To trust is not to trust.  At the risk of appearing to make an Oscar Wilde quip, there is the serious idea that in a situation where trust must be shown, the human being or animal is anxious.    Trust is something animals can do and human beings as well.  This condition of trust that humans share with animals we call, following Rousseau and Hobbes, a State of Nature.  The animals on the Serangeti Plain of Africa look peaceful enough day to day--this is the "trust" the animals show each other.  The Serengeti is a State of Nature, but often turns violent; this the animals know will happen.  This--the ambiguity in animal life--is where we leave the issue of trust.   Trust--along with distrust--is in this proverbial State of Nature.  Human beings on the other hand, through language, raise these animal phenomena, trust among them, to an elevated or symbolic level.  Human beings can promise, of course, which animals cannot do.  Promises depend upon language and symbolic reference to past and present, near and far events.  Animal trust combined with human promises set the background for agreements. The agreement in these terms is something human beings add to their trust--and distrust--to secure, each person for himself, some advantage.  There is no provision in an agreement of "trust" that the advantage will go to both parties to the agreement.  All we are saying here is that the agreement raises the element of trust--and distrust--out of a State of Nature to a State of Man. Indeed, as I have already said, the agreement is the primal human institution that persists through all human culture, civilization and history.  An agreement is the form of trust--and distrust--in human culture.

The sole provision of the agreement, that distinguishes the agreement from trust, is that provision which forbids the use of armed (leveraged through weapons) violence.  Human beings extend their violence, through weapons, to a point dangerous to the community.  Thus a nip at one's partner by a wolf or ape turns into a deadly wound as human beings use weapons against one another.  The agreement is simply a human understanding about another human capability, weapons.  I discussed this in earlier sections of this blog.  At this point in the discussion, however, we are setting aside the issue of weapons and taking up the distinction between trust as an animal thing and agreements as a human thing.  Agreements take place around issues of trust and distrust.

To trust is to distrust.  This is a paradox.  I want to try to settle the issue of trust finally;  we need to understand what we mean by trust.  Trust as the word is most often understood is an unwilling  disposition.  One trusts when one has to trust, when there is no alternative.  On our money appears the words "In God we trust."  We do not want to trust in God, because God in fact has shown himself to be altogether unreliable; we simply must trust in him because we have no choice.  This same use of the word trust carries over into many other areas of life.  We trust in our money too, only because we have to. In our trust in God and money we are in a State of Nature, as I have already said.  But human beings, usually indivdually but sometimes in groups, will try to get beyond mere trust.  This they do  through language and promises.  They form "agreements" wherein what was purely left to trust--in effect left to chance or some other causality outside human agency--is put within the power of human beings themselves.  What is simply trusted to happen may now, through this new human agency, be left up to human beings.  There is for human beings a new "force" at work, that is the force of "law."  I want to be very careful of the word law.  Law provides for real force but in a vague manner and at an unspecified time.  For the moment  may live together, or (as with property and territory separate from one another) without the immanent threat of physical force coming from any party to their agreement.

But there is a continued problem with agreements, and one, finally, that is never overcome.  The same ambiguity--actually, outright contradiction--that inheres in trust (that trust is really a positive word for a negative phenomenon, distrust) continues into agreements.  What was said about trust can be said of agreements:  to be in an agreement is not to agree.  To trust, as I said, is not to trust; to agree is not to agree.  That is to say, if we really agreed on a thing there would be no need for an agreement.  In marriage, where the specific terms of the contract are very vague, this principle is clear.  Two people say they love each other, and so want to marry.  This is something we hear enough about every day.  But if they really love each other, they would not need to marry.  Marriage  is a statement, made to the public, that the two will stay together whether they love each other or not.  It is in their own and the public's interest--children and so forth--that they stay together.  In the marriage ceremony, where the promises are said, and the issue of trust is raised, there is not mention of lovlessness--and yet lovelessness is what marriage is all about.  We have raised the point--and this holds through the simple agreement between two hunters and the couple in marriage--that a human institution is what it is and also is its opposite. 

Rousseau for his part was oblivious to this paradox; he saw institutions as straightforward exchanges or quid pro quo.   Humans gave up the equality of a State of Nature but got in exchange the still superior equality of civil society; humans gave up, correspondingly, the inequality of a State of Nature and exchanged this for the inequality of civil society.  I was through all this in earlier sections of this blog.  In the present essay I persist in saying that the law of non-contradiction (that a thing cannot be and not be what it is) does not hold for human institutions.  We may speak of the ambiguity of institutions or their inconsistency.  What I really mean to say is that institutions actually contradict themselves and in their contradictions they move toward their own dissolution, not perhaps in the short term but in the long term. This is a natural process of civilization and one already described in GWF Hegel's Philosophy of History.  My own formulations however are more precise.  An institution is what it is, but is not what it is--this contradiction does render the institution impossible in the short run--because such institutions (agreements) are virtually the essence of human life insofar as this life distinguishes itself from the life of animals.

