The Desire to Trust

I’ve been a member of very close-knit emotional groups at various points in my life, and I’ve also been members of considerably cooler, less trusting groups, for example businesses.  I’ve also been in relationships where I have completely trusted the other person — relationships where I could say the most disgusting, embarrassing, personal secrets of my heart and my body — and I’ve been in relationships where the trust has been more measured and modulated, ones where I have shared my opinions about movies but would not share my opinions about God or idiosyncratic sex.

This last election has made me think about the human need for trust.  If you look at the behavior of Trump voters it is paradoxical.  They do not trust the media, they do not trust coastal elites, they do not trust the future, they do not trust immigrants and foreigners.  But they do trust Trump.


I think, based on my own experience, that human beings have a need to trust.  I think it is baked in to us as children.  We can’t take care of ourselves, so we must trust to survive.  And this is a full-on trust — we trust, do not hide anything, and stake our lives on trust. It is a blissful experience to trust, and to be trusted.

But modern institutions are based on a much cooler, thinner sort of trust.  As Adam Smith wrote, it is not because I trust the benevolence of my baker that I expect bread in the morning.  I expect bread in the morning because I trust the baker to act in his own self-interests.  But I do not trust the baker with my heart.

Although the bread provided in this way may feed us, this sort of relationship with the baker does not.  People hunger for relationships in which they can place their trust.

People seek out high-trust communities such as churches or authoritarian families when they don’t trust the outside world. And this in turn makes the outside world more frightening and the future more frightening.  And this is of course exacerbated by betrayal, when for example a factory is moved overnight to China or Mexico.

To fix this mess we need to practice trust.  Not just instrumentally — although in fact if we don’t trust each other we have little chance of succeeding as a country — but as a good itself.

Step by step because trust builds trust.


11 thoughts on “The Desire to Trust

  1. There are anarchists who only support the idea of anarchy because they want to do illegal things, say, burn down the house of his enemy. After the fall of law and order, he happily goes to set it ablaze, only to walk back to his own home, and in horror, find that his enemy has burned it as well. Only then does the man understand that the laws against arson weren’t tyranny, but rather good protection for all men, not just his enemy. He realizes the value of justice too late, and only from his own harm.

    The same is true of trust, that too many men see trust from others as an advantage, and think themselves clever for abusing it against other people. One day he returns to other people, in need of confidence in them, only to find that trust as a concept has been shattered, and he is alone. He first thought himself smart and crafty, but all of his scheming has burnt down his own house. There are those, though, who are either so stupid or selfish, will still betray others, destroy trust as a concept, and still cry out in pain over a world of such coldness and distance.

    Indeed, you are right, we need to be good examples, because trust indeed starts with us. We may not be able to restore trust among all 7 billion or so folks out in this world, but our good will and good acts go far. We must sometimes trust unconditionally, like we love unconditionally, even if we have to be smart enough to know when we have to be quiet for our own good, and still show good will and forgiveness to those who may have betrayed our trust, if we are to halt the spiral.

    My speaking so boldly and openly may not win me many friends, but I do have people’s respect, and there is no issue of trust when you speak the truth openly. Love me or hate me, agree or disagree, when there is openness there is dialogue. And with open dialogue comes trust.

    I’ll also say, there is the internet concept of “trolls trolling trolls”, or the point where one man will troll (purposeful logical fallacy), then someone who does not fall for the fallacy will pretend to fall for the fallacy, then someone else will pretend to fall for the man who pretended to fall for the fallacy, ect. Every man acts the fool on purpose, to the point nobody actually knows who the real fools are or not. We use enough deception, we receive deception, all to the point that we have no damn clue who is putting on who. Deceivers are deceived, and we all drown in a sea of bullshit. Deception has diminishing returns.

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