Marilyn Waring's first gesture towards me proved the point she would make earlier.
Knowing virtually nothing about me other than I dropped her an email explaining that her book, Counting for Nothing (originally titled "If Women Counted"), changed the way I looked at the world and that I had dedicated my life to shifting value systems because of it and that I was coming to New Zealand and would love to meet her. She met me in the lobby of her hotel (lucky for me, she was visiting Wellington for a couple of days while I was there) and invited me up to her room for tea.
Now, this is the sort of thing that women don't do, do they? Invite strangers, especially fans into their hotel suites. These are intimate, private spaces. Safe spaces. Vulnerable spaces. But Marilyn seemed nonplussed about the whole thing. She made tea whilst settling in. Started right in at telling me about her latest beef with the government and how she was going to debate them into the ground the next day. After I got over myself, we melted into the kind of conversation one experiences after many years of knowing another person. In no time, we had the laptops open, showing amazing works and thoughts, and sharing our passions.
Then she said it to me: Trust is an externality. And she may or may not have noticed it, but she lived this statement and, through her words meeting her actions, totally inspired me (again).
The next day, I was due to give my Government 2.0 presentation and had lacking content in the 'trust is the way to (citizen) empowerment'. In an instance, it made sense to me. Are we naturally selfish? Or is it the systems that encourage it?
The Open Source world needs to make the assumption that people are, basically, good in order to succeed. And, because of that, there is a great deal more good behaviour than bad. As well, being trusted is a very empowering thing. Personally, someone saying, "I am giving you this responsibility. I have faith in you," makes me want to work much harder than, "I know you'll screw this up, so I have put measures in place to ensure that you can't." It seems that anything the law touches goes on the premise that people are, basically, bad and need to be protected from one another (and themselves).
When trust is externalized too much, we end up relying on those externalities instead of an intrinsic bond between human beings to do the right thing. So much that when we imagine the law falling down, we imagine chaos. Remember the blackout on the East coast of North America a couple of years back? There was an assumption that people would pillage, burn, steal, rape and generally go Mad Max. Very very few did. No more than on a typical day with power, really. Instead, we all took to the streets, making due with generators and made peaceful parties in public parks.
In the book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, they tell a story about the lawlessness of Burning Man. The authors come across a man going ballistic on a street sign, obviously quite high and scared. One of the authors asks the man why he is attacking the sign, to which the man replies, "Because I can't find my camp. I've been circling for hours." The authors, realizing there is nobody else but them to help this man, reply, "Well, if you tear down the sign, many others will be even more lost and feel just like you. You don't want that to happen, right?" The man agreed and they all set off to help him find his camp.
Burning Man doesn't have a police force. It doesn't have laws. It does have thousands of drug-induced, water-deprived, heat-stroked people who gather for a week in the desert. You would expect more havoc to ensue, but, surprisingly, it doesn't. Or, it does...but in a totally positive manner. Could it work for more than a week? I don't know. Perhaps. When asked to think for themselves, people generally step up to the challenge.
[update from Chris Carfi: it isn't lawless...the country sherrif's departments have jurisdiction. Ori's story still applies because he 'thought' it was without policing and, thus, took logical civil action, but it isn't a totally free-from-externalities week after all]
But most likely, there's a happy medium somewhere between Burning Man and current government where we can start to truly internalize trust for other human beings. I would love a world where inviting a new friend home for a cup of tea doesn't feel odd and invasive.