Trust and perception
Contribution to the spiked
debate, 'Fearing the unknown'
It is often assumed that the reason people have exaggerated perceptions
of risk has to do with a loss of trust, in individuals and in institutions.
Accordingly, the solution proffered is to restore trust, by ensuring
greater transparency in the regulation of risk. This approach defeats
itself, through a failure to understand the nature of trust.
When you trust someone, or some organisation, to do something on the
basis of past experience, you are actually expressing a degree of confidence.
Genuine trust depends on the suspension of reciprocal calculation -
it requires you to let go, and take a risk. A society obsessed with
the regulation of risk precludes the granting of trust.
In many debates on risk, it is clear that people's perception of risk
is out of keeping with the actuality of the risks that they face. Yet,
the solution proposed, by most parties in these debates, is to teach
people to have a greater understanding of risk. But if it is perceptions
that are the problem, then it is perceptions that need to be clarified.
A focus upon the social, historical and cultural construction of perception
is more important than facts, or scientific evidence. Scientists reveal
their attenuated desire for broader social transformation, in failing
to focus upon these things, and this holds back science. Meanwhile,
their detractors obfuscate, by illogically calling for more education
on Spiked, 10 February 2004