The Sufficient Conditions of Social Trust

Ethnic homogeneity (somehow or other construed) is necessary, and indeed important, but not sufficient to a trusting society. If ethnic homogeneity were sufficient to social trust, then all ethnically homogeneous societies would be trusting. Obviously, they are not.

More is needed.

You can trust only those whom you deem to be competent, for one cannot rely upon the incompetent to get things right. Furthermore, you can trust only those whom you deem to be competent to correct moral analyses. I.e., you can trust only those whom you can feel fairly sure have low time preference, which is to say, high intelligence. It takes low time preference to resist the impulse to steal the forbidden cookie from the jar. And it takes high intelligence to infer and to visualize future consequences of present acts, such as the punishment that must eventually arrive in consequence of stealing the cookie. Indeed, it takes low time preference even to cognize fully the notion of future punishment.

High time preference just is the inability to cognize future consequences of present acts in their fullness. If you can’t quite appreciate the hedonic valences of future events, you can’t compute their impact upon present decisions.

There is more. R selected people have high time preference. Where resources are plentiful, there is not much point to investing in capital assets for the future, or therefore in protecting them and respecting their propriety. In a context of r selection, property is therefore insecure, and you cannot trust your counterparties not to defraud or rob you.

So K selection is needed for a trusting society.

Finally, trusting societies are possible only under the aegis of a vital and comprehensive national cult that imposes an absolute moral code upon all its subjects. Only when we can be pretty sure that pretty much everyone we meet considers it not just imprudent or impolitic to defect from the prevalent code, but damnable and contemptible, can we probably trust the stranger in the street.

What is more, a polytheistic cult cannot impose an absolute moral code upon its subjects, for the theomachy that must result from a true polytheism, that does not at all terminate upon the Absolute, cannot but result in conflict of jealous petty cults. Only a cult of the Absolute, the Ultimate, the Universal, and the Total  – rather than of the merely local, the parochial, the tribal, the partial – is capable of such an imposition. Only insofar as they are understood to derive from the Absolute Ultimate can absolute moral principles – which is to say, moral principles, properly so called – be discerned and established in the light of its character and operations. This is why there are so very few true polytheisms. It is why almost all polytheisms terminate upon an Absolute Unknown God, whose servants the petty gods more or less are.

An ethnically homogeneous K selected intelligent population with low time preference under a strong national cult of the Ultimate who imposes upon all men an absolute moral code of conduct is sufficient to foster and maintain a trusting society. Nothing less can do.

NB that more may be needed even than that, which has not yet occurred to me.

Note then that capitalism is optimized in a trusting society. In a less trusting society, the friction of transactions is going to be greater, because more will need to be spent on ensuring the fulfillment of all contracts: more insurance, more due diligence, more blood pacts, more laws and lawyers and litigation, more regulation, and so forth – and, not least, a higher bid/ask spread, to cover higher risk of uncertainty. More nepotism, too. Business enterprises in less trusting societies are going to approximate more and more to the tribal businesses we see in the Mafia – the Cosa Nostra.

Ceteris paribus, then, trusting societies are more likely to be prosperous than their less trusting competitors. As less beset by the immediate urgencies of penury, their prosperity will tend to make them also more powerful, enterprising, capable, far-sighted, curious, creative, and interested – all of which will, in turn, tend to make them yet more prosperous.

Also, because they do not need to rely so heavily on familiar bonds of genetic loyalty, trusting societies can afford more social churn, so that men are more easily and aptly sorted into their highest and best use with each generation on the basis of their personal characteristics, and with less regard for their caste of origin. They can afford to be less bound by caste, clan, and family – this, without at all vitiating caste, or clan, or family.

Likewise can they afford to be less bound by law, regulation, and so forth.

So can they rely more on the predominant good faith and commensal fellowship at the sacred altar of their civil interlocutors, and less on the police. So are they more nimble, withal; a handshake, where it be altogether reliable, is lots faster than a formal contract, and less expensive to enact. A fortiori is this so, where violation of contract sealed by a handshake is potential cause for recourse to socially approbated duello; or, at the least, to ostracism, to shunning, to profound disadvantage in all future social transactions.

Given all the foregoing, the historical predominance of the West is not particularly difficult to understand. And, given all the foregoing, the historical predominance of the West is terrifically hard to condemn. It is not somehow unfair. On the contrary, it is given in plain game theoretical logic.

