Credibility

Jan. 2003

It's not that credibility is scarce that makes it a pertinent issue, though the lack thereof indicates a serious detriment. What compels me to analyze the state of credibility is society's general motivation for granting credibility.

I do not want to be credible in the eyes of the average American because what it takes to earn that distinction is frankly unappealing. Sure, one who laments the state of credibility could certainly be guilty of self-pity due to neglect by those who dispense the sought commodity. I, with my analysis of the topic, am fully aware of my precarious position with respect to that evaluation. However, one would disregard the true benefits of credibility if one limited one's scope to the notion of credibility as some tool to gain social favor. It is uncovering this true benefit of credibility that will serve as my aim with this treatise.

At a work place, I witness how undermined credibility is. One person asks a question to a group of people, unrelated to work, but interesting still. Someone answers with a sharp response, acknowledging the query with creative wit. No one acknowledges this response in turn, but shortly after, a loud, boisterous fellow answers with a simple, stale version of the answer—one that also happens to be right and doubtless spawned by the original answer—and then boasts about having achieved the goal. To this, the crowd cheers. Credibility is reserved for the dim-witted.

In another instance, someone is looking at a display not ten feet away. Someone else walks in front of the observer, acts as if he doesn't see the observer or that the observer provided him with the impulse to regard the display and looks at the display for several moments completely blocking the original observer's line of sight.

Friends organize plans for an evening out. One friend proposes a favorable destination to which most other friends nod. One of them, however, remarks on the difficulty of getting to the destination but does not propose a remedy or alternative.

People talk about inconsequential teen movies and remark on how good they are quite unaware of the distinction between a well made, high-production film and one with high historical significance or high artistic quality. Evidently, to most, the film that follows a formula to the most precise extent is one worth exaltation.

One can see popular entertainment shows glorifying celebrities with a ten second interview highlight where the celebrity says absolutely nothing. The shell of an argument is there, with inflection and hand movements not excluded, but fascinatingly no point is made, no progress gained. Granted, advanced narrative techniques like "ya know what I'm saying?" and "I mean, I don't know" are used to underscore this unpoint, but that this is awarded so much credibility concerns me. All of these instances may seem inconsequential themselves, but that we as a society grant credibility to and look for credibility in the most insincere, practically manipulative behaviors is a sign that we are in need of a reassessment in this arena.

Credibility is defined as "the quality, capability, or power to elicit belief." With such a definition, we should find the credible most certainly in those of honesty or integrity. It is an honest man who tells the truth, and it should be this truth that is most believable. Contrary to this logical assumption, I have found in most cases that to gain credibility in modern America, one must be dishonest or even a capricious cheater. As in the aforementioned instances, it is the one who steals ideas from others who gains the public's favor, it is the deceptive one, intently shortening his words and thoughts who relates best to the masses. Seemingly, truth or honesty have nothing to do with the attainment of credibility.

Acknowledged should be the fact that the dishonest are not the only ones who are credible. Many placed credence in George W. Bush, who, in serving a notably honest presidency was considered credible man. The same goes for Ted Copple who presided over one of the shows considered most honest by media consumers. Honesty can be found in many who are credible for sure, the question is whether it is honesty in itself that makes these few credible. Due to the lack of honesty in many others who are credible, we can conclude that both some factor other than truth serves as a satisfactory prerequisite for credibility and the source of credibility is different for different people.

To examine these, one should consider the notion that in a specialized society, one looks for different things from different people. One looks for culinary prowess when it comes to a chef but looks for athletic competence in a sportsman. As such, the majority of Americans do not look for a 4.4 40 in their executive chefs, nor the ability to spice a coq au vin with the right amount of vin from their star running back.

