Bev, thanks for setting this up and including me.
Bruce, thanks for all you have done to clarify our thinking on public affairs.
Visitors, thanks for your questions and insights. Happy Father’s Day indeed.
Bruce, I know there are many issues on the table, and I don’t want to distract you as you’re working your way through them.
But if you have time, before we end this session 30 minutes from now, there is an interesting tension emerging between a stream of questions (from me and others), and your very sensible replies. Here’s the dialectic, as I see it:
You remind us: trust really is essential to the long-term functioning of society.
People say: Yes! That’s right! And it looks as if our (America’s) institutions for ensuring trust are in serious trouble
And you say back: Yes, they are….
And I think people are wondering: And therefore, in practical terms, what would you have your readers do? Are you thinking of a revving up of the Occupy movement? Is it something like “original sin,” where we content ourselves to the reality that our political system is flawed, and adjust our hopes and expectations? I know that you are not primarily , or at all, a partisan-political figure. And this may not be the kind of discussion you expected to have! But since your book raises first-principles questions of the future of a democracy, I think we would all like to hear even more abuot what you think *citizens* should be doing now.
More generally, I think the government of the U.S. is completely dysfunctional. We can’t even tackle small problems, let alone large ones. And we as a culture have some seriously large problems looming.
Bruce, to pursue this: I think like many other readers I would be interested in the practical implications of your thorough conceptual arguments.
When I came back from a multi-year period of living in China, I did a long article in the Atlantic — it’s here — arguing that in most ways, America was poised for impressive resilience. But, I argued, the structure of its government had become a really serious impediment to national well-being, largely because (a) structures devised by practical-minded compromisers in the 1780s no longer made sense for the US of the 2010s, and (b) in recent history, as illustrated by Bush v. Gore, one side in politics had been more ruthless than the other in abusing the rules of play.
I am asking you to step out of your normal analyst’s role and tell us what you think readers of your book and web site should *do* to try to repair trust in our governing institutions. And I hope the answer is more than “pray” !
As a subject for later discussion: some day we will understand why the risk of blowing up an airplane, which is obviously terrible, ghoulish, tragic, disastrous, and so on for the people involved, is SO MUCH more a driver of our public policy than other terrible events that would kill a comparable number of people. (I am taking for granted that, as Bruce S and others have pointed out, there WILL NEVER be “another 9/11,” because cockpit-security, plus an empowered flying public, means that planes can never again be turned into guided missiles.)
I understand the argument that al Qaeda has an obsession with destroying airplanes that transcends the purely rational, so we have to respond in kind. But when you think of the people who die in other ways — schoolyard shootings, for a start, or car crashes — that we shrug off, while investing zillions in airport-related security, it is puzzling to say the least.
And, Bruce, here is one more for the “if you have any time on your hands…” category:
Last week the NYT ran findings showing that esteem for the Supreme Court was at its lowest level in half a century or so, with a large majority of the public feeling that the Justices were “deciding” mainly as political actors. Certainly the sequence of rulings that runs from Bush v Gore through Citizens United could lead to that inference.
Now, there are historians who say that this is actually the *norm* for perceptions (and realities) of the Supreme Court. If you took the century from Dred Scott through, say, Brown v Board of Education, you would mainly see the Court as another branch of standard politics. By this reasoning, it is unusual in the sweep of American history for the public to “trust” the court in any profound way.
Suppose the John Roberts-led court later this month puts out a ruling on “Obamacare” that seems to be a replay of Bush v. Gore. That is, a nakedly instrumental political ruling. That would have a profound effect on “trust” in our institutions. How, in practical terms, might we regain more trust in the judiciary if that happens?
Bruce, here is a new question if you are feeling under-interrogated at any point:
You are very well known for your original expertise in cryptography and all things digital-security-related. Could you say something about your book’s discussion of the state of “trust” as it involves our online lives. In specific:
- Are individuals too trusting, or credulous, about the ways they are exposing themselves in their digital lives? I am talking about “exposure” of all sorts — to “ordinary” criminals, government surveillance, advertiser-related intrusions.
– How should the lay public think about the often-rumored threat of a “cyber Pearl Harbor” or “cyber 9.11″ ? I know your answers on this, from your writings, but I think the group would find them interesting.
Sorry for obscurity on China Airborne. It is a book (a) that has just been published, (b) is by me, and (c) contains (among other things) the info about security-theater investments in China. This was in the form of a mildly self-promotional joke — but at least it was relevant to the security theater discussion!
Bruce, I would like to piggyback on this question: My similar-but-slightly-different version is that Obama has not made things any better on this front than Bush did. As you have well explained, there is a ratchet effect to security-theater “investments.” Once they start, politicians can’t “afford” to take them back. How do you judge the respective “contributions” of the Bush and Obama administrations to the over-mechanized, heavy-capital-expense aspects of security theater?
If this is any consolation to you, the company that makes the bomb-screening devices that have shown up in every subway station in Beijing is owned by (wait for it)…. the son of President Hu Jintao. Who says that China and America are so different!
For more details, you must of course rush to the fascinating ‘China Airborne’…. ;)
Bruce, thanks, and let me draw out your two most recent replies.
Your book is indeed a very rich examination, at both the historical and the theoretical level, of these “trust-inducing mechanisms.” I think many readers here will start with the assumption that overall social trust in America, while higher than in many countries, is in a period of rapid erosion.
1. Do you agree that social trust is on the decline in the US (albeit from a higher-than-the-Philippines starting point)?
2. Can you share with the readers a few of the practical measures you discuss in the book for replenishing the store of social trust?
Now that is what I call a quick and voluminous reply! ;)
Here is a follow-up, given the interests of the FDL community in the evolving effects of economic and political pressures and dislocations, technological change, government security policies, and so on:
The issues of trust you talk about are in one way eternal questions. Since the beginning of civilization, people living in groups have had to figure out which behaviors they must police, and which can be affected and tolerated by social norms.
But these issues of “trust” and “defection” also change over time. Can you say more about how **current American society** — with the security issues of the post-9/11 era, the technological changes of the era in which surveillance is ever possible, and the cultural pressures caused by economic polarization — should think about these “trust” questions?