27 thoughts on “The Sufficient Conditions of Social Trust

  1. Pingback: The Sufficient Conditions of Social Trust | @the_arv

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  3. Humans are treacherous creatures, much given to lies, dissembling and deceit. A misanthrope might say treachery is our defining trait. So corrective fear is in order. As you say, this breaks out into fear of consequences temporal (2) and fear of consequences eternal (3). I think ethnic homogeneity (1) works by making it somewhat harder to objectify or “other” the person you would like to swindle or stab in the back. Being the treacherous creatures we are, we can certainly swindle or stab a co-ethnic, but their resemblance to ourselves gives us pause. And that pause can make a big difference.

    • On second thoughts, your wish-list seems to bear too close a resemblance to the Deistic Cult of the Supreme Being for my taste, though I expect the sea-green Robespierre might approve. I shall just remain a Christian, with a God who has been made known to us through his Son.

      • I’m not a Latin scholar either, but 60% of English is either Latin or Greek, so we both speak a lot of it willy nilly, and so know a lot of it (whether or not we know that we know).

        When I’m perplexed about the meaning or etymology of a term, I like to copy and paste it into the search function at the Online Etymology Dictionary. It’s really fun.

        I’m no Deist, either. Deism is incoherent. It misconstrues creation, in thinking that a thing once actualized can remain actual all by itself. Not so.

        But, all I was trying to do in the essay was settle upon the de minimis theological bases of a fully grounded moral code. All that’s needed, I’m pretty sure, is an Absolute of some sort, an Ultimate, Most High God – El Elyon, as he is called in Hebrew. The fundamental point is that polytheism alone won’t cut it; you have to have monotheism in the mix, somewhere, or else there’s no ultimate principle of order, ergo no order at all, period full stop; so, no cosmos. In Abrahamic religion, the many angelic gods who administer the cosmos are ruled in turn by their angelic King, who is that Principal of order in whom the principle of order finds its principal and original instantiation: the Logos himself. Unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam does not distinguish between the Logos and the Godhead, so far as I know. So for Islam, Allah is *completely* inscrutable.

      • I see from your answer to thordaddy below that we are singing the same hymn – just using different notation.

  4. How do trusting societies relate to other societies? Does self-trust manifest itself as naivete outside of itself? I ask because leftism/ cultural marxism ALSO had prime conditions for incubation in western civilization. This allowed the high minded virtuous position on immigration to allow cultural heterogeneity, which breaks down some of the conditions.

    I guess what I’m saying, stated plainly: Western civilization creates great good, but also undermines itself when it attempts to extend that good to non-western civilization. Stated plainer still: Homogeneity seems to lead to heterogeneity.

    I point all this out because in a vacuum, this logical model makes sense. But interactions with other societies are an important piece of the puzzle. I guess that’s where the national cult comes in? A national cult cannot be strong if it is not pressed by other societies?

    I’ll stop while i’m ahead. Great and thought provoking article, thank you.

    • Yeah, Marxism was to be sure a Western invention. But not uniquely so. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that like nominalism, which is always tempting to discouraged philosophers, leftism is (as Plato and Polybius noticed) a perennial temptation for all human societies – viz., Mazdakism – that Marx just rediscovered.

      But at any rate, until recently there was not much even in Marxist internationalism that was actually anti-national per se. Marxists are OK with nationalism, so long as it is manifest in Marxist or proto-Marxist nations. Marxists hate only the nationalism of nations that are not Marxist. The Social Justice Warriors don’t hate Chinese or Cuban or Venezuelan nationalism, they hate American and Russian and Hungarian and Israeli nationalism.

      Essentially all nations were pretty intensely xenophobic until about 1960. E.g., “the wogs begin at Calais.” I don’t think the change to relative xenophilia is due to some outworking of gene/culture coevolution, though. It happened too fast. I think it was due to cheap air travel. The natural and healthy xenophobia of prior eras developed under conditions of expensive and rather dangerous travel, when a nation might reasonably expect to encounter wogs only at the borders of its country. With cheap air travel, suddenly there were a few wogs routinely present in the precincts of most national metropoles. And that turned out to be manageable, and indeed rather agreeable. I remember being charmed, during my first visit to San Francisco in about 1972, at hearing Chinese spoken on the street.

      People said: “Hey, maybe we didn’t need to worry so much about those wogs after all; they are just people, it turns out, and not so bad; maybe we shouldn’t worry about them at all anymore.” So it was /xenophobia. There was no setting between xenophobia and /xenophobia. Our histories had not equipped nations for such intermediate settings.

      So is it that we seem now perhaps to be flipping back from /xenophobia to xenophobia.

      A strong national cult does help to insulate nations from interlopers, because without a vital cult there is no vital culture to begin with; so, eventually, no nation; and, no nation, no national borders. Delete a cult and you delete the culture it informs, together with all its folkways, that together sustain its folk. Bereft of their founding cult, that provides their ontological and moral rationale, the folkways wither. After a while they are treated as nothing more than stupid and fundamentally arbitrary conventions of the old days, when people believed nonsense, that can therefore be altered or discarded at whim; for, their rationale having been deleted, so have their raisons d’etre. So people stop caring about them. Then they vanish.