An agreement--which is the basic or primal human institution--is essentially a statement that agreement is impossible.  That is why, in other words, that there is an agreement in the first place.  Again we are at risk of a certain Oscar Wilde word play.  That is not the case.  If humans could agree, there would be no need for agreements.  This proposition is clear from a purely logical standpoint.  Where we bear a serious burden of proof is in showing that institutions, contradictory as they are within themselves, have a necessary role in human life.  We need to show also that no institution is a final fact of human life; institutions, because they are always self-contradictory, come into existence and pass out.  I will have more to say about the ways institutions--for our purposes, agreements--destroy themselves "dialectically" and pass into new agreements.  For the moment I want to turn again to the subject of Natural Law (the so-called State of Nature.   I return here to the proposition of a State of Nature articulated by Rousseau, Hobbes and the Natural Law theorists.  The State of Nature still exists in the presence of human agreements; the State of Nature is what is enduring in human life.  I have called such a state, sofar as the principle underlies society, a condition of baboon fascism.  The expression is appropriate; it sounds merely sarcastic,  but I mean it seriously as it sounds.  (I have not yet talked about South American militias but will do so.)   Human life is held together by this same baboon fascism--or primal bossiness--throughout the coming and going, entrance and exit, of human institutions and agreements.  This I have explained earlier in the blog.  There remains only to characterize this State of Nature, or determine its general outlines and chart its probable course.  I have used the word race in this connection. Race is the social order of the future, that will emerge in the midst of the rise and fall of human institutions.

Last edited by richard_swartzbaugh (2009-07-10 16:50:36)



A promise is a person's statement, made to some other person, that, insofar as it is within the ability of the promiser's ability to make certain events happen, these same events or this course of events will happen.  The promiser imparts to the promised one an expectation.  However, the promise is per se not yet "binding."  What the promise suggests is a certain human causality.  That is, there is the idea that an event will take place precisely because a human being wills it to take place.  Human causality is a phenomenon not of nature, of course, or Natural Law, so much as of human agency.  Society as we understand the term here--as uniquely human interaction enabled by language--operates by this human causality. We speak of gravitation, say, as natural causality.  The will of the human being may, even as the human can move his body, exerts force and causes events to transpire.  But for a complete set of events to transpire there needs to be a human intention.  The will or power to make an event happen combined with the intention to make it happen is the basis of a promise.  I said before that the promise is not "binding."   There is in the promise no sense of an agreement, unless an agreement is added to the promise.  The promise is made, the expectation is imparted to another human, but the promiser is not "bound" to his promise.  There is in this promise only "trust" that binds the promiser to his promise.

Trust is a word whose definition contradicts itself.  At most trust is one side of a psychological state the other side of which is distrust.  For instance, zebras live quietly on the savanah in plain view of lions.  There is a complacency on the part of the zebras that the lions, having eaten, will not presently hunt.  This is a trust the potential prey might have in the company of predators.  We may conclude that where human beings are concerned, too, they like animals are "in a State of Nature."  That is, trust is something that animals show.  Trust is a relationship without fear.  We have suggested already that an agreement is a relationship without weaponry.  From the animal state of trust human beings move to a condition defined as "agreement."  But the agreement, as i will show, acknoledges the distrust that inevitably coexists with trust, but says merely that, in a climate of distrust there will be no display of weapons.  The agreement is the human state of mind that corresponds to the animal state of complacent trust. 

Trust is a word whose definition contradicts itself.  I trust when I do not believe.  But not to believe is also not to trust.  The very word trust seems to defy definition.  If we can say anything about trust is that it seems to be a psychological disposition in relation to a situation:  trust seems to be a disposition, in a given sitution, not to fear; distrust is a disposition in that same situation to have fear.  One trusts or distrusts as one does not have, or has, fear.  These considerations make trust a troublesome word.  Admonitions to trust, as are common in religion, seem only to exaccerbate fear.   Yet, this very word trust appears at the center of our civilization, in the motto, for instance, in God we trust that appears on our money. But there is more.There are far-reaching implications of what we are saying at this point.   I am going to suggest that the confusion in the word trust runs through our most basic social institutions; that institutions upon which we base our collective life are structured dialectically, as opposed to statically. 

The implications of the dialectical structure of institutions is that they continually contradict themselves.  So, in other words, if we say that trust is perhaps--I am saying that it is--at the center of an agreement, the agreement for its part will contradict itself and dissolve in this contradiction. The word agreement has all along been at the center of this discussion.  We may move on to discuss the possibility that an agreement is not a "fixed" entity, with set features; rather the agreement is set in motion by the contradictions within it.  First of all, I have not been able so far, to my own satisfaction, been able to say that the term agreement will exclude the idea of disagreement.  When we talk about agreement, for instance, are we not also talking about a disagreement?  By agreement is meant here an understanding, we may say, that we are going to disagree. But we are also going to disagree on certain terms; we are not, as I have already said, going to use weapons to settle our disagreements.  So when we talk about entering an agreement we are just as well talking about entering a disagreement.   Trust is an idea that may again be invoked here.  Human beings, as animals also do, do trust one another; but then trust dissolves into distrust.  The agreement seems to take over when trust fails.  This, my initial statement, is simply basic Hegelianism.  The agreement absorbs the trust when such trust is dissolved in its own contradiction:  that, namely, trust is essentially distrust; that, as we just said, trust exists when there is no belief--although of course belief would be essential to trust. These are all things we have just spoken of.  If an agreement absorbs trust, then, the contradiction which infected trust will likely impart itself to the agreement. 

