Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive (Review)

As security professionals, we mainly consider how we can establish procedures, plans, and policies focused on actions intended to protect people, places, and things. We rarely consider the societal mechanisms fostering the trust that allows us to prioritize our actions even though we recognize that we cannot protect everyone, everything, and every place all the time. Without a broad base of trust, society and all of our institutions would fail to function. This is the focus of Bruce Schneier’s new­est book, Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive.

Schneier begins by reviewing how society requires trust in order to function. Not blind, unlimited trust, of course, but just the right amount where the overwhelming majority recognizes that the social contract binding us is both important and essentially of benefit to all.

There will always be those “defectors,” as Schneier calls them, who won’t play by the rules, but there are means for dealing with them. And equally important, not all defectors are harmful or even bad. Societal pressure helps maintain trust by inducing compliance with group norms, but some defectors can also help society by signaling when the norm needs to change.

Schneier argues that today’s world is at a “critical juncture” and must evolve societally to adjust to globalization and technological advances. Part of that adjustment requires security professionals to balance protective efforts against the ability to recognize the positive aspects of “defection” as a societal good—as when a Medal of Honor winner is recognized for acts taken against orders.

We have considerable security measures to complement trust—some argue too many in some cases. Schneier helps us put security in a societal context that challenges us to make choices that are beneficial instead of rote.

Categories: Book Reviews, Liars and Outliers, Text

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.