Human Systems Are Almost Always Based On Trust

‘Distrust’ — Midjourney’s imagined conception of the term, based on my own prompt

Without trust, it seems to me, human systems cannot function.

We have to trust that governments and their regulatory agencies (including law enforcement) are effective and not dysfunctionally self-interested or corrupt; if we can’t trust them, we turn to other political structures to give us what we need, even if that’s gangs, mafia, cults, militias, or ‘private’ governments (gated communities etc).

We have to trust economic systems in order to use fiat currencies, to invest and expect to get our money back, to get into debt, and to work expecting fair pay, reasonable benefits, opportunities for ‘advancement’, respect for our employment ‘contract’, a safe and un-traumatizing workplace, and employment stability. Or we won’t participate in the workforce, no matter what hardship that results in.

We have to trust public transportation systems to be reliable and safe, or we’ll opt out and use exclusively private systems.

We have to trust public education systems to be effective, useful, valuable in preparing us for the work world, and safe, or we’ll opt out and use private systems.

We have to trust (and be able to qualify for and afford) public health systems or we’ll use private systems or ‘alternative medicine’ systems (even dicey ones), and refuse public health orders and vaccines.

Without trust, systems fall apart. There’s a name for social organizations that operate with absolute lack of trust, and are hence totally coercive — they’re called prisons. Without trust in public systems, our whole society becomes a prison, fragmented, begrudging, compulsive, propagandized, and utterly dysfunctional.

And yet, we have created a modern civilization that seemingly thrives on and exploits distrust. From false and deceptive advertising and PR, to empty political promises, to political, media and social media fear- and hate-mongering, censorship, propaganda and mis- and disinformation, to conspiracy theories, to dishonest corporations, to education curricula that lie about history to our children, to quacks who sell dangerous health cures and advice, and on and on — sowing distrust, lies, dissatisfaction and doubt is now prevalent in every sector of our societies, and it is hugely profitable. No wonder, then, that our modern culture doesn’t serve anyone, except of course those who are cultivating distrust to destabilize, manipulate and abuse us.

If we don’t trust the system, the only way we will continue to pay fealty to it, rather than walking away from it, is if (i) we are continually coerced to remain within it and to be obedient to it, and (ii) we have been persuaded that there is no better alternative, or no alternative at all.

So what happens next when a society reaches this point? Is there any way back? Can trust be rebuilt?

My sense is that it cannot. Just as when a personal relationship is destroyed when one person betrays the other’s trust so thoroughly that the aggrieved party refuses all further contact with the abuser, so it seems to me that a culture without trust cannot continue for long. Endless coercion quickly becomes unaffordable and unsustainable, and is destined to collapse, and be replaced by a culture where there is some semblance of trust. Mutual trust, I think, is essential to human nature and how we associate, or don’t, with other people.

We are now at the stage where propaganda, censorship, military and police enforcement of ‘law and order’, and oppression of whistle-blowers, counter-propagandists and other ‘disobedient’ people has reached its practicable limits. When most public spending is on military, ‘security’ and other coercive activities at the cost of providing public services, collapse is, I suspect, the inevitable next step.

That could play out in a number of ways: Military or other oppressive dictatorships by powerful minorities determined to hold on to their power. Civil wars and other uprisings. Acts of increasing civil disobedience: massive strikes, refusal to work, refusal to pay taxes, refusal to abide by increasingly restrictive laws even at the cost of repeated arrest and incarceration, hunger strikes, self-immolation, suicide bombs and other forms of suicidal protest. And, more broadly, a widespread social withdrawal from the ‘body public’ — debilitating depression, self-harm, retreat into addictive escapism, and hikikomori-type social reclusion. You can see signs of this already in the plunging rates of participation in the labour force, especially the full-time participation rates.

This is what collapse looks like. We are not going to be able to rebuild trust in our broken systems, which no longer serve most of us at all well. They will fall apart, slowly. Firstly, I think, as we come to realize the unsustainability of the financial and economic systems on which all investment, saving, trade, innovation, technological and business activity is based, our ever-growing distrust of these systems will prevent us from even trying to rescue them as, like dominos, they fall apart — the financial system, the economic system, then the political system,  the health system, the education system, the transportation system, and finally our fragile social systems.

What will be interesting to see is whether, in less individualistic cultures than the prevailing western ones, these systems will hold, or at least fall apart more slowly. The loss of any sense of community, and of responsibility to the larger whole of our society, will likely mean that our western cultures’ systems will be the first to collapse.

The lesson of human history is that when a society’s systems no longer serve the needs and interests of its members, the systems collapse, and the society disbands or fragments. Its members ‘walk away’ from the existing society and systems, and search out or start over to create one that does serve them.

No one can predict what that will look like, or even hazard an intelligent guess. The new societies and systems are likely to be radically relocalized, much smaller, and astonishingly diverse — reflecting the fact that our human needs and interests are diverse. Confederations may well emerge, though attempts to corral local societies into large, homogeneous, centralized, one-size-fits-all societies will likely fail. Once burned, twice shy.

The one thing we can be almost sure of, however, is that these new societies and cultures will be built on trust. Without it, there is probably no hope for them.

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2 Responses to Human Systems Are Almost Always Based On Trust

  1. Michael Dowd says:

    I fully agree, Dave!
    As I may have shared with you in the past, I wrote an essay 25 years ago that made a similar point.
    See the first section of “Living and Loving Panfaithfully”:

  2. Theresa says:

    I think there are things to be learned from the early dark ages in Western Europe during and after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Fiefdoms, lack of roads, lack or currencies, mass movements of migrating people who generally values small gold portable trade-able items vs the grand architecture and other art of stable civilizations. The loss of the ability to educate new generations in the arts crafts and engineering of the old civilization. The loss of those traditions

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