Key note: The two faces of trust (aka the cautionary tale of Little Red Riding Hood) by Pippa Norris

The two faces of trust (aka the cautionary tale of Little Red Riding Hood)

Pippa Norris
Harvard University

The extensive contemporary literature from multiple disciplines has highlighted many beneficial consequences claimed to arise from trust within advanced industrialized societies, such as for overcoming collective action problems within local communities (Putnam); for lubricating the wheels of economic markets (Fukuyama); for improving managing organizations (Mayer, Davis and Schoorman);  for legitimating governments and overcoming gridlock in the policymaking process (Hetherington); and for facilitating international cooperation and collaboration underpinning the democratic peace (Russett).  It follows that any signs of low or eroding trust are, and should be, a matter of serious concern.

But a broader perspective recognizes that in fact trust has two faces, not one. Blind trust in anti-vax posts weaken herd immunity, putting lives at risk. Faith in Q-Anon conspiracy theories triggered violent insurrection attacking the U.S. Capital. Equally disastrous consequences can follow from gullible belief in fake Covid-19 cures like ingesting bleach, investing lifesavings in Madoff pyramid schemes, or trusting the Big Lie about President Biden’s legitimate victory. It is well-known that trust has a dark side, after all, the story of Little Red Riding Hood teaches children to beware of strangers.

This presentation, drawn from a forthcoming OUP book “In Praise of Skepticism”, questions the prevalent rosy assumptions underpinning modern accounts of trust. The study unpacks the concept of dark trust and advances a new 4-fold typology of trustworthy relationships. This is used to analyze new empirical evidence drawn from the World Values Survey 1981-2021 in 115 societies. Social, political and international dimension of trust are compared among diverse authoritarian states, ranging from Myanmar, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan to China, Russia, Nicaragua, and Qatar, as well as among industrialized liberal democracies such as Germany, the U.S. and Finland. The conclusion argues that the risks of too much compliant trust, among individuals and societies, have commonly been underestimated.