Sunday, March 28, 2004

Publicness and uncertainty

To trust is to rely on someone or something to take care of our interests. We are free to choose it or not choose it. And while the benefits of trust are huge it is never a risk-free choice. Publicness is the antithesis of trust. ‘Trust me,’ publicness misguidedly pleads, and then reinforces its plea with actions intended to remove any lingering uncertainty there might be around ‘trustworthiness’. The reality is that trustworthiness has practically nothing to do with trust. So publicness is almost always misguided.

That said, publicness is all around us all the time. Coca-Cola avowed that it would never dream of poisoning consumers of its products and to prove it it delayed the re-launch of its Sidcup water (aka Dasani). The French government’s recent decision to ban hijab in government-controlled buildings is as much an act of publicness as is the banned dress code itself. Publicness works on many levels and does weird things to trust relationship at both a micro and a macro level.

When a pharmaceutical company ‘discovers’ a new drug its most important consideration instantly becomes making money out of it. This requires diagnoses that enable the drug to be prescribed. Very often this leads to what have been tagged ‘designer depressions’ becoming defined (the ‘psycho’ sector of the drugs industry is where the really big money is currently) with ‘sufferers’ being given a badge-set of symptoms treatable only by this 'trust me' wonder drug.

We can see an even scarier (and literal) badge of publicness right now in US politics. Everyone who’s anyone is required to wear the national flag as a ‘trust me’ lapel badge. The US is a highly conformist society (how else could there have ever been un-American activities?) and no one dares to appear in public without displaying his publicness. That’s bad enough but this year there’s going to be an election and one of the candidates speaks French and German (the languages of UN-supporting foreigners). Although he always wears his badge, the polyglot’s opponents never fail to refer to him as ‘Frenchified’ or ‘Exotic’ in an effort to undermine his ‘trustworthiness’.

His response (sadly) drives publicness into a vicious downward spiral. ‘Trust me,’ he pleads while assuring voters that he has disavowed eternally everything ‘foreign’ and pledged to speak only ‘American’ from here on.