January 1, 2021
In a rebroadcast of the 2016 episode of the Freakonomics - Trust Me episode, Steven Dubner reminds us of a time when people commonly hitchhiked.
You'd often see someone at the side of the road with their hand out and their thumb raised looking for a ride.
And more often than not, someone would eventually pull over and offer them a lift.
And then people stopped.
Few people hitchhiked because few people would stop.
As Dubner explains, this was a world-wide phenomenon. "One of the central reasons being that people no longer trusted strangers to not kill each other, really, is what it boiled down to, even though there was apparently very little killing involved, but just the fear of one."
His guest, David Halpern, responds that this is because of one of our biases is that "we overestimate quite systematically the prevalence of bad behavior [...] it seems to be a bit how we’re wired as human beings."
It's why I stopped watching local news.
They would find the one robbery or mugging around us and I'd feel that I was surrounded by robbers and muggers where most of us are actually quite safe.
I don't know how this applies to the current situation.
How do we hear of the thousands of deaths each day from COVID and millions of cases each week in the US alone and some how diminish those numbers.
We may be so overwhelmed by the large numbers that we protect ourselves from the awfulness of this reality by ignoring.
A family killed on the highway on their way to Christmas dinner feels like a much larger loss to us than the twenty-thousand who died alone in hospital rooms during the week between Christmas and New Years from COVID.
Ohio released a statistic that 60% of the staff in Ohio nursing homes are refusing the COVID vaccine.
Clearly there's an issue of trust here.
And yet, as Dubner explains in his podcast, these same hitchhikers that are too worried to get into a stranger's car will call an Uber "that’s basically all about using technology to lure a complete stranger into your car."
Technology works in both directions. There are social arenas where we gain trust based on the experience of a community - even if it's a community of people we don't really know. There really is no reason to trust Yelp or Trip Advisor or any other such platform - but we do.
On the other hand, social trust went down when television usage went up. We sat in our houses and watched tv by ourselves and our trust of others plummeted.
Trust increases when we are forced to mix with people who are not all like ourselves. It's what we see when we go away to school, or join the army, or engage in a volunteer program with a residency component.
Halpern cites a program in the UK with a component consisting of a "couple of weeks which are residential and deliberately includes mixing with people from all different walks of life. [As a result], we see significant impacts in terms of higher levels of trust between groups and individuals, as well as instantly higher levels of life satisfaction and well-being too. So, it looks like we can do something about it."
I don't know what we do about it in this country when one side of the political spectrum is deliberately undermining trust in anyone but themselves and encouraging their side to not be curious about the world outside of their cocoon.
Don't trust doctors. Don't trust the news. Don't trust research. Don't trust the results of elections. Don't trust the findings of guilt even when the accused confesses.
It's the Richard Pryor quote, "are you going to believe me, or your lying eyes?"