A Matter Of Trust

A few outlets are covering a Gallup International survey about which professions are more trusted than others. Although most of the press has focused on the extreme distrust of politicians (duh), there are other less obvious revelations.

From The Guardian:

    Worldwide, politicians represent the least trusted occupation in the survey, scoring only 13%. Religious leaders are the most trusted (33%), followed by military/police leaders (26%), journalists (26%) and business leaders (19%).

The article doesn’t explicitly state why some professions are higher than others, nor does it adequately define “trust.” I am willing to guess that this is based on the perception that these figures perform their jobs in an honest and ethical manner and/or are less likely to sacrifice the integrity of their profession for the sake of personal gain.
In some cases, this perception is very understandable. Politicians by their nature are more interested in personal achievements and reputation. On the other hand, religious leaders tend to not only represent a code of ethics and behavior, but they are also in a position to administer pastoral care in times of need. Furthermore, many religions demand obedience to religious leaders to the extent that trust in God is exhibited through trust in the preachers. Military and police leaders control personal security and you’re forced to trust them out of necessity.
However, this also reveals a certain degree of naive idealism. Each of the above professions implies a certain degree of power and is therefore subject to abuse. By now we should all be familiar with both financial and sexual scandals perpetuated by religious officials and “military corruption” is a redundancy in many South American and African countries considering the money and political power involved. Despite its self aggrandizing role in society the media is a much of a business interested in selling their spin and image rather than honest reporting.
The Guardian continues:

    Asked which types of people they would like to give more power to, 35% favoured “intellectuals” (writers and academics), followed by religious leaders on 25%.

This I find even more disturbing – especially considering that I’d be “favoured” by 60% of the population. I can certainly see the attraction to relying on academics. They are obviously well educated and intelligent, occasionally suave, and supposedly are motivated by a quest for truth, motivated by ethical standards rather than religious dogma.
However as I’m sure many “intellectuals” are just as biased and ideological as religious leaders and are just as egotistical, arrogant, and opportunistic as politicians. Furthermore, in the ivory tower they are free to hypothesize about social theory without ever speaking to a live person and they can propose public policy without facing consequences for poor decisions. Not that it’s an accurate predictor, but they tried it on The Simpsons and it failed miserably (although comically).
Personally I consider trust to be a very valuable commodity, one which should not be given freely. While it’s possible that some intellectuals may be more deserving than others, I think the competitive nature and quest for power/authority will eventually corrupt any profession. It’s the pretense of intellectuals and religious leaders which not only distorts our perception of them, but makes their inevitable fall from grace all the more disillusioning.
In the Washington Post’s coverage, we find some more surprising results:

    Two out of three people polled around the globe felt unrepresented by their governments.
    The exceptions were South Africans, Israelis and Scandinavians. Most of these believed their governments were in tune with the people.

Somehow despite the perpetual bickering and the generally backwards nature of the Kenesset – not to mention rampant and blatant corruption – Israelis believe that their government actually works. I’m not sure who was asked in this survey, or if the religious parties were well represented. However, Israel does have an impressive voter turnout which certainly doesn’t indicate disenchantment with the system.
Offhand I’d say that in Israel people realize that their government affects even the details of people lives on a daily basis. Because so much is riding on every election, people take a more active role in the politics to the point where if you don’t like your choices, you can basically start your own party. Thus even the smaller idiosyncratic segments of the population are represented to some extent.
Either that or they’re just in denial.
The Post continues:

    Muslims and Protestants were the most likely to trust religious leaders and give them more power. Jews appeared to be the most positive about being able to change their own lives.

This formulation is puzzling on several grounds. First, it assumes that trusting religious leaders and maintaining self-determination are mutually exclusive. Second, it does not explain what it means to “give them more power.”
If the original question dealt with trusting religious leaders to make their decisions for them, then this would probably depend not only on the innate characteristics of each religion but also on the particular sect or denomination. For example, Hassidim have their Rebbe and the Mithnagdim have their Da’as Torah – both appeal to the “higher spiritual level” of the religious leader to intuit the will of God. Thus to a large extent religious authority of the clergy depends on the particular theology being preached.1 Still, even accounting for various theologies, one cannot deny the autonomy a person exhibits when he chooses, appeals to, and subsequently follows the Rabbi.
I suppose the better question to ask out of all this is to what extent we should trust polls.

1. For my take on the matter, see shiur on Rabbinic and Communal Leadership.


  1. NoFreeLunch
  2. Janet
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