Trust (in) me


The lone driver on long stretches of increasingly snow-and-ice-covered road, I encounter the salt truck. We two alone in the dark; my exhaustion pushing me onward, just minutes from home, his important middle-of-night work the only thing that makes these drives feasible.

I consider, while coasting up the snowy dirt driveway, that this provision of service (salted roads) is an act of (civic) trust. We assume the roads will be cleared and salted in the event of snowfall. And it happens. Earlier in the day, I had been transfixed by an article by technologist/scientist/researcher/writer Mark Burgess. While not explicitly about trust, and all it entails, the article’s philosophical underpinnings focus on cooperation and its role in facilitating work and the system(s) in which we humans operate (and place trust). Clearly it’s a good deal more complex and interesting than I am making it sound. (Read it. I mean it.)

Trust comes into it because, as framed, it is clear that trust is a kind of exchange on which we go on to build relationships and dependencies. We know this.

“There must be something valuable about relationships, after all the brain consumes about 20% of our energy at rest, which is a huge penalty for the meager capability of better living together. The reason nature endures this extraordinary cost is surely the unexpected survival benefits of managing these long-term relationships. Relationships are not just social, they are cognitive. As we interact over time, in many different contexts, we aggregate rich information and build up a complete picture of something, by integrating the multiple experiences into a single model that could not be discovered by single ‘transactional’ encounters. In short, we learn to know someone or something as what we call a friend. Long term cognition, with integration of contextual characteristics, is the very complement of cooperation, allowing us to know and recognize individuality. This is why brains are the key to cooperation.” (Italics mine.)

See what I mean? Fascinating.

In recent weeks I’ve thought deeply on the subject of trust and what engenders trust, how it is born, fostered, squandered, ruined, reclaimed, and how much is programmed by the ‘rich information’ as described in the article (and cumulative memory, i.e. “I did not trust Bob from the beginning, and I was right not to” or “I trusted her and she betrayed me; therefore, I will never trust you or any other person who comes along after her”). While this is tangential to the Burgess article, it still struck many nerves and sparked a lot of internal discussion for me, despite my inner dialogue having little to nothing to do with socioeconomics, work or civil society. (The article is well worth the reading for what it relays on all those topics.) In fact, the article read to me, despite its semi-technical sheen, as deeply human.

“The capacity to form a relationship is the capacity to remember past behaviour, recognize it in another, to assess it, and to cache it as a trust score to guide future expectation.”

Once trust is born and deepens, what shows or proves the viability of its connective tissue? Here, Burgess writes about “Asking for help: exceeding our limits by borrowing”. Yes, in a work-related and societal sense, we must ask for help (implicitly, such as with the understanding that the salt truck is going to come and leave behind a clear road). But also, do we feel we are reaching a deeper level of trust with an individual when we cross that barrier, feeling comfortable enough to ask another for help?

“Much as we value the predictability of total information that comes with our autonomous self-sufficiency, we cannot always manage everything alone.”

In society as in individual life, it can be challenging to accept that one is not the self-sufficient island s/he imagined. I can only speak for myself, but that level of interconnectedness and comfort – and trust (implicit or otherwise) – that would empower me to ask for help has often felt very remote. And, despite advising others to maximize their potential and abilities and resources, etc. by asking for help, I have rarely taken my own advice.

We can see, though, that sometimes it is only through the combined effort or resources of more than the individual that we exceed our limits – in positive ways. We cannot always see all the possibilities – or cannot reach them – on our own. How is jumping over that barrier made palatable though? Is a deeper trust enough?

Yes – but also no. Burgess – and experience – tell us this.

“Paradoxically, there is dark side of cooperation, which is that dependency invalidates promises: because dependency delocalizes agency and information.”

In individual/human life, it strikes me we could interpret this as the old frustrating refrain of two people co-existing in an unbalanced relationship, where the burden to do/plan/handle/organize everything falls to one partner. It may well be that the other, non-responsible partner has no clue that this is a burden and appreciates that the responsible partner has been handling everything: this is his/her trusting the other in ever-deeper ways. But it has not only made the relationship lopsided and created resentment in the responsible partner, it has also created this dependency in the non-responsible partner that, as Burgess describes, removes agency and information.