The specialism of our culture says that we must use fellow citizens for one thing only—to obtain a coq au vin, to witness a touchdown. In order for these people to offer us these single things, usually the same for all consumers, they are required to have but few skills—culinary or athletic, respectively. As a result, our fellow citizens are not required to have other skills which are expendable in pursuit of our one product. In fact, auxiliary skills are discouraged so as to avoid a "detachment from focus" or a "spastic personality."

The fault in this model is that few people are required to offer general skills of self or social welfare, skills like moral judgment, idealism and wisdom. These things are reserved for policemen, politicians and educators. In attempt to avoid the label of flaky or incompetent, one disregards morality, ideals and wisdom, embraces one side of the brain and focuses on one task. It's easy that way. No one expects too much from him and he can expect little from everyone else. With regard to the matter at hand, honesty falls into the category of judgment, idealism and wisdom. Just as one must sacrifice the latter three in order to focus on racking up his sales figures, so too must he sacrifice honesty or truth. It doesn't matter to such an individual, because someone out there will provide the honesty and truth, perhaps the network news anchor, perhaps the rabbi, most likely the scientist.

Specialization of honesty does not limit credibility to one profession according to the individual of this disposition. That is because credibility does not originate from honesty or truth, or at least it doesn't in the direct sense of these words. Credible is the resultant distinction of one who provides a satisfactory contribution for one's designated field. He is the credible sportsman who succeeds at his sport, witness the all-stars turned commentators. He is the credible teacher who graduates straight-'A' students. He is the credible scientist who has made it onto public radio. Credibility does not imply honesty or truth any more, it merely implies success.

With a specialized perspective on life, it could be said that one who succeeds at his chosen specialty is being true to one's nature and for that reason, success can be linked to, misinterpreted as honesty. It is a misinterpretation because even if it is honesty to follow one's nature, it would be incorrect to assume a single profession to be one's nature if only evidenced by the fact that it takes more than just filing papers to be a human. To be human, one must at least eat and exercise, and to do these things would be to neglect one's "nature." This contradiction debunks the notion of credibility as success.
The notion persists nonetheless. The casual sports fan watching any sports telecast will most certainly defer to the guy with the microphone; the casual intellectual will always defer to the PhD on "Talk of the Nation." The successful practitioner is the credible one to most citizens in most situations. This is why so much confidence is devoted to people in the media. The belief is that to be on TV is just about the most successful thing in the world. This stems from the belief that it is difficult to get on TV and once one has made it, the assumption is that one is "set for life." Finally, of course, everyone on the tube looks so good—to be on TV is to be successful at all these things, extremely important to most modern Americans. And so, even if a popular female singer tears out onto the Superbowl halftime show with the appearance of some Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome extra, she is credible. Even if a wealthy actress gets arrested for shoplifting or actor gets arrested for acquiring a prostitute, credibility is preserved.

I will explore the consequences of this notion of credibility as success below, but first, I should like to assess how credibility came to imply success as opposed to honesty. To do this, I will analyze the difficulty one has in determining a subject's level of credibility when credibility implies honesty—it is this difficulty that instigates the adjustment of credibility's meaning.

There are a few ways one may ascertain a characteristic, credibility included, of a given subject: (1) The subject's self-promotion, the subject can affirm his own characteristic; (2) an analysis of the subject's actions and behaviors, the judge can observe, analyze and conclude; or (3) testimonials from a third party, someone else who has already observed, analyzed and concluded can offer his findings. Credibility (the honesty kind) falls into one specific category for two reasons. The first is that, as opposed to a characteristic like eye color, credibility is not a conspicuous characteristic and therefore is less readily determinable. Moreover, the quality is one of sufficient ambiguity so as to demarcate the ascertainment to one's own version of truth, a version that may be vastly different from someone else's. Hence, the quest to determine a subject's credibility (the honesty kind) usually goes like this:

(1) The subject's self-promotion is seen as an interesting resource. In order to accept one's claim on one's own honesty, a level of honesty must be asserted in the first place, so a paradox arises—honesty must be assumed in order for someone's self-declaration of honesty to be accepted. So, how is one to believe the subject?

