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May 26, 2021

The Honor System: Do We Trust Each Other? (EP. 333)

The Honor System: Do We Trust Each Other? (EP. 333)
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The recent decision to allow vaccinated people to be in many public areas without masks has given rise to the question, “How will we know if that maskless person has been vaccinated.” Asked differently, do we trust each other?

That is the subject of today’s 15 minute episode.


Beyond masks, we see increasing evidence of cheating in online schools. A headline in the Wall Street Journal warns, “Cheating At School Grows Rampant.” The Internet is filled with offers to help students cheat, and with tests being online, cheating is easy. Only the honor system can stop it. 

The Honor Code at the United States Military Academy, West Point, states, “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.” How is that holding up? Here is a quote from a recent West Point Press release. “The U.S. Military Academy has completed its final adjudication of honor code violations that occurred during a freshman calculus exam in May 2020, while in remote learning away from the academy. Of the 73 cases investigated by the cadet honor committee, six cadets resigned during the investigation, an additional four cadets were acquitted by a board of their peers, and two cases were dropped due to insufficient evidence. Of the resulting 61 cases that were fully adjudicated, eight were separated, 51 were turned back one full year, and two were turned back six months.

In October 2020, the academy also began a comprehensive honor system review and found that the willful admission process, in place since 2015, had not met its intended purpose.” Yes, there is widespread cheating anywhere there is online schooling.

Overall, we do not trust each other, and do not have faith in anything called an Honor System. We believe more in, “Every man for himself,” than in an Honor System which assumes that we will act responsibly to take care of each other.

Pause for a nit. Yes, I get it that many people believe that we do not need an honor system with vaccines and mask wearing; they believe that anyone who is vaccinated is impervious to COVID whether others wear masks or not, indoors or outdoors, on airplanes or in church. I am not there, but the issue of whether we Americans trust each other is real, important and needs to be addressed.

We have a highly diverse society, which makes it more difficult to establish mutual trust, social trust, than in homogeneous places like Japan and the Sandinavian countries. The problem is greatly exaggerated by those pushing intersectional politics, pitting groups against each other for personal and political gain.

In order to move forward with anyone or any group, trust is required. As the issues become more important, more trust is needed. For example, at the low end of the trust spectrum, simply riding as a passenger being driven across town requires trust in the driver’s skills for 30 minutes or so. Towards the other end, marrying the driver requires overall, lifelong trust.

If we are to be comfortable with paying our taxes, we need to trust that the tax structure is fair, and the government is spending our money 1. in the right areas, and 2. spending it efficiently. Money in the right places, spent responsibly.

Getting comfortable with spending money on welfare requires that we believe:
1. The people receiving it are doing their best, yet are incapable of meeting their responsibilities.
2. The various agencies dispensing our taxes are working to help the recipients achieve self-supporting status, earning the joy, freedom, and dignity that should come with that accomplishment. Sadly, I needed to use the word “should” in the previous sentence. The joy and dignity that comes only from doing one’s best is slowly being replaced by the ease and sense of entitlement that comes with having others be taxed to partially or fully support those on taxpayer welfare.

How do we develop that trust in the recipients? Do we need to know the specifics of a large, random sampling of welfare recipients?  No. Those stats, if available, will be skewed in this direction or that, depending upon the bias of the entity producing the numbers. Or do we simply trust human nature? Surprisingly, this is the better path–with some caveats.

Let’s start with some key points about human nature. 

  1. People trust people they like.
  2. People like people who are like themselves.

We see number 1 at play in election after election. Likeability often outweighs policy–assuming that the voters even know the policies of the various candidates. The same is true about actors and other performers. We are willing to pay to see the ones we like, despite their artistic flaws. Number 2 is clearly proven by the people who feel connected to others by gender, age, race, similar education and income, vehicle and sports team preferences, military status, schools attended, geography–even past geography, etc. Many etceteras. 

How do we generate social trust in a highly diverse society, where there are not only major differences between and among groups in education, income, work habits and values, but genuine and deep-seated antagonism? In other words, how do we in America, the world’s most diverse society in any nation of size, generate the needed trust?

In major countries throughout the world, there is very little diversity, certainly when compared with the US. Japan, China, Scandinavia, for example. In the Netherlands, another homogeneous country, they have a generous welfare system that works. Overall, the people in the Netherlands are well educated and hard-working. And people believe that about their fellow citizens. That knowledge gives the people there the ability to trust that their welfare money is not being wasted. Well educated and hard working people do not waste the things that are given to them.

  1. How do we get to the needed trust level right here in our own country; a highly diversified, largely fractured nation? Ready for the answer?
    1. Let go of being right. We can’t learn to trust one another if our primary goal is to be right. The need to be right will squash any possibility of trust. Driving to be right means that listening to others is at most a mere formality–a pause in the process of impressing on others how correct we are and how wrong they are. Would you trust anyone who did not listen and was merely engaged in conversation as a contest where they win and you lose?
    2. Develop shared values; substitute shared values, common goals, for the more external things we have relied upon in the past to bring us together. Let’s pause for a definition here: values do not mean exact ways of living like deciding to drive an electric car instead of, say, a clean diesel truck. That’s a choice, a means to an end, not a value. The shared value here could be something like respecting the environment, the only one we will pass down to future generations, while not unnecessarily damaging the economy that those future generations will inherit. Similarly, a shared value could be wanting the best K-12 education with the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Choosing to emphasize one method, for example, public schools, charters or vouchers–or balancing all three–would be a tactic. It might be helpful if we look at values as strategies, and ways to realizing those values, bringing those values to life, as tactics.

Absent trust, those receiving taxpayer aid will be tempted to perceive the untrusted people who are making the assistance possible through their taxes as greedy, self-serving and, possibly, the source of their financial difficulties in the first place. Absent trust, those providing the aid through their taxes might be tempted to see those receiving it as lazy and entitled. Instead of the money transfer fixing anything, it would simply exacerbate the lack of trust.

And the same with masks. Vaccinations. And life in general.

Today’s Key Point: If we want to live in a trust-base, Honor Code society, we must first become trustworthy ourselves. And become openly trustworthy with any person or group, no matter how similar or dissimilar they are from us. If we all do that, we will get there, and rather quickly. It’s kinda like herd immunity against cheating, blind distrust and other forms of selfishness and distrust. 

How would you address the trust issue, the bedrock of any possible Honor System?

Where do you stand? What are you going to do? Remember, it does not matter where you stand if you don’t do anything. 

As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty. 1 Corinthians 16:14


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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.