No, this is not a thorough or even particularly thoughtful examination or analysis of Burgess’s work – certainly not through the lens of scientific thought (I didn’t delve much into the “de-personalizing trust” part of the article, as I was fixated on the personal level of trust). It’s just that the article excited the brain and made these odd connections. I’ve been riding this wave of emotion and human interaction in recent weeks, and that influences how I read and hear everything – seeing applicability where perhaps there isn’t any.

*All quotes from Mark Burgess’s “Banks, Brains, and Factories: How rich information alters the economics of cooperation and work”, available in full on his website.

Photo (c) – Paul Costanich.


Random Gum: Raising the Bar 2017


Getting late & losing track of time – December 2016/early 2017

For no real reason except that I’ve been abnormally into music for a few months (yes, I always am, but even more than usual these days), I have already collected a new mix that makes up the soundtrack of my life for the last three months or so (since my last mix went out). The songs are all listed below; almost the entire playlist (minus the songs not available at all on Spotify, such as track 01, from Vorderhaus) can be found among my Spotify playlists. Those people whose addresses I have can trust that a physical copy is on its way to you as I write.

01. Vorderhaus – “Faintly …future’s looming in the afterglow…
02. Big Search – “Love in Return …river, the warmth has gone/the trail’s not been cold for long…
03. The Passions – “I’m in Love with a German Film Star” …playing the part of a real troublemaker/but I didn’t care – it really moved me…
When you fall out of love with the dream

04. Steve Mason – “Planet Sizes” …the universe makes me cry…
It could have been a ‘date’ in Oslo… or not. The fates only know

05. Wand – “Fire on the Mountain (I-II-III)”

06. The Fat Tulips – “Where’s Clare Grogan Now?”
Courtesy of lovely William; reminders/mentions of Enumclaw & Scotland all in one

07. The Fall – “Lost in Music”
For Naomi, for S. Put the original on a recent Halloween mix after hearing it on the dreadful show Looking. Made fun of it (i.e. “Get a job, dancing, music-obsessed losers”). What can take it all up a notch? A version from The Fall, of course!

08. Alvvays – “Archie, Marry Me” …You’ve expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony…
What started as a casual recommendation led eventually to a little heartbreak every time this song came on: “We spend our days locked in a room content inside a bubble
And in the night time we go out and scour the streets for trouble”

09. British India – “I Thought We Knew Each Other”
“Fifteen years of fighting in the dark/Empty hands the only thing I’ve got/All the times I’ve tried to walk away” – it’s the words, not the generic sound

10. Cats on Fire – “Poor Students Dream of Marx …Hated London nightlife, so I’ve heard…
“Go on, get out/I am sharing your doubts”; “last words are for fools who haven’t said enough” (Oh, and it may interest some to know, like Naomi, that these dudes are FUNNISH)

11. The Crayon Fields – “Mirror Ball” …You are still my-y mirror ball/I look at you/and suddenly I’m a virgin/In a dance hall…
“Would it flatter you to know/That mostly it’s you/That makes me so slow”

12. Courtney Marie Andrews – “How Quickly Your Heart Mends”
“The jukebox is playing a sad country song,/For all the ugly Americans,/Now I feel like one of them,/Dancing alone and broken by the freedom”

13. Maud Lübeck – “J’oublie”
With thanks to Laurent S. When music is a conduit to escape dark times

14. Childish Gambino – “Redbone”
Had been meaning to listen but didn’t until it got the “Travis seal of approval”. Love to Billy & Travis xox. And my god, is there anywhere that Donald Glover isn’t right now?

15. Junip – “Line of Fire” …No one else around you/No one to understand you/No one to hear your calls/Look through all your dark corners…

16. The Church – “Under the Milky Way” …I think about the loveless fascination/
Under the Milky Way tonight…
I often forget how much I love the sound of The Church

17. Roosevelt – “Montreal”
Skåne del Sol adventures (no beheadings) w/ Kyle & musical influence of Mr Bridge

18. Dead or Alive – “You Spin Me Round” …I’ve got to have my way now, baby…
RIP Pete. If the losses of 2016 haven’t spun us all around, I don’t know what will

19. Margaret Glaspy – “You and I” …I think you might be harboring a heartache/I think you might be crying when I’m gone/You and I have been a mistake/I let it linger too long…
Endings that drag on; “I don’t want to see you cry/But it feels like a matter of time”