Although we can reasonably assume the subject's good nature, we cannot assume a statement from him on his own honesty to be true. This is so for two reasons. First, if he says he is not honest, then we are sure that he is currently telling the truth and is not honest at least all the time. He could be telling the truth in this instance, but if he is, he is automatically indicted of being dishonest at other times. On the other hand, if he asserts his honesty, it can be the case that he is still dishonest, for if he is dishonest, then he would be able to lie and say that he was honest.

Most likely, since honesty is a favored possession over dishonesty, an individual will promote himself as honest even if he is not. The direct implications upon one's admission of dishonesty would be damaging while a successful promotion of himself as honest would result in higher social standing among other benefits. With that being the case, there is motive for the subject to highlight his self-promotion with the proclamation of honesty, it is almost worth presumption. This motive is obvious to the audience and any assertion of honesty, or any self-promotion that falls in with honesty as socially substantial for that matter, will be accepted only with sincere skepticism. One must conclude that the self-promotion of one's credibility is not a valid reference.

(2) Thus, one resorts to either an analysis of the subject's actions or a third party to determine a subject's level of honesty. To analyze one's actions however, is a long, complex task and it is very likely that even with the necessary time granted, it is a task of too much effort for the average specialized man to concern himself with or one that the average dumbed-down individual feels unqualified to complete. Finally, one is left with third party endorsement as our only means to determine one's honesty in an efficient manner.

(3) The third party is a convenient resource for a pair of reasons. A third party is likely to have a great reservoir of information about a subject and is therefore considered an expert, at least in comparison to the judge. Moreover, although it is clear that one may gain favor from others if one affiliates with any talented or otherwise attractive individual (success by that individual is success to the third party), any affiliation is revokable and if an individual is not successful, it is not unlikely that the third party will purport so. The third party is accordingly seen as an unbiased resource for a subject's credibility.

The media fits these third-party molds precisely. Firstly, it is assumed that television or even radio and some sophisticated internet sites require vast resources. Money, technology, talent, experience, infrastructure, layers and layers of bureaucracy that no average citizen understands or is willing to learn. Anything in the media has passed these channels and is therefore certified as expert. Secondly, the media is seen as unbiased commentary. Journalism is accepted as offering both sides of the given argument even if one is favored or the other is incomplete and the complementary television content, the "arts," are seen as an opportunity to objectively peer into the interworkings of real life.

When regarding the third party in this light, whether the third-party is television or the class gossip, third party endorsement inevitably commends a subject's level of success instead of honesty. The reason for this has to do with a flaw in the use of the third party to evaluate one's credibility.

Generally not taken into account in the acceptance of third-party endorsement are the inconspicuous motives of any third party. These motives are based on prevalent social tendencies and, as such, bait any social human. Due to the first characteristic that makes the third-party resource viable, ignorance of the judge, the third party can say with liberty just about anything that he wants as long as it is tinted with a compulsory level of logic. With this freedom, it is probable that truth about that subject becomes secondary to any claim that will guarantee self-benefit, one that would raise the third party's social stature or, in the case of TV, one that would raise the third party's revenue. Such a statement could take on any number of profiles, but most likely it will be negative in tone. Enumerated below are two specific examples of this, but the general principle pertains to the notion of a supply and demand of social acceptance.

The prevailing sense is that in any social environment, credibility is a limited thing and if one person has a lot of it, another must be stuck with just a little. Therefore, in order to obtain credibility, one must take it from others or at least restrict others from gaining it. This concept is established by the recognition of a couple specific trends of the day: The campaign against hypocrisy and the campaign for diversity.

