simulative use of language terms remain undefined to enable the interlocutors to cultivate, with abandon, their system of fallacies and phantasmagorias which serves to conceal their illegal individual activities. Simulation has to keep language, as it were, open in the face of illegal activities. Lack of clarity is not an obstacle to expression but rather its precondition.

Of course, without his capacity for trust, man cannot survive even in a culture of simulation. However, trust has a strictly local validity; it is temporary, and it applies strictly to illegal agreements and that is why it is distrustful of  everything that is outside its realm, and reacts with outright aggression to historically known universal patterns. Dissimulative use of language tunes man to a way and makeup of life which balances conviction and responsibility, demands and obligations, whereas simulative use of language results in inventiveness, shrewdness, resourcefulness.  In simulative use of language personal interest does not function within an individual but rather a collective, familial or tribal framework. Dissimulative use of language derives from centuries-old individual traditions, a mental and logistical culture of organizing life, based on legal agreements and a striving for linguistic transparency. Simulative use of language, on the other hand, originates from magical and archaic millennia of survival strategies, attuned to individual resourcefulness, organized along familial and tribal lines and built on illegal cooperation.  While this is more significant, the former is more structured.

It would be easy to say that simulation and dissimulation do not understand each other. However, this is not the case. Simulation can be easily understood by the language of dissimulation since dissimulation is also a kind of simulation. Dissimulative use of language is not at all defenceless vis à vis  sombre historical tirades full of emotions, vis à vis  obsessive exaggerations and historically coloured falsehoods couched in a language that is simulative; yet it has to stay neutral in accordance with its own consensus. Legal awareness prompts it to remain cautious. Personal discourse is a terrain that cannot be entered without permission. Yet excited emotional expressions of simulative language use are not personal, they repeat clichés and truisms. It is by means of verbal production that they conceal their personal intentions.

Misunderstandings can arise aplenty between these two uses of language but they are not reciprocal or symmetrical. The person who simulates cannot understand why the person who dissimulates is reserved about his/her problems. The one who dissimulates, on the other hand, is clear about the spectacular character of an emotion or excitement but has no idea that individually generated clichés and declarations reveal an illegally organized collective world.

Both kinds of language use have a level at which their political existence is historically linked and continue to operate without being reflected.Whereas in the geographically greater half of Europe, cold war, peaceful coexistence, the struggle and rivalry between global systems that was meant to last forever but turned out to be brief, as well as all those petty individually contrived plans for spontaneous survival had shaped a shadow economy that ignored the principle of public good, that legitimized, through simulation, servile cooperation organized along familial  and tribal lines and which was isolated, illegal and unified in the goal of siphoning off the state’’s coffers and for a long time, became the only practical guarantee of preserving the deficit economy of socialism, in the geographically smaller half of Europe capitalism reformed itself in the name of rationality, driven by political motives. Capitalism took the devastating experience of World War II seriously. It took the promise of socialism seriously. It took the threat of a World War III seriously. Capitalism preferred the principle of public good but through this notion it stepped out of the enlightened nation’s local framework (the obligation to pay taxes versus the right to decision-making), extending its sense of social responsibility to all functioning democracies, thereby regulating, moderating and reflecting individual interests and cooperation. Capitalism did not establish equality but it made an effort to balance its generic absence through social institutions that ensured the equality of opportunity and social security. It did not promise full employment but it tried to increase the number of jobs not merely in order to maximize profits, and to reduce their number only when inevitable. In a few decades, a series of agreements between employers and employees brought capitalism to the limit of free market opportunities, creating a social state.

Capitalism had to reflect on its system on the level of state alliances which, in turn, forced it to restructure the system of decision-making competences also on a regional and communal level. In taking political decisions, capitalism demonstrated a systematic, long-term preference for economizing since it had to acknowledge that its ability to compete on a global level would be significantly reduced as a result of measures taken in the interests of the public good. Capitalism’s response to the isolation of the socialist systems was the separation of democracy and the creation of the affluent state. In terms of policies, it took democracy under its wing and froze the expansion of capitalism towards simulative promises which socialism would never have been able to fulfil in terms of affluence, and never wanted to fulfil in terms of freedom and security. Capitalism did not understand the language of simulation and this was very fruitful for its own population.Those who simulate interpreted this as evidence that democracy can easily lay the golden egg of the affluent state, meaning they had no reason to give up either their illegal activities that ignored the public good or the lucrative positions they had held in the shadow economy.

These misunderstandings – which were neither reciprocal nor symmetrical – have spawned, in both uses of language, their own false statements that have been exerting a long-term influence on each other. Both kinds of language use are only too happy to forget the inequality of the development of European societies, and both only reluctantly acknowledge the reality of historical regions (so frequently extolled by István Bibó and Jenő Szűcs) which has fallen into a deep well of obscurity. And if this reality is acknowledged, it is only in order to assess the situation of the new democracies in terms of the specific development of the old democratic societies. This leads to more false statements.They claim that the differences can be eliminated by taking over the old democracies’’ methods of organizing life. This would mean they do not take seriously the reality of either form of societal development. Or they may approach the reality of historical regions fatalistically, as a source of stigmatization, self-pity and laments or, on the contrary, they might want to use it as a way of asserting their spiritual superiority and economic hegemony for ever and ever. However, the reality concealed by both those who simulate and those who dissimulate has a different appearance. Following the collapse of the socialist system the expansion of capitalism was unfrozen and that is why those who dissimulate immediately started to dismantle the social state, while at the same time maintaining the reversed order of politics and economy. It was as if public good still stood in the way of global competitiveness, forcing local interest groups to plan political decisions on behalf of the whole of society, in accordance with their financial agreements.

Those who simulate, on the other hand, have never for a moment given up the idea of robbing the state and their neighbours – quite on the contrary, they keep doing everything they can to avoid legalizing their illegal activities in line with the rules of democracy or regulated capitalism. That is why there were no obstacles in the new democracies to a free and socially oriented market economy from being built on top of the illegal structures of the shadow economy. After all, there was no other economy to build on. But today it has become obvious that after brief periods of boom, the politically uncontrolled cooperation has rendered the economy of the new democracies uncompetitive, and that in accordance with the laws of simulation, this has paved the way for authoritarian and anti-democratic ideas. Unbridled capitalism now faces a pre-modern restoration and cultural regression. Because, meanwhile, the free and regulated market economy has also undergone considerable change. There are no legal obstacles to  prevent a single deranged clerk working in a larger private bank or in a local bank that administers funds for running local social systems from getting involved in global financial transactions, and nothing can prevent a significantly affected national economy, citing reasons of security and the self-cleansing force of global financial order, from writing off losses caused by pyramid schemes using  taxpayers’ money, and from treating the workings of financial markets as a synonym for the public good. While this has little in common with the animal approach, it has absolutely nothing in common with a rational or ethical approach. Helmut Schmidt spent at least six years writing, repeating and pleading for financial funds to be subjected to state control and forcing the US economy, by international agreements, to do the same.  While the dividends were good, nobody listened.

And so, whether we simulate or dissimulate, we cannot be surprised either by the global deficit of trust in the capitalist economy or by the global deficit of trust in democracy.  From now on we will look at them more realistically.

Translation: Julia Sherwood

This talk was given at a meeting of the Hungarian National Bank’s monetary council in Budapest.