      Cults are crucial. The cult is the sine qua non of any culture, whether trusting or not.

      • I don’t think it’s just cheap air travel, though that certainly encourages matters by creating Potemkin villages (‘local tourist attractions’) and increasing exposure while decreasing long-term friction), but also that the current xenophilia was actively encouraged by those in power. America is an empire, and has been since World War 2 at the latest. (I happen to think that’s far too late, and put the date at somewhere around the Monroe Act.)

        Given the structure and ruling philosophy of our empire, there’s a lot of gain to be had in convincing the various different subjects to get along and intermix. So quite a huge amount of treasure and even blood was invested to get us to the point where we are today.

        What we’re seeing with the drift back into xenophobia is effectively a system collapse of the empire. And so I predict it will get a lot more pronounced, over the scale of a century or two. Ethnic cleansing is on the horizon.

      • Aye. Because diversity + proximity → war, a diverse empire is going to want to wipe out diversity. Rome did this by propagating Romanitas outward from Rome – so that, e.g., Jews like Paul could become citizens. That didn’t work out in the end, although they had a very good run. America seems to be doing it by wiping out Americanitas – by deleting Americans. The true goal of the Western elite push for diversity is to wipe out diversity.

        Both policies seem to have been more or less consciously intended by the patricians of these empires.

        Empires are always characterized by big intramural migrations. Except where assimilation is complete and immaculate – has there ever been any such? – migrations always end in trouble. Generally you obtain assimilation, and the end of ethnic struggle, by means of ethnic struggle.

        I, too think that ethnic cleansing is very likely to begin in earnest within the next decade or two. The Great Sortition, I call it.

  5. On the Supreme God Principle of Polytheism

    Hermes to Calypso: “We are speaking god and goddess to one another, and you ask me why I have come here, and I will tell you truly as you would have me do. Jove sent me [and] I had to come, for none of us other gods can cross Jove, nor transgress his orders. He says that you have here the most ill-starred of all those who fought nine years before the city of King Priam and sailed home in the tenth year after having sacked it. On their way home they sinned against Minerva, who raised both wind and waves against them, so that all his brave companions perished, and he alone was carried hither by wind and tide. Jove says that you are to let this man go at once, for it is decreed that he shall not perish here, far from his own people, but shall return to his house and country and see his friends again.”

    Calypso to Hermes: “I found the poor creature sitting all alone astride of a keel, for Jove had struck his ship with lightning and sunk it in mid ocean, so that all his crew mates were drowned, while he himself was driven by wind and waves on to my island. I got fond of him and cherished him, and had set my heart on making him immortal, so that he should never grow old all his days; still I cannot cross Jove, nor bring his counsels to nothing; therefore, if he insists upon it, let the man go beyond the seas again; but I cannot send him anywhere myself for I have neither ships nor men who can take him. Nevertheless I will readily give him such advice, in all good faith, as will be likely to bring him safely to his own country.”

    Hermes to Calypso: “Then send him away… or Jove will be angry with you and punish you.”

    Calypso to Ulysses: “My poor fellow, you shall not stay here grieving and fretting your life out any longer. I am going to send you away of my own free will; so go, cut some beams of wood, and make yourself a large raft with an upper deck that it may carry you safely over the sea. I will put bread, wine, and water on board to save you from starving. I will also give you clothes, and will send you a fair wind to take you home, if the gods in heaven so will it—for they know more about these things, and can settle them better than I can.” (Odyssey, Book V, Butler’s translation)

    • Essentially all polytheisms terminate their hierarchies – they all feature hierarchies – upon a Most High God and King of all the gods, who is the concrete personal manifestation of the Dionysian Suprapersonal Godhead: the incomprehensible, hidden Absolute. In no other way might the godlings be governed, and chaos averted, and a cosmos enabled under their coordinated administration.

      • [T]he incomprehensible, hidden Absolute. — Kristor
        Is this a rhetorical framing or an actual claim such that “we” cannot or do not know (P)erfection, ie., objective (S)upremacy?

      • It’s a claim about ontological fact. As God has told us, no one knows the Father but the Son [Matthew 11:27]. Fortunately, we know the Son, in whom implicitly the Father and the Holy Spirit have been revealed to us.

        So, in virtue of the Son’s eternal manifestation and revelation to all creatures, the Father is revealed to all creatures. We can then apprehend the Father. But, NB: while we can *apprehend* the Father, no one can *comprehend* him except the Son and the Holy Spirit; for, only infinity can comprehend infinity. What is more, no one of the Persons is alone the Godhead; rather, only all of them are the Godhead. So, in knowing any one of the persons, we do not know the Godhead itself. We know rather a manifestation of the Godhead.

