The outrage directed toward the TSA reflects a breakdown in trust.
With terrorists trying to bring down planes, we don’t trust our fellow passengers. Every fresh attempt, even when not successful lowers that trust even further. The government and its TSA becomes the vehicle to demonstrate that lack of trust. As trust declines, surveillance increases. In a decade it’s gone from identity and magnetometer checks to direct body searches, either by technology or direct physical contact.
As discussed in the NYT today, there’s also a lack of trust between the government and the citizenry. We feel angry that government is being so intrusive and body searches seems to cross a personal limit for us. And the TSA doesn’t trust is to just go along and let them do their job.
The loss of trust in air travel creates hassle and uncertainty. Everything being carried onto a plane must be checked. Every person must be checked. No one is trusted in this system. Calls for more targeted surveillance are really calls for more trust of at least some individuals. After all, I know they can trust me. Its those suspicious looking young men I’m worried about. That would remove lots of hassle. Actually all of my hassle if they would trust me somehow.
Trust is a great simplifying principle. I trust my bank to keep my accounts private and secure. I trust other drivers on the road to stay in their lanes. As trust goes down, complexity goes way up. I have to worry about more and more because so much more could go wrong in so many unexpected ways.
I was introduced to the importance of trust in Francis Fukuyama’s book“Trust” In it he looks across different cultures and describes the structure of trust in each one and how it affects politics, economics and quality of life. Not surprisingly, the higher the level of trust, the better off people are. And one of his theses is that the U.S. with its frontier driven communitarianism, is one of the highest trust societies in the world.
Most simply, trust transform an uncertain potentially hazardous environment into a safe, reliable socially driven model. Its such a powerful simplifying principle that the desire to cooperate in a fair way is a deeply felt human quality, wired into our brains it seems.
Since I’m currently exploring ideas about extended cognition, lets turn the view 180 degrees. Usually we think of trusting in the external environment, looking for predictability. I think there’s an important aspect of self-trust that contributes to simplicity. If I can rely on myself to remember how to do something complex, I approach it with confidence.
That sense of mastery and self-confidence dispels fear just as trust in the world does.