Sdluvingit's Reviews > Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive

Liars and Outliers by Bruce Schneier
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Feb 16, 2012

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Read from March 08 to April 24, 2012

I've been reading a bit in the area of evolutionary psychology recently and thinking about the nature and current state of group interactions. The political and social climate in the US seems to be about as bad as it ever has been and the level of disillusion in institutions and lack of trust between groups seems to be growing exponentially. So, in light of these thought processes, I came across Bruce Schneier's book talking about trust in today's world and how security, the lack of or excessive, contributes to or hinders this trust.

He examines societal dilemmas and develops a useful framework in discussing how various parts of society interact and how trust is generated and maintained. His framework involves determining the particular dilemma facing a society or group, defines the group, defines the group interest and the competing interest or interests, breaks down how the society or group enforces conformity to the group interests and the influences competing to cause defection from the group which may include self-interest or other group loyalties. Particularly interesting is how he categorizes the group methods of enforcing or influencing conformity; these include moral, reputational, institutional, and technological. His focus is mainly how security, mostly technological, supports the trust levels within a group and by limiting the number of defectors maintains the society/group cohesion but also points out that excessive security can be too costly.

Drawing on a number of disciplines and by taking an in-dept look at each portion of this framework Schneier brings us to an understanding of the underlying causes of our current issues. He also points out that these issues are not unique through history and that there have been other periods of great societal upheaval. However, we are at a unique cusp of human history in that social groups and interaction have expanded to a global level, our rate of knowledge is growing exponentially, and change is happening at an ever increasing rate. Technology is feeding this ever increasing rate of change and level of defection but only by the use technology can we maintain trust and thus maintain the greater societies. To adequately use technology as a positive tool we need to understand at a deep level the forces pulling on the society or group and make determinations in balancing our need for trust and cohesion and security with our other desires such as freedom and individual self-actualization. Too little security and the defectors devour the groups, too much security and individuals' desires and needs are suffocated.

Schneier leaves us with the optimistic hope that we will get through these times, that defectors are necessary for social change to occur and for societies to grow and prosper; in today's world we are all interconnected and dependent on the larger group. The last sentence of the book is a quote from MLK, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” This book has given me much to think about and I recommend it highly.
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