Status Report: Liars and Outliers
Last weekend, I completely reframed the book. I realized that the book isn’t about security. It’s about trust. I’m writing about how society induces people to behave in the group interest instead of some competing personal interest. It’s obvious that society needs to do this; otherwise, it can never solve collective action problems. And as a social species, we have developed both moral systems and reputational systems that encourage people behave in the group interest. I called these systems “societal security,” along with more recent developments: institutional (read “legal”) systems and technological systems.
That phrasing strained the definition of “security.” Everything, from the Bible to your friends treating you better if you were nice to them, was a security system. In my reframing, those are all trust pressures. It’s a language that’s more intuitive. We already know about moral pressure, peer pressure, and legal pressure. Reputational pressure, institutional pressure, and security pressure is much less of a stretch. And it puts security back in a more sensible place. Security is a mechanism; trust is the goal.
This reframing lets me more easily talk directly about the central issues of the book: how these various pressures scale to larger societies, and how security technologies are necessary for them to scale. Trust changes focus as society scales, too. In smaller societies (a family, for example), trust is more about intention and less about actions. In larger societies, trust is all about actions. It’s more like compliance. And as things scale even further, trust becomes less about people and more about systems. I don’t need to trust any particular banker, as long as I trust the banking system. And as we scale up, security becomes more important.
Possibly the book’s thesis statement: “Security is a set of constructed systems that extend the naturally occurring systems that humans have always used to induce trust and enable society. This extension became necessary when society began to operate at a scale and complexity where the naturally occurring mechanisms started to break down, and is more necessary as society continues to grow in scale.”
So the phrase “societal security” is completely gone from the book. (Like the phrase “dishonest minority,” it only exists in old blog posts.) There’s more talk about the role of trust in society. There’s more talk about how security, real security this time, enables trust. It felt like a major change when I embarked on it, but the fact that I did it in three days says how this framing was always there under the surface. And the fact that the book reads a lot more cleanly now says this framing is the right one.
The title remains the same: Liars and Outliers. The cover remains the same. The table of contents is the same, although some chapters have different names. The subtitle has to change, though. Candidates include:
- How Trust Holds Society Together — my publisher probably won’t allow me to write a book without the word “security” somewhere in the title.
- Security, Trust, and Society — not punchy enough.
- How Security Enables the Trust that Holds Society Together — probably too long.
- How Trust and Security Hold Society Together — maybe.
Any other ideas?
The manuscript is still due to the publisher at the end of the month, and publication is still set for mid-February. I am enjoying writing it, but I am also looking forward to it being done.