How to Trust People Again
Three new books teach us how to trust and be trusted in these suspicious times
It might be misleading to say we’re having a trust “moment.” The truth is that we’re always sussing out whom and what we should or shouldn’t have faith in. Trust is a core preoccupation, always. It’s a fact of human evolution.
That said, we’re not not having a trust moment. Right now, our trust in institutions, systems, and other humans has been stretched to its limit. Consider: Brexit; proto-fascist populist leaders in three of the six most populous global democracies; the protracted, multiplayer horse race of a U.S. presidential election. Consider also: online disinformation campaigns, digital surveillance, facial recognition algorithms, and electoral interference. Flat-earthers. Anti-vaxxers. The list goes on.
It’s fitting, then, that three new books we have excerpted on Forge delve into the mechanics of trust — both the how and the why.
‘Not Born Yesterday’ by Hugo Mercier
“In our daily lives, we constantly face the problem of figuring out who to trust and what to believe,” writes the French cognitive scientist Hugo Mercier in his new book, Not Born Yesterday.
This leaves us in a bit of a bind. We need to rely on relative strangers in matters big and small, from medical treatments to our children’s education to getting the right change at the grocery store. But, Mercier writes, our brains aren’t equipped to easily assess who we can and should trust. Routine interaction with strangers is a relatively recent development in the timeline of human evolution, and still isn’t the experience of all human beings everywhere.
To get a read on strangers’ personalities and past behaviors, we rely on “coarse cues,” context clues based on things like appearance and affiliation that can boil down to mere stereotypes.
Despite concerns about the gullibility of the masses, Mercier warns that this tendency pushes us toward distrust: “The main issue with using coarse cues isn’t that we trust people we shouldn’t,” he writes, “but that we don’t trust people we should.”