Why Social Trust Is Cratering: The Difference Between Elites and Commoners

We trust what we own / control, and the difference between elites and commoners is the elites own / control the wealth and power that dominate our daily lives.


It sounds too obvious to be profound: we trust what we own / control. Of course we do. But it becomes profoundly consequential when we add the shadow half of the statement: we don’t trust what we don’t own / control without constant feedback providing verifiable evidence that it is worthy of our trust.

Absent this positive verifiable (i.e. factual evidence based on both data and personal-anecdotal experience) feedback, we have good reason to assume whatever we don’t own / control is primarily serving the interests of those who do own / control it. And since this means the product/service’s trustworthiness is suspect despite claims that it serves our interests, we must seek a steady flow of feedback substantiating that the product/service is still providing the value the owners / managers are claiming, either explicitly or implicitly.

In other words, hands-on knowledge about the inner workings of the product/service generates trust. Absent this experiential knowledge, we’re flying blind as to the true value of the product/service. If the actual value is less than the owners / managers claim, both the owners / managers and the product/service they’re providing are unworthy of our trust.

Consider a simple example: the food we put in our mouths to sustain ourselves.

When I collect fruits and vegetables I’ve grown here in our yard, I have direct knowledge of what went into the care and nurturing of the plants/trees/soil, so I know that there are no pesticides or herbicides and there are an abundance of micronutrients in our food due to the careful management of compost and fertilizers.

The food we eat from our homestead is therefore trustworthy.

We get lettuce and beets from a longtime family friend who has been farming for decades. He takes great pride in his produce and works extremely hard to raise te highest quality produce. Though I don’t have direct knowledge of his day-to-day practices, I know and trust him and I can see the vibrancy of his produce and taste its quality.

These are the people in our trusted personal network.

You see the gradient of trust: first level is first-hand experience/knowledge, second level is trusted personal network.

Compare this to produce labeled “organic” in a supermarket. We are making a great many assumptions about the produce this label is attached to. We assume the agency monitoring the actual farm practices is thorough and accurate, but this is quite stretch in the real world. Are inspectors onsite every day? What exactly do they test? Where are the results posted?

Produce, organic or not, is a commodity, and nobody is testing the nutritive content of the produce. Maybe one field hasn’t been depleted of micronutrients, while the rest have been over-farmed and depleted of the micronutrients we need to be healthy.

Since all produce is a commodity in global markets, they’re all interchangeable: one kilo of organic tomatoes or wheat is interchangeable with any other kilo of organic tomatoes or wheat, so there’s no way to tell if the “organic” produce or meat has high or low nutritive value. All that’s being claimed is that no pesticides or herbicides were applied and whatever compost and fertilizer were applied were organic. That’s entirely different than claiming the produce/meat is high in nutritive value.

Plants have immune systems, too, and a healthy plant provided with sufficient nutrients and water will resist insect infestations, fungi, bacteria, etc. far better than plants raised in depleted soils. Anyone with experience in actually growing fruits and vegetables is keenly alive to signs of nutrient deficiency or infestation.

The point is “organic” doesn’t mean the produce or meat is packed with nutrients. It just means the minimal guidelines qualifying the product as organic (or “bio”) were met. Those guidelines don’t guarantee a product packed with micronutrients. That takes extra care and tracking that isn’t done in a commoditized economy.

Consider efficacy claims and side-effect labeling on pharmaceuticals. If you actually study the Phase III trial data (I have), you find that the medications were not actually tested in conjunction with other commonly consumed medications. The potential interactions are completely unknown. You also discover the statistical legerdemain that goes into claiming efficacy that may be just barely above random results.

Since we have very little knowledge or control of all the medications deemed “safe” by untrustworthy agencies, all these medications are intrinsically untrustworthy until proven otherwise by multiple independent sources over a decade.

How Two Pharmacists Figured Out That Decongestants Don’t Work:
A loophole in FDA processes means older drugs such as those in oral decongestants weren’t properly tested. Here’s how we learned the most popular one doesn’t work.

