Some 6 years ago, Forbes published an article on The Economics of Trust, where the author Tim Harford made the case that “trust is about more than whether you can leave your house unlocked; it is responsible for the difference between the richest countries and the poorest. How could that be? Trust operates in all sorts of ways, from saving money that would have to be spent on security to improving the functioning of the political system. But above all, trust enables people to do business with each other. Doing business is what creates wealth. ”
Systems that build trust enable exchanges of services, ideas, products and stories, and fuel the creation of wealth. Trust has such immense value to how we network our societies and our brains, that we even go to extra lengths to build “artificial trust”, systems used to scaffold limitations of the social order.
In the middle ages, letters of indulgence were used to “scaffold” trust, a practice which was gradually phased out as the printing press gave way for new ways to communicate.
The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine wrote 8 years ago in Is Psychiatry a Religion that “psychiatry, and its handmaiden, clinical psychology, now constitutes an amorphous system of beliefs, behaviors and attitudes whose functions and doctrines are unsettlingly similar to those held by conventional religions. “.
In this essay, I argue that medical science as an institution that people trusted, an institution deeply imbedded in their narratives, with doctors who healed the sick and that could save the life of a loved one, was co-opted as an instrument for “artificial trust”, in the same way as the middle age’s letters of indulgence.
This was a natural adaptation, which enabled wealth creation as it made up for limitations of the Westphalian legal system. As the printing press led to a decline of the artificial trust which preceded it, so to is the internet making diagnoses, as a form of indulgence, redundant, as there are new beliefs through which to network society, and a new social order.