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Can You Trust Your Distrust?

Siena’s Philosophy Department invited Dr. Jason D’Cruz from the University of Albany to speak concerning his developing research about trust on Oct. 19, 2018. The majority of his work in the past has been focused on ethics and morality. In addition to working at a number of institutions including Harvard, Dr. D’Cruz has been published in academic journals such as Ethics, Philosophical Psychology, and the Journal of the American Philosophical Association.

He began his colloquium entitled, “Distrusting Distrust,” with an all-too-common situation of what he termed baseless distrust: a black man walking through a white neighborhood and hearing the sound of car doors locking as he passes each vehicle. He explained that he was interested in this kind of unmerited distrust because it is often ignored when discussing the philosophy of trust.

Dr. D’Cruz described distrust as “the tendency to withdraw from reliance or vulnerability based on construal of a person as malevolent and lacking integrity whose character includes various resentment, fear or disgust”. You can have hot distrust in response to the person’s malevolence and lack of integrity or cold distrust because you believe the person to be incompetent.

While being distrustful may seem like it is protecting you from getting hurt, Dr. D’Cruz argues that you should “distrust your distrust.” Trusting strangers is often very biased and relies heavily on physiological factors like facial features. People are more likely to trust strangers who they consider are most like them, otherwise known as an in-group. This technique has no real basis in character but rather in prejudices and stereotypes.

When people do not trust, they often do not take into consideration how it makes the distrusted person feel. Dr. D’Cruz considered two moral risks when it comes to distrust. One was that being distrusted can make a person feel “insulted and disrespected.” Dr. D’Cruz mentioned a story about how President Obama, regardless of his achievements, still remembers past situations in which people stereotyped and distrusted him for being a black man. Another risk is the idea of “self-fulfillment.” If someone is consistently being distrusted, then they may consider themselves to be untrustworthy. This can be reversed as well; because people want to be liked, if you trust someone they will fulfill your expectations of them.

Dr. D’Cruz described the epistemic risks of distrust as “interpretive biasing” and “asymmetrical feedback.” The former is that once someone is considered distrustful, they will continue to be viewed that way regardless of how they act. Asymmetrical feedback states that if you never trust people then you will never know how they would actually respond in that situation. So what can be done about distrust?

It may seem risky to some, however, Dr. D’Cruz argues that when your fear seems disproportionate to the situation, then you should trust. People want to be liked and for others to trust them so when given the opportunity to be trusted, they will not let you down. Dr. D’Cruz explained,  if you see someone standing on the side of the road, think about how few times people are attacked in their cars while waiting at a red light. Then think if it is really necessary to lock your car door. So the next time you need to decide whether to trust someone or not, consider if your distrust is trustworthy.