20. Foxygen – “Follow the Leader” …I know sometimes everyone wants to be someone else…

21. John Lennon – “Watching the Wheels” …when I say that I’m okay/well, they look at me kinda strange/surely you’re not happy now, you no longer play the game…

22. Lianne La Havas – “What You Don’t Do”
Thanks to Esteban and Ana

23. Kula Shaker – “Persephone”
Naming conventions, unconventions & the depth & meaning of a name. Not a Kula Shaker fan

24. Lia Ices – “After is Always Before” …I don’t know after and before’s almost gone…
Missing Jane

25. Grandaddy – “Clear Your History”

26. TV21 – “All Join Hands” …I feel so used or was I just your servant?…
Many thanks to William; thoughts racing while racing through Oslo outskirts

27. Leonard Cohen – “So Long, Marianne”
RIP Leonard Cohen. Generic Cohen to choose but has its reasons. Staple soundtrack of the Indian (why?!) place by my old office in Iceland where I spent so many lunches with old friends. And of course, the Norwegian namesake, Marianne, who preceded Cohen in death by only a few months

28. Diego Garcia – “You Were Never There” …Girl you never cared/You were never there…
“You hide yourself/behind a wall/and it shows”. Such truth

29. Cate le Bon – “Love is Not Love” …And the bars go/And it keeps me high/But I don’t know how to love you…
“I won’t let you, I won’t let you, sing my name again, love…”

30. Laura Marling – “Hope in the Air”
With manifold thanks to MP

31. Tomten – “Nothin’ Like Bein’ No One
Love for the little-known Seattle band. I will include them whenever I can
32. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – “When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle…you better pack up & run…
RIP Sharon. “Every dog has his day, uncle, and it just can’t go on this way…”
33. The Boo Radleys – “Wish I Was Skinny”
Love to Naomi – only Boo Radleys fan I know/can think of!

34. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
“If I could, I’d be your little spoon/And kiss your fingers forevermore/But, big spoon, you have so much to do/And I have nothing ahead of me”

35. U.S. Girls – “Island Song”

36. George Michael – “Freedom! ’90”
Holy shit – could 2016 be more brutal? RIP George. I was not a huge fan but what a piece of the 80s landscape and the collective memory of my generation

37. Os Mutantes – “Baby”
For R, always the wrong things to say at wrong times; on occasion knows the right things to do

38. Shonen Knife – “Elephant Pao Pao” とても悪いこと
Totemo warui koto/Japanese-language camp and those old days and ways

39. Low – “Just Like Christmas” …by the time we got to Oslo, the snow was gone/and we got lost, the beds were small, but we felt so young
Conjuring an unfathomably lovely future or a cocoon-like bubble? (Nevertheless, can’t go to Oslo without getting lost and finding an endless array of hi-fi stores)

40. The Verve – “History”
Poetry and history, with gratitude on many fronts to M

41. Nirvana – “Pennyroyal Tea” …Give me Leonard Cohen afterworld…
RIP Leonard Cohen – again

42. Martha Wainwright – “Take the Reins …if you take the reins, I will never look back…
43. Cowboy Junkies – “To Lay Me Down” …To lie with you/Once more to lie with you/With our dreams close together/To wake beside you…
Revival from illness in the cocoon of an illusory under-the-covers world “with our bodies entwined together”

44. Bess Atwell – “Cobbled Streets” …Should it be this hard?/Should it feel like disconnecting?…
“Well I’m afraid I’ve led you to believe I’m not what I am”

45. Steve Mason – “Run Away” …I know you’ll run away/But when I find this I don’t mind anyway…
“Will the love I think, I think I felt/Run away in a day or two?” O, to be pierced through the heart

46. Tori Amos – “Toast” …With a toast he’s telling me it’s time/To let you go…
Losing a brother, stories of toast. For Mom, RIP Paul, ML toastmonster and MP

The end of 2016 particularly was fraught with pain and fear. I can only do what I can: continue on my own path, offer sanctuary to those who have reasons to be fearful of what their current country may become, offer love and sympathy to my remaining family members (whose numbers are dwindling) and love unconditionally. The end also offered a glimpse of light and understanding, which remains unclear. The pain, uncertainty and momentum of all of it inexplicably motivates me as we stumble into 2017.

Photo by the incomparable late, great Paul Costanich.