In the long run, people will act in their best self-interest. In the short term, people are influenced by culture, fashion, and other things. But when something like culture conflicts with self-interest, it is culture that eventually changes to be better aligned with people's self-interest.
The prisoner's dilemma
is an example of an analysis of self-interest. It is a question of whether or not to cooperate based on the assumption that you will be dealing with the other person again. If you know that you will never deal with the other person again, it is always in your interest to be selfish and not cooperate. The prisoner's dilemma doesn't address the question of what happens if other people who you may deal with in the future can see your actions.
Trust enables cooperation. Cooperation requires trust and benefits all involved. But like with the prisoner's dilemma, each individual has to decide for himself whether it is in his best interest to be trustworthy. And like in the prisoner's dilemma, the best outcome for any individual is to be selfish where others are cooperative. In other words, to be a parasite in a cooperative culture. If an individual can get away with this, he will live very well. What this means is that cooperative cultures will naturally self-destruct if there isn't some force to punish dishonesty.
There seems to be a natural cycle to cultures. Strong cultures begin as a small tribe with a high degree of trust. This leads to cooperation which makes the tribe more powerful than its neighbors which then causes the tribe to win wars and expand. Eventually the culture becomes an empire. In the empire, it is much harder to enforce honesty, so dishonesty grows and the culture becomes corrupt. The corruption weakens the culture until it collapses.
There are two exceptions to this pattern, China and Judaism. China has remained an empire for far longer than other cultures. As cooperation broke down in society, it was replaced by a social network. In China, personal connections mean a lot. There is no trust in China outside of personal connections. But personal connections are enough to allow for some degree of cooperation among those who are connected, so China has managed to function far longer than most empires. Judaism takes the opposite approach. Judaism has maintained the tribal means of enforcing trust. But this trust didn't lead to strength and conquest because Jews were geographically distributed and were minorities where they lived. So it was the failure of Jews to turn trust into an empire that has allowed Judaism to last for so long.
There is probably nothing more important than trust in determining the success of a culture. If you cannot trust your doctor, your plumber, your accountant, or anyone who you deal with, then your life will be a constant struggle. In such a society, specialization is impossible because everyone has to know enough about everything to avoid being screwed over by others. Today one can see lack of trust in the third world where nothing works and no one trusts anyone else. In first world countries, trust is rapidly in decline but is still above third world levels. As trust continues to decline, we can expect first world countries to become more and more like third world countries.
Aside from the societal and economic issues, there is also the issue of quality of life. Living in a culture where one cannot trust one's friends seems far from ideal. My ideal is a community where I can trust others in the community. Such a place is my utopia.
What enables trust and cooperation? It has to be conditions where being trustworthy is in people's self-interest. And this requires negative consequences for untrustworthy behavior. In modern culture, there are no such consequences, so the decay of trust is inevitable. In an area of small tribes competing in a harsh environment, violating trust can mean expulsion from your tribe which can easily lead to death. Such consequences encourage trustworthy behavior. The Chinese model of a social network is somewhere in between. In this case, violating trust will break some of your social network but not all. So the level of trust in China will always be mediocre, neither very strong nor completely decayed like in the third world.
Aside from forming a tribe in some primitive place, is there any way to create trust in the modern world? I think there is by forming small groups that have clear rules for expelling those who violate trust. Like the tribal model, this is based on a small set/group of people. This model is much stronger than the social network model because if you violate trust, you lose the entire benefit of the group. It seems that some religious groups have this to some degree where they punish members for violating their rules.
I hope that the CoAlpha Brotherhood can create trust among its members using this model. Trust and cooperation will become increasingly valuable as the world around us decays. This benefit is something that CoAlpha can offer even as a small group. So I think trust should be one of the key selling points of the CoAlpha Brotherhood.