Thursday, June 26, 2008

Marek Kohn's "Trust"

Marek Kohn is a fellow in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex and in the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics at the University of Brighton. His books include Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground, As We Know It: Coming to Terms with an Evolved Mind, and A Reason For Everything: Natural Selection and the English Imagination.

He summarized the applicability of “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good--"I wouldn't start from p99 to explain what Trust is all about!"--and reported the following:
Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good (Oxford University Press) proceeds from basics – what trust is, how it arises, what it implies – to civics, society and the common good. On page 99 it’s in transit, taking the reader into a chapter, The Goodwill of the People, about trust between states and citizens. The introductory example is that of a Czechoslovak jazz musicians’ organisation which emerged in the aftermath of the Soviet-led invasion of 1968, subverting the communist authorities’ attempts to keep civil society as small and over-controlled as possible. Although this particular group made the most of its opportunities, the suppression of civil society by Soviet-bloc regimes has left a morbid legacy of distrust. Similar legacies can be seen in other societies which have been ruled in the past by regimes which distrust the people, or seek to maintain their power by sowing division among their subjects. Under such circumstances, trust is often confined within families, creating clannish societies in which community is hobbled by suspicion. It often seems that if the state will not trust the people, the people will not trust each other.

They may also not trust each other if they feel they are different from each other. As the political scientist Robert Putnam acknowledges, and has found in his own studies, research tends to show that diversity inhibits trust. But that isn’t a law of human nature. If people decide that it is in their interests to co-operate, and they manage to do so successfully, they will come to trust one another. As trust develops, so does community. People achieve more together, and they gain more quiet enjoyment from their everyday encounters with each other. But where there are differences among them, they may have to work to create a new shared culture. And they have to want a diverse society to work – unlike, it seems, many of those who seize upon evidence that resolving difference can be difficult to claim that there is no point in trying. Whoever said human relationships are easy?

Page 99 of Trust:

the goodwill of the people 99

supposed to be channels through which the Communist Party could organize, discipline, and shape the people. They were part of the state apparatus, whose purpose was to ‘build socialism’. The difficulties experienced in this project led, however, to a brief period in which many of the tenets of the Leninist system were thrown open to question, offering the vision of ‘socialism with a human face’. After five months of this ‘Prague Spring’, Soviet-led forces crushed the reform movement in August 1968.

Attempting to restore the status quo ante, the new satellite regime decided that Czechoslovak social organizations had become too independent-minded to be brought to heel, so it disbanded them and set up new ones. In 1971, a group of jazz enthusiasts applied to the Ministry of the Interior for permission to form a jazz musicians’ union. The ministry officials turned them down, but recommended that they join the new Czech Musicians’ Union. Two crucial lapses gave them a degree of associational freedom markedly greater than they were supposed to enjoy. First, the Musicians’ Union misinterpreted the Ministry, which had intended that the jazz musicians join as individuals, and allowed them to set up their own Jazz Section. Second, the Ministry was not given the power which it normally exercised over social organizations to appoint the Section’s chair.2 The authorities did, however, impose a limit on the number of people who could enter the association, as if it were a bus.

The new Jazz Section set to work exploiting the limited trust placed in social organizations by the state. Since such associations’ interests were assumed not to be of wider interest...
Read an excerpt from Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good, and learn more about the book and author at the Oxford University Press webpage and Marek Kohn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue