November 30, 2014

The LEAP by Ulrich Boser
The science of trust and why it matters

Security expert Bruce Schneier wrote an excellent book called ‘Liars and Outliers’ that smartly maps out the ways that people can be pressured to act in the group’s self-interest. In the work, Schneier argues that there are a number of crucial pressures that can ‘induce’ trust. For instance, Schneier points out that morals can sustain cooperation. Schneier also argues that reputation which is what operated within eBay can help create compliance.

But when a system of cooperation evolves into a society, Schneier argues that we need institutions and when we are dealing with a stranger, we are generally more trusting if we know that there is someone else who will go after a stranger who betrays us.
Clark Rockefeller was a con man whose actual name was Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. The first case of the case is clear. Rockefeller earned people’s trust by becoming part of their group.  In fact, the very first step of Rockefeller’s con seems to have been to try to burrow himself into a web of social connections. Whenever the con man arrives in a new city or town, he would slowly insert himself into the local church community. Rockefeller would usually progress from churches to private clubs. He had membership cards for the India House and the Lotus Club in Manhattan. In Boston, he was on the board of directors of the Algonquin Club. They gave Rockefeller access to insider knowledge, for one. Rockefeller knew which names to drop, what clothes to wear, which parties to attend.

One of the most important explanations of social capital comes from Robert Putnam. In his seminal book ‘Bowling Alone’, Putnam argues that social capital is the amount of connectedness within a group of individuals. For Putnam, social capital is more than just the number of friends you might have on Facebook or the number of email addresses in your Gmail account; the sociologist argues that social capital is a type of group's goodwill. In his book, Putnam also draws a distinction between types of social capital. Bonding capital accordingly is what connects us across social lines, and it seems that it was a type of bridging capital that allowed Rockefeller to push his scam. Rockefeller’s con as the con of a network.

Rwanda’s genocide exploded in April 1994. After a gunman missiled down President’s plane, Hutu extremists rolled out an extermination campaign against the minority Tutsis. The violence was fast and brutal and often executed by hand. The death toll eventually reached 800,000. Why didn’t Tutsis and other Hutu moderates see the signs that a mass killing would occur? After all, there were all sorts of cues that genocide was imminent. There had also been mass killings in 1959, 1963, and 1973.

Our approach to risk - or our judgment to whom to trust - isn’t totally logical. The bottom line is that our approach to risk isn’t always rational. If we were perfectly logical, if we could predict when genocide was about to happen- our mental formula for risk should look something like this:

Risk = Probability x Consequence

But within our brains, our mental risk formula actually looks a lot more like this:
Risk = Probability x Consequence x Dread.

The dread factor changes everything and generally we dread things that have certain attributes. Gruesomeness issues of control, uncertainty, graphicness - these all change the dread factor as Ripley and other experts argue.

As Philip Zimbardo argues in his thoughtful book, ‘The Lucifer Effect’, “Ordinary people, even good ones, can be seduced, recruited, initiated into behaving in evil ways under the sway of powerful systematic and situational forces”.

Why did the players take the game so seriously? As per Marcus Solomon, that game was a way for the men to build a sense of identity, a way of developing their shared values, an approach that brought them together as a community.

A few years ago, the New York Times ran an article titled, “Why waiting is torture” and the piece gave an unambiguous explanation for queue rage: it is fairness. When Someone cuts in front of us, it offends our sense of justice, and we are willing to go a long way to make sure that people who arrive later than us don’t get served before us.

In Ovid’s epic poem ‘Metamorphoses”. Ajax is a man of grit and strength, of muscle and devotion. he is the most athletic, most loyal soldier in the Greek army and Ajax believes that because of his size and steadfastness, he deserves one of the most treasured price of the Trojan War, the precious armor of Achilles. The issue, as philosopher Paul Woodruff describes his book “The Ajax Dilemma”, is that Ajax has to compete against Odysseus. Wily and inventive, smart and slick, Odysseus is the man who figures out a war past both Scylla and Charybdis. Odysseus, then is the charming brain to Ajax’s loyal brawn and he wants the precious armor too.

King Agamemnon has Ajax and Odysseus each give a speech in front of a panel of judges, arguing his case. In battle of words, Ajax is doomed and Ajax is conquered by his sorrow and the warrior eventually impales himself on his sword, killing himself.

On one side, it is clear that Odysseus should win the armor as he is inventive genius and without his idea for Trojan horse, the Greek might still be laying siege to Troy.  On the other hand Ajax was very loyal and worked hard. This is called Ajax dilemma and the message is simple: Fairness alone isn’t enough. Leaders also have to create a feeling of community and that is where things went so wrong for Ajax.

Political trust is different from social trust. Political trust measures our faith in government and it is crucial for any large scale community. Confucius argued that trust was more important for a leader than food and weapons.
Our nation's lawmakers have become beggars in Brook Brothers clothing. They are constantly searching for cash. They spend huge amounts of time soliciting groups for money. When the Congressional Campaign Committee recently gave a presentation to new lawmakers, they recommended that new members of Congress spend at least four hours a day dialing up donors. As writer Alex Blumberg recently argued, our nation's lawmakers have two jobs, During the day, they pass -or don’t pass- laws. At night, they work as telemarketers. “Most Americans would be shocked, if they knew how much time a US senator spends raising money”, Senator Dick Durbin told NPR.

In 2012 election cycle, almost 30 % of the cash came from some 30,000 very wealthy individuals. Very rich people wants political influence.

I first came across Fenton and the connection between trust and Couchsurfing in the excellent book “What’s Mine Is Yours” by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. In their book, they detail the rise of what they call ‘collaborative consumption” and they argue that sites like Couchsurfing can work “to bind us together”.
It might be hard to believe that technology can promote trust. An iPad is supposed to foster isolation. People believe that Facebook makes us lonely. But it turns out that technology can kick-start our cooperative ways. One way to understand this idea is to start with some phone calls that came into the BMW service desk some years ago. The German car company had put in a new GPS system that spoke to drivers in a female voice and a short time later, men started calling the car company and complaining. Basic reason was male drivers don’t trust directions from a woman. Because of the spate calls, BMW ultimately recalled the device and the reasons were obvious: The male drivers didn't like women telling them what to do.  Our brains often view devices as social beings and if you are the types of man who doesn’t think that a woman should be giving you directions, then you don’t want a woman’s voice giving you directions.
One of the reasons that we have such a negative view of technology goes back to the television. In Bowling Alone, for instance, Robert Putnam suggests that TV has gone a long way to corrupt our sense of togetherness. he suggests that television watchers are less engaged, less friendly, even less happy and Putnam argues that as much as 15% of civic apathy lies at the feet of a what he calls the TV generations

How we create a more trusting and trustworthy society?

The first lesson, we need to do more to consider the perspectives of others. Do I interact with people who look different from me? Do I engage with people who have diverse political views? Do I spend time with people who make more or less money than I do?

The second lesson is that trust is ultimately a choice. We want people to have their own sense of right and wrong. We want people to have a feeling of autonomy. As a society, we don’t want to force trust. We want to grow trust.

The third lesson is one that football coach Bill Walsh might have expressed best: “Success belongs to everyone”.

At micro level, we need to focus on ourselves. If we want the faith of others, we need to ask: Am I honest? Am I dependable? Do I deliver results? For individuals, the trust-building process doesn’t so much begin with faith. It begins with reliability and performance and we often overestimate how much others believe that we are trustworthy.

At macro level, the questions around trustworthiness are similar. Do our institutions inspire trust by being productive, transparent and accountable? Does our society promote justice and equality? Does our economy ensure that everyone gains?

There is no doubt that many of our institutions could do better. Just consider our nation's ever-growing levels of inequality. Because of the yawning gap between rich and poor, we are less likely to trust and less optimistic about our future. When it comes to our faith in others, trustworthiness is the difference between trusting well and trusting poorly and this sort of trust. That means stronger communities. That means a deeper social fabric. That means understanding that trust is ultimately a risk - one that might not always pay off. But above all, it is time to leap.



Books referred in the book
Liars and Outliers by Bruce Schneier
The man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal
Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam
The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo
What;s Mine is Yours and by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers.
The man who lied to his laptop by Clifford Nass

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