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January 27, 2018 Jigna Tanna 0 comments


This morning, I flew from Chicago to New York. Before that, I walk up in a hotel, trusting everyone on the staff who had a master key. I took a Chicago taxi to the airport, trusting not just the taxi driver, but everyone else on the road. At Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I had to trust everyone who worked at the airportfor the airline, &the thousands of other passengers.I also had to trust everyone who came in contact with the food I bought & ate before boarding my plane. In New York, I similarly had to trust everyone at La Guardia airport, my New York taxi driver, & the staff at my new hotel – where I am right now, writing this.

If I had to count, I’d guess I easily had to trust a hundred thousand people — & that was all before 10.30 this morning.

Humans are trusting species. There were 120 people on my plane, almost all of them strangers to each other, & at no point did anyone jump up & attacked the person sitting next to them. It’s absurd for me to even say it, but if we had been a plane load of chimpanzees, that would have been impossible. Trust is essential for the society to function – our civilization would collapse completely without it — & the fact that we don’t think about it is a measure of how well that trust works.

It’s a way of thinking about society, & it’s a way of conceptualizing society’s problems. It’s not a write up about why trust is important; lots of people write about that, it’s a write up about how we induce trust: about how security enables trust. There were a lot of complicated mechanisms in play this morning to ensure that no one mugged me on the street, my taxi driver didn’t robe me on the way to the airport & the plane was staffed with the competent pilot.

Trust is a complicated concept, & the word is over loaded with many meanings. There is a personal & intimate type of trust. When I say that I trust a friend or spouse, I am talking less about their specific actions & more about them as a person. I have a general reliance that they will behave in a trustworthy manner. In other words, I know their intentions & I trust their actions will be informed by those intentions.

There is also a less intimate, less personal form of trust. When I got into the taxi this morning, I didn’t know the driver’s intentions. For all I knew he could be a bank robber by night. But I did trust that, for the specific interaction of a taxi driver & a passenger, he would behave in a trustworthy manner. And he trusted me to do the same. May be its more “confidence” then trust, & may be the driver’s actions are more like “compliance” then trustworthiness, but it’s the type of trust that makes the society function. I like to call this sort of trust “cooperation”.

In today’s society, we need to trust not only people but institutions & systems as well. It’s not so much that I trusted the particular pilot who flew my plane this morning, but the airline that produces well trained & well rested pilots according to some schedule. And it’s not so much that I trusted the particular taxi driver, but instead the taxi licensing system & over all the Police system that produced him. Similarly when I used an ATM this morning – another interesting exercise in trust –it’s less that I trusted that particular machine, bank & service company – but instead that I trusted the national banking system to debit the proper amount from my bank account back home.

Here is how I look at it. All complex eco system’s require cooperation. This is true for biological eco system’s, social system’s & socio technical system’s. Also, in any cooperative system there also exists an alternative parasitical strategy. Examples include tapeworms in your digestive tract, thieves in a market, spammers on email, & people who refuse to pay taxes. These parasites can only survives when they are not too successful. That is if there number gets too large or too powerful, the underlying system collapses. If there are too mant tapwroms in your digestive tract, you die & then they die. Too may thieves in a market & no one visits the market anymore& the thieves starve. Too many people stop paying their taxes, & you get Greece.

This means there is a fundamental tension between cooperation & what I call defection. (Students of game theory will immediately recognized these term.) It’s a tension between us as individual & us collectively as a society. We might individualy want each others stuff, but we are all better off living in a theft free society. We might individually not want to pay our taxes, but we are better off if everyone does & so on. A more to the point, we are individually better off if everyone cooperates except us. If I can both a) live in a theft free society, & b) steal your stuff, I personally have the best of both worlds. But if everyone acts that way, society collapses. The world is just matter of trust you see, & it depend on whether you ensure your valuable trust in your spouse or any other relations,in the end it’s your choice.

So has anyone every broken your trust or have you ever broken anyone’s trust? If yes, in both the situations what emotional waves was your mind experiencing? Put your emotions in the comment box & there is a wonderful surprise for you.