Part 1: The importance of trust in our society.
Most of us in the developed countries receive an official Identity Form the moment we are born. It is such a standard process that it requires serious mental effort to grasp what a privilege that is. Before we dive deeper into the concepts of trust and identity, consider this:
There are more than 400 million small, family-owned farms in China where the owners lack any official form of identity because they simply did not get a birth certificate. As a result, these farmers cannot access the financial system or get insured due to insufficient data for underwriters. In a country historically plagued by natural disasters, the risk of one bad season translates into an existential threat for them and their families who rely on their crops to earn and feed themselves.
How important is trust in our society?
The world is a highly complex system of systems, and every smaller system differs largely across geographies but what they all have in common is that trust is a critical foundation for all of them to operate efficiently. Trust is so critical for our world to operate, from our interactions with friends, to capital markets, and international relationships, that typically, the only time we stop and think about it is when trust is lost. And when it’s broken, trust takes a lot of time to be rebuild.
Of course, identity in the form of government issued identity documents, does not guarantee that individuals will not break the trust of their peers or forego their responsibilities. Identity documents are the critical infrastructure for trust and credibility in our world. The concept of having a unique identifier in the form of an ID number, is both incredibly helpful and possibly harmful. On one hand identity can be used to grant people access to essential services that improve their lives, like banking, credit and loans, public healthcare, and public education. On the other, it can be used to “keep tabs” and possibly marginalize people in the name of public order.
One thing is certain, since the beginning of mankind we have been in a constant pursuit of creating trust, so to create order and safety, that in turn lead to growth and evolution. Be it with fellow hunter-gatherers, Medieval villages, and neighbouring states. Thinking about it, the most successful movement for trust creation is indisputably religion. Only there, it was not the state keeping tabs on us via an ID number but an all-knowing, all-remembering, divine presence.
So, if government issued, or official, identity documents is the infrastructure where trust runs on in our world, then what makes us, us?