front corner of a used car with rust spots
PHOTO: Clem Onojeghuo

Trust and power are siblings. They have the power to do good. However, like ultimate power, ultimate trust corrupts ultimately. The internet can be a check on trust. It allows us to compare, validate, confirm, verify. The best societies trust, but verify.

India, Mexico, UAE and South Africa had the highest trust in CEOs, according to a 2017 Edelman survey. Japan, France, Canada and the Netherlands had among the lowest trust in CEOs. For example, while 70 percent of Indians trust CEOs, only 27 percent of Dutch people do.

The Netherlands is one of my favorite countries and a society I greatly admire. While some other societies talk about equality, the Dutch practice it. Of course, it is not a perfect society but there is so much to admire about it. Like the Scandinavian countries just above it, it has a flat societal structure. People have opinions and are not afraid to speak their minds. There is precious little deference to authority just for the sake of it.

I grew up in a high trust society. In Ireland, we had absolute trust in the Church and State. The idea of questioning a doctor, priest, teacher, politician, was almost unimaginable. It was a sin. We now know, of course, of the rampant criminality of those we placed ultimate trust in. Today, 27 percent of Irish people trust CEOs — the exact same figure as for our Dutch neighbors. Modern Ireland is not without its challenges but it is a vastly better, fairer, most decent and prosperous society than the one I grew up in.

Only criminals, narcissists, totalitarians and autocrats seek absolute trust. We have a choice. Do we want a society based on trust, or one based on facts? Do we want a society driven by emotion or reason? Of course, emotion will always be a driver of our behavior but absolute emotion corrupts absolutely.

As is often the case, we are multiple societies at once. Some, faced by ever-increasing complexity, uncertainly, and shaky incomes and job prospects, cling to absolutes. Others, seek out reason. In Ireland, at the moment, for example, there is a surge in second-hand car imports from the UK. Because of Brexit, sterling is weaker making it better value to import a car.

These are decisions driven by reason and necessity. While the Irish economy is booming again, budgets are still tight. Irish people are acting rationally. Every morning I hear countless ads by car manufacturers to buy their new cars. I never hear ads to import second-hand cars. So, where are Irish people getting their information from on UK second-hand cars? From the web.

There’s a growing market for reason, for rationality. Traditional marketing is a ‘trust me it’ll be brilliant when you buy me’ sell. To an increasing number of people that’s the original fake news. There is a market for giving people control. For allowing them to compare and get all the detailed information they require, and to hear from other customers the good and the bad.

There is, of course, a market for fake news. Who are you selling to? Who’s your customer? The one who loves fake news that confirms their gut, their prejudice, their vain hope for easy answers to complex questions? Or the one who struggles with their emotion, and increasingly seeks out the facts, the untidy, and messy truth?