ONE blogs – JOHN CALDER – Man for Monday: ‘FAITH, HISTORY AND FRAUD’

Ever since the human mind began to ask itself the kind of question that animals never ask, such as ‘where do we come from?’, ‘why are we here?’, or ‘where are we going?’ there have been some willing to provide answers, usually to get an advantage. So a priesthood developed to give answers, prophets and preachers, and to them we owe thousands of years of cruel and bloody wars and conflicts that have made life intolerable for a majority of those alive at any one time. There seems to be a need to have faith in something, a religion, a patriotism, a fashion, a cause or a means of making money.

Recent years have seen some big frauds, some past ones such as the South Sea Bubble or Darien Expedition many have started with some credibility, but man’s natural ineptness has turned them into disasters. There have always been plausible fraudsters, but we never learn from past misfortunes. Always behind them is someone who thinks he is clever, and when things go wrong uses his cleverness to devise a fraud to cover up in the desperate hope that his luck will change. So it was with Barings bank, with Madoff and Enron. The play ‘Enron’ has now been running for almost a year and is packing London theatres. Will this stop people having faith in some new scheme which comes along which is just as bad? No, of course not! We never learn.

In the play, two young men in love with their own cleverness, employed by a company that is basically incompetent and losing money but unwilling to admit it, devise a scheme that urges its ignorant employees to ruin their own futures by gambling on the company. Even when it all collapses they still think they are clever and have pulled out themselves. But a ruined security guard says it all: ‘You’re just a crook’.

What concerns me is not so much the crooks- such is humanity, there will always be bad apples- but that those who have faith in such enterprises and schemes have nothing to back up of that faith. When it comes to the capitalist world of stocks and shares, and investment in general, one should never put a penny into anything that you do not understand. A small company that you work for, where you know how and why it works, what it does, who its customers are and where the future looks as good as the present, especially if you know its finances are sound and money is put in reserves every year for the future, rather than taken to overpay management, that might do for you. Something that has a temporary glamour that everyone else is investing in for no reason other than to join the swarm, is where you should be distrustful.

But then there are all the other faiths: the tribal ones that tell you to hate what is different, the nationalist ones that tell you your country is always right, that terrorism is what others do, that your God is the only true one…and all the other faiths and beliefs that separate one lot of people from another are all wrong or evil and worthy of destruction…No, you should reject them all. We should teach our children to trust only their own considered thought out judgement, and then only after looking at all the possibilities on offer. Doubt is good, and it should lead to careful reasoning. Blind faith is the root of evil.

We live in a world where it is as important to be tactful as well as to be able to think. The only way to shake a blind faith that is dangerous is to listen, question and sometimes point out the extremes which that faith points towards. That may make the other person draw back, re-examine what they are saying and perhaps begin to doubt. Never be too sure of yourself. We can all be wrong!

John Calder 12/2/2010