Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive

ISBN: 978-1-118-14330-8
384 pages
February 2012
US $24.95 Add to Cart

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February 14, 2012
Indianapolis, IN

Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive

Society runs on trust.  We have no choice but to trust that the random people, institutions, and systems we interact with will cooperate and be trustworthy.  We don’t need to trust completely or blindly, but we need to be reasonably sure our trust is well-founded.  But within this web of trust, the untrustworthy can thrive.  Much of the work of society centers around this tension between cooperators and defectors in society.  But not all defectors are bad – such as those that rallied against slavery.  Defectors change as society changes; defection can be in the eye of the beholder.

In his new book, LIARS & OUTLIERS:  Enabling The Trust That Society Needs To Thrive, world-renowned thought leader Bruce Schneier identifies how security can protect us from defectors; and what enables us to trust strangers at the local, national, and global scale.  “Trust and cooperation are the first problems we had to solve before we could become a social species – but in the 21st century, they have become the most important problems we need to solve again,” says Schneier, author of eleven books, including the bestsellers Secrets & Lies and Beyond Fear.

LIARS & OUTLIERS introduces ideas from across the social and biological sciences to explain how society induces trust.  It demonstrates how trust works and fails in social settings, communities, organizations, and countries.  A leading expert on technology and security, Schneier explains why we need to understand our evolved security systems and their unique role in facilitating and stabilizing human society.  Most importantly, he explains how “cooperation” is defined by social convention, and that there are two kinds of “uncooperative” people:  those who are selfish, and those who are differently moral than the rest of society.

In the book he also explains:

The history and evolution of people and trust – and how to think of this relationship between society as a whole and its defectors as a parasitic relationship:  As societies became more social, they needed to learn how to get along with each other:  both cooperating and ensuring everyone else cooperated, too.  That’s never been truer than it is today; yet we’re still getting it wrong.

The problem isn’t trusting people; the problem is with the dilemma:  People are more complicated than societal dilemmas, i.e., choices between group interests and competing individual interests.  Our competing interests are more nuanced and varied, and they’re subjective and situational.  It’s more important we understand which societal pressures reduce the scope of defection, and how each should be scaled to keep society’s parasites down to a tolerable level.

The need to not only trust strangers, but trust systems and institutions:  It’s important to trust that defectors won’t take advantage of a group, but it’s also important to trust that institutions and systems won’t take advantage as well.  Although sometimes laws aren’t enough, institutional rules allow reputation to scale, by giving people a system to trust so they don’t necessarily have to trust individuals.  Systems are the last layers of defense – and the most scalable – against defection.

Real-world applications for understanding and scaling societal pressures:  There are a variety of competing interests that can cause someone to defect and not act in the group norm.  Today, this largely includes how certain societal dilemmas affect corporations; how major corporations can play one societal dilemma off another; and how increasing the power and scale of corporations can prompt them to do whatever illegal activity is under consideration.

Schneier’s message isn’t that defectors will ruin everything for everyone, but that we need to manage societal pressures to ensure they don’t.  Our global society has grown so large and complex that our traditional trust mechanisms no longer work.  Today’s problems require new thinking, and as World Economic Forum chairman Klaus Schwab so eloquently says, “Without trust nothing can be achieved.  LIARS & OUTLIERS is a brilliant analysis of the role of trust in society and business.”