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Understanding systems of trust – the key to societal renewal

ashthrushsmMy post last week ‘The erosion of trust’ made me aware that our society does not yet really get what trust is and why it is so important. This week I have put up some general characteristics of systems of trust to try to kick off some conversation about this.

Three key propositions

  1. Human society can be understood as a set of overlapping systems of trust.
  2. A society with well-designed systems of trust, whose citizens are largely people of good character, will be optimally efficient, creative and benevolent.
  3. Analysis of any system of co-operation in terms of trust can expose previously unexamined facets of well-worn conversations leading to an extraordinary enrichment of human potential.

Explanatory notes:

overlapping systems of trust – example systems include democracy, economy and family. Each system is a means of human co-operation that depends on most people, most of the time, participating freely without recourse to rules and law or other coercive means.

well-designed- every co-operative system needs to take account of the few participants, who might choose to free ride or otherwise abuse the system. The confidence of the many to participate in the system will depend on the effective restraint of the free riders. Example abusers of systems would be presidents who refuse to accept accountability, family members who cheat on each other and corrupt businesses who practice bribery.

people of good character – every system of co-operation needs most people within it to have a settled disposition towards trustworthiness. This can be strengthened by institutions that build empathic sensitivity and moral responsibility. Those who lie, cheat, engender fear or pursue selfish greed are antagonistic to a good society and need effective restraint.

efficient- frequent recourse to rules or the law in a system is highly inefficient. Such bureaucratic entanglement happens wherever the participants have a marked tendency to free ride or abuse the system, or when they are perceived to do this. By contrast, trust, where it can be made to work, is very efficient.

creative and benevolent – well-designed systems of trust create the maximum space for individual creative expression, can embrace difference and tend towards an increase in kind-heartedness and empathy as people learn to appreciate one another.

expose previously unexamined facets of well-worn conversations –  our news repeats itself with the same tired language and thought forms, many of which have derived from the so-called Enlightenment when we believed that reason could solve all our problems. This history of pseudo-rationalism in the West has led to a denigration of all that derives from the world of our feelings. Trust develops as a manifestation of the world of feelings, but has enormous societal implications and could cast light on many of the problems that humanity is currently wrestling with.

In the following weeks I hope to demonstrate how this sort of analysis can cast light on some of our current problems.


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