Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Land of Milk and Honey

Anonymous, impersonal market transactions make us wealthy. These transactions are predicated on high trust. The "stranger danger" phenomenon as well as the assertion that all men are potential rapists are low trust activities and beliefs.

Empirical question: how well does per capita wealth correlate with non-market mistrust of strangers?

Is there reason to suspect that people compartmentalize trust? In Robin Hanson's (and Katya Grace's) worldview, people use near and far processing modes to analyze situations. Market transactions are conducted in near mode, where we can better judge the specifics of the situation and judge trustworthiness on individual merits. Non-market situations are a different kettle of fish altogether. When we contemplate letting our kids out of the house, it's much easier (perhaps even necessary) to employ far reasoning, glossing over the grainy reality and substituting cognitive heuristics for rational judgement.

This near-far split might help explain why anxious mothers won't spend an extra hundred bucks for a better car seat (or an extra few thousand for a safer mode of transportation), but are comfortable with the idea of never letting the kids outside without a caretaker. Decisions inside an automobile are near, immediate, while the outside world is an artificial mental construct, capable of being populated by far-mode demons.

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