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Good Faith and Trustworthiness

November 20, 2015

A response to:

So obviously high-trust societies are better to live in than low-trust societies, but trust isn’t just some exogenous thing dropped in by God. It’s the emergent outcome of the millions of interactions that make up a societies’ culture.

A society becomes high trust because its people are trustworthy. You can leave your doors unlocked, but after getting burglarized a few times, you’re going to start locking them again. It doesn’t take very much betrayal for trust to fade away. People are losing faith in our government because our government is untrustworthy.

Our intelligence agencies lie even to the Senate oversight committees, and aren’t even punished. People see politicians getting away with crime and corruption and just simple bad governance without any consequences. What about those hospitals the Air Force bombed last week? Do you honestly think a single American will be tried for war crimes? American police literally get away with murder on a daily basis, not to mention the host of other problems with the legal system. Laws are passed against fierce opposition, having only garnered the barest minimum of support though the use of deception.

It’s looking at the issue backwards to say “How can we get people to trust more?”. The real question is “How can we create trustworthy institutions?”. Hold people accountable. Create legislation that harmonizes with societal norms instead of trying to use legislation to browbeat people into having different norms. Don’t pass laws that are unpopular using duplicity. Stuff like that. In the modern age of internet and cynicism, extolling the benefits of a high trust society without having a foundation of trustworthiness is futile.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2015 12:10 pm

    A few quick responses:

    1- It’s not clear to me how “It’s the emergent outcome of the millions of interactions that make up a societies’ culture.” is much different from “some exogenous thing dropped in by God.” In both cases neither man nor economist has control over anything but whether he himself tries to trust and be trustworthy.

    2- Pointing to institutions and laws and norms simply brings you into the standards problem, which was the first part of my post. Unless you can trust those supposed to hold one another accountable, or police to enforce laws, or citizens to follow laws more often than breaking them so as to keep enforcement from being cost-prohibitive, it doesn’t matter what institutions or standards you come up with.

    3- I wasn’t really saying we need more trust, and honestly I only mentioned the economic order aspect of trust in passing. Mostly I was interested in the epistemological implications of trust; we learn from parents, teachers, peers, books that we trust in some sense. Who we trust shapes our knowledge.

    • November 20, 2015 3:15 pm

      1. That’s true that each individual doesn’t have any control over culture as a whole.
      2. I think that some standards are easier to enforce. So, if a secret group makes a decision and doesn’t reveal their reasoning, you can trust them less, than if a group is totally open about their decision making, publishes their meeting minutes, shares their empirical data, stuff like that. Science is trustworthy because once you understand how replicating results and testing hypothesis works, you don’t need to know the particulars as well.
      In public policy, laws that mesh with norms are going to promote more trust. Minimizing red tape is less likely to produce corruption. Drug prohibition fosters an environment where people grow accustomed to breaking the law. So the strictness of the standards we hold others to are dependent on institutions.
      3. Ok. I think I was fixating on a few quotes, like “The so-called culture war is nothing more than the professionalization of political mistrust, the monetization, glamorization, and weaponization of bad faith.”, and the part about trust in authorities going away.

      I feel a bit like I’m chasing my own tail. Yes, who we trust affects what we think we know, but what we know affects who we trust. We can meta learn about which systems of epistomology are more likely to produce truth by looking at their past performance, and delving into a sample of their claims in detail and extrapolating. I don’t know if that’s any different from what you’re saying about faith.

      • November 20, 2015 3:28 pm

        This is one of those times where I think we’re like a hair’s length away from agreeing with each other but we’re coming at it from different angles and it’s not entirely clear, hahaha.

        I know what you mean about chasing your tail, though. Paul Crider said the same of your point about getting trust from trustworthiness—what if it’s the other way around? What if people started trusting and that encouraged others to behave in a trustworthy way?

        And as you say, who we trust affects what we know but what we know affects who we trust; though of course in the beginning it’s parents and teachers and (very significantly) peers, and there’s probably a good path dependent model to be written there. Really what’s amazing is that anyone ever radically breaks from their starting point at all in that sense.

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