Friday, January 28, 2005

On Intruder Alarms and Cultural Trust

Gandalf’s new winter lair is in a balmy Mediterranean locality. I’d flagged it as low/mid-trust. Low- because of anarchic driving & profusion of window bars. Mid- because local politics seems clean.

The trust model (summary at end of this post) explains why the UN and EU are corrupt, why the French are perfidious, and why we face an uphill struggle in the Arab world. More in later posts.

With the house vacant part of the year, I’d been planning home security & tracking the experiences of
others. Would an intruder alarm work in a low/mid-trust culture? I got the answer when a deafening alarm fired up in the middle of last night just 10 feet outside my window. Six hours later I knew that alarms don’t work here, so back to killer drones

The alarm was on the house next door. We knew the householder was absent, so ran a quick external check for intruders (negative). After a long wait a policemen came and ran the same checks we had, then wandered off. Nobody else took any notice. After 60 minutes, external alarm shut down, leaving us deafened & sleep deprived. Irritating internal alarm continued.

3 hours later, I managed to get the alarm company to pick up the phone.

“ Did you monitor this alarm”
“Automatic phone signal to you when alarm triggered”
“Why would we do that? What could we do? We have no key. Perhaps police will come”
“Why not call keyholders to check the house & switch off the alarm”
“Trusted people nominated by owner for each alarm. Caretakers, property agents and so on. You call them to check out alarmed property and switch off”
“You are foreign?”
“I confess. But this is how we do things in UK and US”
“No such system here. Nobody here gives keys to anyone. Nothing we can do, sorry”

After 6 hours the alarm stopped – either it died or got pinched.

So now we know we’re in a low-trust society where intruder alarms are not a great idea!

A useful way of characterising cultures (including I believe those of organizations & companies) is their level of trust. See Francis Fukuyama's Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity.

High-trust cultures emphasise the individual & have a strong consensus that protects property & the person and supports obedience to accepted rules and behaviors. High-trust societies display volunteerism: if something needs doing, people get together and do it.

In low-trust societies the individual is defined through their membership of one group: their family, a religious group, or an ethnic group. Low-trust states are authoritarian & characterized by nepotism, corruption, and low economic growth. And if the state doesn’t do something, it doesn’t get done.

High-trust states include Scandinavia & the English speaking nations. Low trust states include the Arab world, Russia & most Southern European states. I believe that the EU & UN organizations are low-trust (the marker is the level of corruption). Many old style corporations are low-trust but Google Inc's
Don't be Evil is a high-trust marker.