(Continuing the discussion of Adam Seligman's The Problem of Trust from our annual Theory Camp.)
Seligman's most distinctive idea is that trust is rarely needed. Most of the theorists he is arguing with, especially Francis Fukuyama and Anthony Giddens, treat trust as a common and necessary feature of modern societies. They think that modern people have to trust that millions of faceless strangers have done their jobs correctly in making our food, building our buildings, driving cars in the opposite lane, and so forth. But Seligman says that that should not be called trust in other people, but confidence in the social system.
Trust, Seligman thinks, is needed when we confront other people beyond any reliable role in the social system, and beyond any signs of familiarity that they give off that they are people we can predict. Trust in other people is like the faith that people had in God in premodern times before, as he claims, we all became atheists.
Having defined trust as beyond social roles and beyond experienced familiarity, he then draws his grim conclusions. Our roles are becoming so differentiated that we can't connect any of them to a real self - neither in ourselves nor in others. The globalized world brings us into contact with so many people with different experiences than our own that we cannot assume familiarity. We are forced to trust, or led to mistrust, in more and more encounters. We are in danger, he thinks, of "re-enchanting" the world. But the new world would not be enchanted by God, but something "more brutal and more Hobbesian."
[I disagree with Seligman's conclusion, a matter I will take up in the next post.]