  6. But what about Islam, which is famously monotheistic, but does not tend to build trustful societies?
    So, is the social trustfulness somehow a heredity characteristic of certain people, viz,. Europeans and NE Asians?
    You refer to r/K theory which is strictly biological. But is belief in monotheism also biologically favored in certain races? Would Africans/Hindus never appreciate strict monotheism?

      • Not a complete answer, though. I would be very surprised if long-term Christianity hasn’t selected for a higher IQ and lower time preference in the European population, whereas Islam manifestly has not.

        In fact, I would not at all be surprised if, on average, the general populations of Europe during the Classical era were on par with those of the Middle East, or even lower. (I leave out North Africa, since they have sub-Saharans nearby enough to worry about admixture.)

      • It would be rather shocking to me if Christianity had not selected for intelligence and low time preference. And high trust. Already in the first centuries of the Church, Christian merchants were sought out as business counterparties on account of the fact that their faith forbid them to lie. So they didn’t lie. So they were fair dealers, who kept their promises, and never overcharged. What was more, Christian merchants were fair and honest not only with their own coreligionists, but with everyone. So, they had a huge advantage over their competitors of other faiths. Their counterparties would be willing to pay a premium – a higher price – to a Christian merchant than to other sorts, because they would know that in dealing with Christians their business risk was much lower than it was with any other sort of man.

        It takes intelligence to understand that honesty is the best policy. Intelligent merchants were attracted to Christianity because they saw that its ethical code agreed with moral reality.

        So – and this is interesting – not only would Christianity have selected for intelligence and low time preference on account of the fact that, to prosper in a Christian milieu, you would have had to be able to understand the world as Christians do, but also intelligence and low time preference would have selected for Christianity. The gene/culture feedback circuit would have been complete. Christianity worked out very well for those intelligent enough to understand things as Christianity does, and so to apply its ethical policies consistently, thereby selecting for intelligence, *and* intelligence and low time preference selected more for Christianity than for less ethical codes of religious conduct.

        So you get Christianity -> intelligence -> Christianity -> intelligence … It’s a ratchet.

      • It’s definitely a positive ratchet, and one that doesn’t disable itself, either. It selects for more honesty, more fair-dealing, even under conditions of saturation, because you’re still more likely to select the guy with a great comparative reputation even when the reputation floor has risen.

        However, we get a glimpse of what can go wrong, with that word ‘reputation’.

      • Yes. The more important relative reputation gets, the more it becomes possible to profit by means of virtue signalling. So branding, trademarks, advertising, fashion, PR, and Pharisaism grow more and more important, and useful. So likewise with political correctness.

        Also, the more that it becomes possible to ride free by means of specious virtue signalling, the more free riding you get.

        Finally, the more trusting the population, the greater the profits to be earned from defection – especially if that defection is masked by convincing signals of virtue.

        But, all these defects of trusting societies are *even more* prevalent in less trusting societies.

      • Rules inoculated socially or by a religion bypasses the problem of time preference. The rules allow us to not calculate the consequences. If we are forbidden to lie or cheat, we don’t have to work out relative long-term consequences of cheating or not cheating, In this way, religion is necessary to ordinary people.

        I wonder how much merchants would have been attracted to the Christian ethics qua merchants Counsels against long-term planning (sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof), against too much calculation of consequences, against storing of wealth and general fulminations against worldly riches, could these be attractive to a merchant, sincere in his profession?

      • These are both excellent points, Bedarz.

        As to the first, my own experience as a Christian is that my very clear knowledge that x is wicked does not reliably prevent me from doing x. That is despite the help of my intelligence, my low time preference, my knowledge of theology, of Christian doctrine, and of economics, and so forth. The more helps we get to virtue, the better.

        So, I doubt that moral commandments bypass the need for low time preference.

        Your second question is very good. Why would a merchant want to be a Christian, given all the Christian fulminations against worldly wealth? Apparently lots of merchants did.

        Of course, we could ask the same question about sons. Why would any devoted, loyal son, properly pious in his familiar attitudes and feelings, want to join a sect whose leader insisted that in order to join with him the son would have to hate his father and mother? Luke 14:26

        The answer to both the merchant and the son is that Jesus doesn’t want us to try to stop being worldly creatures, with worldly engagements. That would be Gnosticism. He wants us to put God first in our list of priorities, so that compared with our love for God our love for all other things is almost abhorrence. He wants us to detach ourselves from worldly attachments – from worldly idols – and worship him. When we do that, our loves all fall into their proper places.


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