Thursday 30 March 2017

Giddens on Trust

Giddens's criticism of Luhmann which I discussed in my last post, leads to a 10-point definition of trust. I'm finding this really interesting - not least because it was written in the early 90s, but now seems incredibly prescient as we are increasingly coming to trust technological systems, and do less of what Giddens calls "facework" (something which he took from Goffman, who in turn took it from Schutz's intersubjectivity). Whether he's right on every detail here is beside the point. I find the level of inquiry impressive.

Giddens writes:
"I shall set out the elements involved [in trust] as a series of ten points which include a definition of trust but also develop a range of related observations:
  1. Trust is related to absence in time and in space. There would be no need to trust anyone whose activities were continually visible and whose thought processes were transparent, or to trust any system whose workings were wholly known and understood. It has been said that trust is "a device for coping with the freedom of others," but the prime condition of requirements for trust is not lack of power but lack of full information.
  2. Trust is basically bound up, not with risk, but with contingency. Trust always carries the connotation of reliability in the face of contingent outcomes, whether these concern the actions of individuals oir the operation of systems. In the case of trust in human agents, the presumption of reliability involves the attribution of "probity" (honour) or love. This is why trust in persons is psychologically consequential for the individual who trusts: a moral hostage to fortune is given.
  3. Trust is not the same as faith in the reliability of a person or system; it is what derives from that faith. Trust is precisely the link between faith and confidence, and it is this which distinguishes it from "weak inductive knowledge". The latter is confidence based upon some sort of mastery of the circumstances in which confidence is justified. All trust is in a certain sense blind trust!
  4. We can speak of trust in symbolic tokens or expert systems, but this rests upon faith in the correctness of principles of which one is ignorant, not upon faith in the "moral uprightness" (good intentions) of others. Of course, trust in persons is always to some degree relevant to faith in systems, but concerns their proper working rather than their operation as such.
  5. At this point we reach a definition of trust. Trust may be defined as confidence in the reliability of a person or system, regarding a given set of outcomes or events, where that confidence expresses a faith in the probity or love of another, or in the correctness of abstract principles (technical knowledge)
  6. In conditions of modernity, trust exists in the context of (a) the general awareness that human activity - including within this phrase the impact of technology upon the material world - is socially created, rather than given in the nature of things or by divine influence; (b) the vastly increased transformative scope of human action, brought about by the dynamic character of modern social institutions. The concept of risk replace that of fortuna, but this is not because agents in pre-modern times could not distinguish between risk and danger. Rather it represents an alteration in the perception of determination and contingency, such that human moral imperatives, natural causes, and chance reign in place of religious cosmologies. The idea of chance, in its modern senses, emerges at the same time as that of risk.
  7. Danger and risk are closely related but are not the same. The difference does not depend upon whether or not an individual consciously weight alternatives in contemplating or undertaking a particular course of action. What risk presumes is precisely danger (not necessarily awareness of danger). A person who risks something courts danger, where danger is understood as a threat to desired outcomes. Anyone who takes a "calculated risk" is aware of the threat or threats which a specific course of action brings into play. But it is certainly possible to undertake actions or to be subject to situations which are inherently risky without the individuals involved being aware how risk they are. In other words, they are unaware of the dangers they run.
  8. Risk and trust intertwine, trust normal serving to reduce or minimise the dangers to which particular types of activity are subject. There are some circumstances in which patterns of risk are institutionalised, within surrounding frameworks of trust (stock-market investment, physically dangerous sports). Here skill and chance are limiting factors upon risk, but normal risk is consciously calculated. In all trust settings, acceptable risk falls under the heading of "weak inductive knowledge" and there is virtually always a balance between trust and the calculation of risk in this sense. What is seen as "acceptable" risk - the minimising of danger - varies in different contexts, but is usually central in sustaining trust. Thus traveling by air might seem an inherently dangerous activity, given that aircraft appear to defy the laws of gravity. Those concerned with running airlines counter this by demonstrating statistically how low the risk of air travel are, as measured by the number of deaths per passenger mile. 
  9. Risk is not just a matter of individual action. There are "environments of risk" that collectively affect large masses of individuals - in some instances, potentially everyone on the face of the earth, as in the case of the risk of ecological disaster or nuclear war. We may define "security" as a situation in which a specific set of dangers is counteracted or minimised. The experience of security usually rest upon a balance of trust and acceptable risk. In both its factual and its experiential sense, security may refer to large aggregates or collectivities of people - up to and including global security - or to individuals.
  10. The foregoing observations say nothing about what constitutes the opposite of trust - which is not, I shall argue later, simply mistrust. Nor do these points offer much concerning the conditions under which trust is generated or dissolved."

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