Now consider social media sites such as Facebook or X/Twitter. You may have noticed that what appears in your feed/scroll changes. These changes are not within our control or transparent; we presume the algos are being tweaked to maximize the income being generated by our content and our attention.

When Big Tech notifies you that your content “violated our community standards,” the violation is not specified, and if you ask, you won’t get a reply or explanation. We have no idea who is seeing what we post, or what’s being done with our attention-data. We have no knowledge or control of these algos and processes, and so they are intrinsically untrustworthy.

If we examine all the agencies, institutions, monopolies and cartels that control the vast majority of our lives, we find that we have near-zero knowledge or control of any of their inputs, processes or outputs, and so all of these agencies, institutions, monopolies and cartels are intrinsically untrustworthy until they consistently prove themselves trustworthy in some verifiable fashion.

Few of these agencies, institutions, monopolies and cartels provide this feedback.

Consider the labels on processed foods for humans. Anyone caring for animals knows the labeling on food for animals is far stricter and more detailed than food for humans, for a good reason: those profiting from selling processed “food” to humans might have a harder time selling their low-quality products if we knew more about the low quality ingredients, high sugar and salt content, etc.

This is why commoners have lost trust in the nation’s agencies, institutions, monopolies and cartels, while the top 1% elites that own and control these entities still trust them: they trust them because they serve their interests.

The commoners intuitively sense these entities do not serve their interests, they only claim to do so to maximize profits / “shareholder value” or to divert attention from the poor quality service/products. We know the claims being made are false because we experience the absence of transparency and accountability first-hand, and the abysmally low quality of the products and services first-hand.

The only viable solution is to own/control as much as you can, and nurture our own trusted personal networks. The only way to escape being stripmined and shorn by the entities owned and controlled by the top 1% elites is to abandon those agencies, institutions, monopolies and cartels as much as possible. That is the essence of what I call self-reliance.

We are blind to the decay of the hierarchy of trust because we’ve been trained to trust sprawling, unaccountable agencies and corporations without actually having any evidence that they are trustworthy.

At the top is owning / controlling the products/services ourselves. We trust our produce because we grew it. We trust our home repair because we did the work. Very few of us own or control anything other than our house or financial abstractions controlled by others.

The second level is personal trusted networks. Very few of us have personal trusted networks that provide the essentials of life. Virtually everything essential to modern life is commoditized and globalized; it comes from far away and we know nothing about its origin, quality or value.

The third level is local enterprises and agencies that are local enough to generate feedback we can access simply by listening to our neighbors and peers. On a very practical level, most communities once had local dairies and bakeries and broader networks of local businesses that provided services that are no longer available: shoe repair, etc.

The fourth and lowest level is commoditized feedback from a variety of sources that can be compared for completeness and accuracy, feedback that enables us to assess the relative trustworthiness of commoditized products and services sold by private monopolies and cartels theoretically monitored by unaccountable sprawling state agencies.

Our essential public services are also provided by other unaccountable sprawling state agencies that can fail in every way but are not influenced by their failure because we have no alternative to the DMV, tax office, etc.

These public-private monopolies and cartels provide very little feedback, and what little is available is itself suspect due to self-interest.

We control and own so little of what we need to live and what impacts our lives, and very few of these essentials are produced locally. We receive very little if any trustworthy feedback about the mega-entities (universities, hospital chains, Big Ag, Big Pharma, government agencies, Big Tech, Big Finance, Big Retail, etc.) that dominate our economy and our lives or the quality / value of the products and services they provide.

Professional elites still trust these mega-entities because they serve the interests of the elites who own / control them. The commoners no longer trust these entities because there is no reason or evidence to generate trust while there is a wealth of evidence supporting distrust.

We trust what we own / control, and the difference between elites and commoners is the elites own / control the wealth and power that dominate our daily lives.

As I noted in
A Low-Trust Society Is an Impoverished Society
, our only positive option is to regain as much ownership and control of our lives as we can manage
, and nurture trusted personal networks and local enterprises and organizations. As I put it a few years ago: Tune in (to self-reliance), drop out (of hyper-consumerism and debt-serfdom) and turn on (to relocalizing capital and agency).

This essay was drawn from my Weekly Musings Reports sent exclusively to

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