(1) Hypocrisy is a dreaded place in modern America. A most commanding leftover from the Baby Boomer generation, the condemnation of hypocrisy was the compound of overthrowing bigotry, racism, elitism, classism and conservatism. Unfortunately, the admission of fault for a past or current behavior has since been translated as hypocrisy and therefore, in a social arena, to accept fault for anything, whether it be burping or something awfully indecorous, even illegal is unacceptable. The consequence of admitting any wrongdoing has become nothing less than a purging of one's social reservoir. One's credibility is hence damaged severely. Not desiring such a circumstance, the wrong-doer is left with a single option. He cannot accept guilt and move to better himself for fear of loss of credibility so he must accept his wrongs as good and move on to continue the transgression.

Just as accepting fault lowers one's credibility, giving someone else acclaim does the same for the same reason. If one is able to recognize the goodness in a subject's deeds, it is expected for him to do the deed himself. The assumption is that if he accepts something as good and is not doing it, he is being hypocritical, and again, is chastised for all evils of any former culture. In both cases, it is beneficial for the third party to besmirch the subject.

(2) The struggle for credibility is intensified with the modern mandate for diversity and individuality. With such a demand, one's credibility is dependent on one's ability to be as unique as possible. As such, one strives to distance one's self from as many people as possible. In doing this, one is not able to commend others as this would correlate and identify the third party with the subject. Such behavior would be to contradict one's goal in being original. Only if one avoids acknowledgement of others' achievements can he fully cut all dependence and stand alone as a "misunderstood maverick, bucking the trends and the ties that bind an individual's spirit," or so goes the disposition. Disparagement is the trump card in the competition for individuality.

As a result of social trends like the campaign against hypocrisy and for diversity, the propensity for the third party is to denounce the given subject. This doesn't go without everyday proof. Simply observe the comments of third-party sources during any average conversation about someone. Surely nothing outrageous will initially be alleged, but in most cases, credibility will not be granted. When credibility is mutated to mean success, the ostensible result is a self-imposed limitation on, rather, elimination of the apportionment of credibility.

This trend is true for the most part, but of course, there are those in society who are granted credibility as an exception to the rule. The distinction is exclusive, however, and almost all of the socially credible are found in one place: pop culture. The pop icons of the day, those who so luckily hold spots on the oligopoly of third-party endorsement, are granted unlimited credibility to the extent that comedians take over the role of military analyst and rock stars are demanded to furnish their opinion on the political climate dictating for whom the masses will vote.

Resultant is a decreased credibility for those in one's immediate environment, those who haven't made the jump to stardom, and an intensified credibility presented to those in the perimeter of one's society, those who have made the jump. The successful get more credibility and the unsuccessful get less.

"So what," the casual observer might argue. Who cares who gets credit for it it as long as it's done? Worrying about getting credit for something is just like abandoning concentration for the thing trying to be accomplished. This may be a fair stance on productivity, not unlike the one by Mr. Jowitt, but it does not take into consideration the fact that credibility takes on a different role after it has been granted. That is, even though many may regard credibility as success when they determine to whom they will issue it, the perception of the credible man is the one who is socially acceptable. The credible one is the one with whom everyone wants to be associated. When a large majority of citizens bequest credibility unto their favorite celebrity, that lucky star is, by nature accepted by that society. Meanwhile, when credibility is withheld from anyone, that individual is rejected by society.

Herein the problem lies. In the skewed models of credibility, the social acceptability of local citizens plummets causing a deterioration of institutions that supported America for so long—local institutions of church, school, bowling leagues. No longer do friends provide creative insight or parents direction. Teachers and policemen become scoundrels. The ensuing alienation, thus, strangles the social body. Concurrently, the stars of pop are rewarded outright freedom in their endeavors, which doubtfully exclude any indecorous behavior. They are these few who replace a citizen's friends in creative insight, his parents in direction and his authorities as moral judges. These icons become megalomaniacal deities, officiously leading the culture into indulgent self-destruction.

There may be a dearth of truth about our local society and what is less likely a wealth of truth at the summit of popularity. If this is the case, credibility is rightly disbursed. It is not so for the right reason, however. It is that people are afraid to lose their own credibility that forces the retrenchment of credibility from their friends and deluge of the asset on their icons—it is not that people are hesitant to promote falsity. What is an intriguing irony regarding credibility is that the reduction of the success kind of credibility implies the reduction of the integrity kind as evidenced with the effect of pop stars leading their followers into further self-imposed scurrility. As I explain below, only if we begin to grant credit to those who truly deserve it, the principled, will we find true social progress.

If we regard credibility as it should be regarded, the designation of those with integrity, a very interesting social path is installed. Before we do this, however, society must rid their ambitions of diversity as a goal and hypocrisy as a detriment. Sure, diversity is hailed as a cultural paragon, the American way, but it is not the goal, it is but the means to a goal. This fact is especially true when considering the consequences of the quest for diversity include intentional segregation to attain the acclaimed treasure. Sure, hypocrisy is bad in most cases, cases when one promotes something one doesn't intend to do oneself, but if it is considered hypocrisy when one admits fault in doing something wrong, the consequences can only be the perpetuation of wrongdoing. To some extent, hypocrisy must exist in order to attain betterment.

Once a society accomplishes these tasks, it is then free to grant commendation to those who deserve it rather than just those who already have attained success. Anyone can be credible with the prerequisite integrity. As a consequence, only those who are principled and honest are accepted socially. Moreover, citizens look to local arenas for goodness and likely strive to provide support for those arenas. Churches, schools and bowling leagues expand, communities become more active and promotion of fellow citizens' product becomes the preferred way to gain one's own motivation. A greater responsibility is placed on the individuals for now, they must place a more complex judgment on those with whom they socialize. The individuals in a society of this order begin to find volition in themselves—now they too can be esteemed. The innate desire for acceptance, thus, drives the citizen to build, create and inspire; their own production is increased and intentional. On the other end of affairs, the popular elite must work to produce something of substance to maintain their credibility, thereby their acceptance, thereby their fortunes. No longer is the system based on some fragile mob fancy but is obsequious to universal morality. Culture flourishes and is actually used to progress mankind, not criticize or dismantle it. Such is the result of a proper allocation of credibility.

With that said, credibility cannot be assumed to be good in every case. To frivolously shell out credibility and flattery can be as detrimental as its suppression for the following reasons. Although positivity is generally a good thing, no one should promote something that is incredible as credible. This would imply only the encouragement of that incredible thing. Moreover, the sinister use of flattery is also a dilemma with which to contend. There are those who fling compliments to people just as most fling disparagements and for the same reason—social gain.

While most rely on diversity and the purge of hypocrisy to provide them with social strength, some feed on the want of credibility to infiltrate a given social environment. As many people lack credibility, occasionally, one who grants it is favored. When the frank goal of the flatterer is uncovered, more harm is done than any possible good offered by the granted credibility. The flatterer's conniving schemes illustrate his destitute character and the formerly accepted successes of the subject are disputed and must be reevaluated.

Therefore we must conclude that the proper allocation of credibility is our goal, not some blanket distribution of the entity. We must, as a society, grant credibility to those who possess honesty, integrity, moral judgment, ideals and wisdom. These are not characteristics that may be obtained by a few prestigious professionals or scholars, they are available for everyone and if everyone strives for these characteristics, human product will flourish. It will be difficult to initiate the correct understanding of credibility for a couple reasons explained in this treatise. Firstly, necessary to grant this kind of credibility is the rejection of popular notions that say everyone can only do one thing in life, that diversity is a goal in itself and that one must promote his past failures as intentional accomplishments. These hurdles are nothing too towering to get past. The rewards on doing so far outweigh the effort it will take to achieve them. Secondly, due to these hurdles, there are few people who maintain the characteristics that imply true credibility and there will be little credibility granted during the initial process. Eventually, it will gain steam and finally, credibility will be in abundance, nourishing a creative and virtuous society.