In Trust We Trust.
In response to the article In Certificates We Trust I left the following comment:
It’s a shame, because I have a theory of government, that in exchange for giving governments a monopoly on the escalation of force, we give governments the responsibility for creating trust. When governments fail in their responsibility, we increasingly take away their monopoly on the escalation of force.
By “escalation of force” I mean governments (and their representatives, law enforcement officials) are the only agent permitted the right to continue increasing the amount of force in a situation. Individuals can defend themselves by using force–but only the force necessary to defend themselves. But police officers can then chase people down who attempt to escape, surround them with a small army of officers, and shoot them dead if necessary in order to uphold the law–even if the police officer is not directly in danger.
In exchange for this power, we expect governments to create trust.
That is, they create laws that increase the trust between citizens, for example, by arresting individuals who threaten us, or who steal from us, or who abuse our children. They help increase trust in transactions by enacting laws which govern behavior of sellers not to rip off customers, or banks not to steal the money on deposit. It’s why we trust thousands of our own personal money to a group of strangers we don’t know at a pretty building that says “bank.” We trust the water we drink without testing it ourselves, we reasonably trust we can walk down the street without being accosted by thieves.
In fact, in the United States we have so much trust that we allow customers to run the cash registers at the grocery store themselves, and some stores have experimented with customers pulling products off the shelves and paying for it using software on their phones without ever talking to a sales person.
In my own lifetime that’s a remarkable amount of trust.
But we now have so much trust–manufactured by the government in the form of laws and standards for contracts and codes of behavior–that we’ve forgotten that all this trust is new, and was created by governments and their laws. We’ve forgotten that underneath Trust are laws that law enforcement officials can enforce by holding a gun to our heads and taking us away to a prison cell. We’ve forgotten that this trust is not a standard in the world–but the exception.
Our government officials have become addicted to the power–but forgot the purpose of that power, thinking that somehow trust is a constant, a societal norm rather than a manufactured legal reality. They’re failing in their mission to create trust.
As trust slips, and as politicians forget why governments have a monopoly on the escalation of power, you find people taking back that power. You find BLM members shooting back at police, sometimes even legitimized by politicians who forgot the ancient arrangement. You have police officers escalating force without fulfilling a legitimate mission–since they forgot why they have this power to begin with, forgetting they create the trust they rely on to not get shot. You have trust declining in areas like Baltimore or Ferguson, which are now descending into chaos–and politicians completely perplexed as to why. They see the anger but they don’t understand the anger comes from their failure in their ancient mission to create trust: a mission that exited long before the Codex Hammurabi when tribal elders sat as judges to determine who owned a chicken or who was entitled to a cow.
And you have individuals taking up the job of government, as the government fails in its ancient imperative. You saw Korean shop keepers take up arms during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. You see privately organized militia recruiting volunteers to patrol the southern U.S. border. You see the rise of private security forces.
You also find people clinging to the old symbols: the Constitution, the Monarchy, the Party–forgetting these were simply tools to generate Trust, and treating them as if they were ancient magical formulas to be paraded through the town square in a sort of mass prayer.
All of this is a bad sign, because as people stop trusting governments and stop trusting each other, the entire experiment in government generated trust falls apart, and factions appear on tribal lines. And why not? We tend to trust our own tribe better than the other tribe–and so Yugoslavia falls apart into six separate nations along tribal lines. The U.K. is falling apart as the Welsh, the Scotts and the Irish increasingly distrust the British. The Basque call for independence from France and Spain, Zapatistas call for independence in Mexico. Hell, even California is calling for secession, though the ones who call for it forget California consists of three separate tribes who don’t trust each other.