The agreement in these terms may be an attempt to resolve the contradiction within trust, yet the attempt falls victim to the same contradiction it attempts to resolve.  We may try to understand how one contradiction passes over into the very attempt to resolve it. Whether or not I have adequately prepared the way to establish a connection between trust and agreements I am not now quite certain.  But anyway I have already indicated that as soon as we use the word agreement we raise the issue of disagreement.   To agree does not mean that we exclude disagreement so much as we deal with disagreement in a certain way.  But there is more.   Disagreement is realized or fulfilled agreement; so that agreement completes its natural cycle when it passes over into disagreement.  Disagreement, on the other hand, is an impossible state of being; it terminates itself along with the "persons" that were originally in the agreement.  There is nowhere for an agreement to end except in disagreement; the agreement does not dissolve the disagreement so much as it perpetuates it, and codifys it in culture.  This would be what Hegell would call the dialectic of culture.   

In the case of human beings there is this same complacency regarding promises.  All that trust means, where the promise is concerned, is that there is no reason to question the promise.  This is trust in a  psychological sense.  In its formal or logical definition, on the other hand, there is an entirely new issue.  Trust means veritably not to trust.  In short, I say that I trust that something will (or will not) happen, even though I have no good reason, through logic or experience, to believe that it will (or will not) happen.   But if I say that I have no reason to believe the event will or will not happen, that is tantamount to saying that I do not believe that it will (or will not) happen. Trust means in this context that, although I do not want to trust--because I have no good reason to trust--I still must trust.  We would expand our discussion greatly, beyond what is possible here, by saying that the dialectic within the word trust--that its logical meaning contradicts its psychological meaning--creates, when trust is a central word in legal and social documents and proceedings, a massive confusion throughout the length and breadth of human relationships.  Within the agreement, on the other hand, there tends to be a certain order and predictability.  An agreement is something added to the promise that turns an uncertain, or specificially human, causality into a causality that, although artificial, resembles in certainty natural causality. 

If I had to trust that an object on my table will not float off into space, I would then simply be anxious.  That much is true.  But understanding as I do that gravity is a universal principle of causality I have no anxiety about leaving objects on my table.  My anxiety comes, on the other hand, in  judging human intentions. What secures a promise is the intentionality of the promiser.  Intentionality is unilateral, that is it springs entirely from one individual irrespective of other individuals concerned.  Hence a promise is unlike natural law; the promise does not bind several objects or beings, rather it exists and expires in an instant in the individual harboring the intention.  The individual both wills the thing to happen and expects it to happen, insofar as he knows what his intention is.  In fact, except for the fact that the thing promised does or does not happen, the person who is promised the thing never does know the expectation of the promiser.  In the realization of this--that a promise is one-sided--is contained the main motive behind an agreement.  That is, the agreement "secures" the promise by a statement that not one but (at least) two persons have an interest in the fulfillment of the promise.  This assumption of mutuality is something like natural causality.  Thus in the agreement we can say that this or that thing, because it is promised to happen, involves the excpectations of more than one person.  Of course human causality is not a certain as natural causality.  That is why, when we hear of an event promised to happen we say, simply, it "should" happen.  This should, I aver, is the basis of ethics and morals.  "Should" in this sense is human causality.

Last edited by richard_swartzbaugh (2009-07-09 16:09:01)



What does a human being have to do, to himself, to "secure" a promise?  We are talking not about what he has to promise in return, so much as we are asking what transformations must be made in the individual internally that would place him in a "mutual" relationship.  For instance, a person in a legal relationship is a legal person. The ultimate legal person, we are saying, is the self-less--in other words moral--person.   In all the transactions there are in human life, there has to be a loss of individual personality.  It is precisely the personality, coupled as it always is with the phenomenon of "animal" force, that is conceded in agreement.  I will shortly make the point that what is left of the human personality, after transformation through all the agreements that there are--and concessions of personal and physical force--is race.  Race is personality in a collective form.  Race is the antithesis of human morality; that is, race is what in human life is not human, but is Natural Law.  Race is not of humanity, at all, or anything humanity agrees to--it is pure nature.  In so-called baboon fascism, or anything in human relations that is bossy, is race.  On the other hand, ultimately race--or nature--prevails in human relationships, as a sort of refined, we may say, spartanism.  Meanwhile agreements, because they supercede one another, come finally to contradict one another; they dissolve in the absolute self-contradiction of the moral "should" substituted for the natural "must."