The trust in Abstract systems

In Rewriting, Joseph Harris talks about countering, and this refers to adding your own ideas to a certain subject and to keep the conversation going in new directions. “To counter is not to nullify but to suggest a different way of thinking” (56). One’s goal in countering is not to completely discredit the author who you are countering, but to form a new path of thinking and “look to notice what others have not.” Joseph Harris then explains that there are three different ways of countering; arguing the other side, uncovering values, and dissenting. The method that I am going to focus on is uncovering values, which is when you discover a term or word that the author has failed to define or examine.

In chapter four of The Consequences of Modernity, Anthony Giddens talks about abstract systems and trust in personal relations and impersonal relations. He explains how in the modern world, abstract systems has given us a sense of stability and security in every day life. Giddens then goes on to use the example of getting onto a plane. You can get onto a plane and be pretty certain that it will bring you to your destination and that the journey will be a safe one but only ‘minimal preparations’ have to be made for your trip and you might not even know where your destination is on a map. This involves a great deal of trust in the abstract system. “In the case of abstract systems, by contrast, trust presumes faith in impersonal principles, which “answer back” only in a statistical way when they do not deliver the outcomes which the individual seeks” (114-115). Yes, this is true for a lot of abstract systems but I do not believe that it is true for all. There are aspects of personal relationships in abstract systems too, which Giddens doesn’t mention.

Mail is an abstract system. You drop off your mail at the post office and are putting your trust in the systems involved to deliver your package to its destination and you pretty much know for a fact that it will get there. Although this is an abstract system, there is a personal relationship involved in mail, the mailman. I know this from personal experience because my family knows our mailman because of the amount of years he’s been delivering our mail and we have a “personal relationship” with him. So not only is our trust in the abstract system, but we also have trust in our mailman to deliver our mail to us. The same thing applies with UPS. When we order clothes or anything else online, not only is our trust in the abstract systems involved but it’s also in the deliveryman whom we have a personal relationship with. Also, the act of him coming to my house and ringing my doorbell to give me my package is personal in itself. Giddens is correct in saying that in abstract systems, your faith goes into impersonal principles, but there are still personal principles in abstract systems that society has not figured out how to get rid of yet.

9 thoughts on “The trust in Abstract systems

  1. Matt-

    I really liked your use of simplified, personal examples to facilitate Giddens’ ideas for your classmates. I understand your thought process in pointing out that Giddens doesn’t mention “aspects of personal relationships in abstract systems” however, I thought about this idea slightly different.

    Although you are absolutely correct in wanting to add a personal element to the idea of an abstract system, it is my belief that a personal relationship would be included in the abstract system. I will elaborate my thinking by going off of the idea of a mailman, as you mentioned. Although you may have developed a relationship with him over the years, I still believe him to be a part of the abstract system because people can act differently when work, and money are involved. Therefore, although you believe this person to be kind hearted, you are still putting your trust in the fact that as a whole, he will carry out the system ethically. I believe that Giddens has a similar thought process to mine based on the statement, “Trust in abstract systems provides for the security of day-to-day reliability, but by its very nature cannot supply either the mutuality or intimacy which personal trust relations offer” (Giddens 114). It seems to me that with this quote, Giddens also groups the two together.

    Your post really created deeper thinking on this issue!



  2. There are many abstract systems in our modern times. Mail is one of them, “Although this is an abstract system, there is a personal relationship involved in the mail.” This adds argues Giddens ideas that the author touched upon, but also the idea that, “Friendship is not directly involved in abstract systems themselves” (119). This example with the mail man is one that shows that personal relations and friendships are a part of abstract systems that Giddens does not talk about. Different people have knowledge about other things which can get rid of the uncertainty in an abstract system. Not only can people have knowledge about the subject, but they can also have a friendship with a member apart of the abstract system making it more personal. Friends are not always apart of abstract systems, but some require personal interaction like said in the blog post. Is society modernity moving towards a society without human interaction and will this ever be achieved?



  3. I really liked the example you used here and your use of Harris’ “uncovering values.” Your example that, ” Although this is an abstract system, there is a personal relationship involved in mail, the mailman.” is a valid one. The interception of human interaction into any kind of abstract system makes a lot of sense that obviously a personal relationship can be formed, with either yourself and that person, or that person and other coworkers. However, I am wondering if you have considered how almost every abstract system that Giddens describes does in fact include some degree of human interaction, and he might assume that this does not alter the definition of an abstract system. If you consider abstract systems that require or utilize no type of human interaction, does it increase or decrease one’s sense of stability? On page 114 Giddens also mentions an earlier writer who states, “Trust in persons is built upon mutuality of response and involvement: faith in the integrity of another is a prime source of a feeling of integrity and authenticity of the self.” It’s a shared feeling that if no one around doing the same thing that you are doing, you are naturally a bit less confident in yourself when preforming the task, similar to your own example. I think there are very little deviations from this use of an abstract system. For example, automate kiosk machines are meant to provide the same service that a person could. But if you preform all of the necessary operations and you do not receive a ticket, who are you upset with? Did you have any kind of faith in the machine to begin with, and is that entirely dependent on whether you see other people knowledgeable on how to operate it nearby?


  4. You mention how in Giddens mentions that “abstract systems have given us a sense of stability and security in everyday life”. I would have to disagree with Giddens saying that these systems do not always feel me more secure as some systems have a reasonably sizeable margin of error. If anything man is overly reliable in abstract systems giving them a false sense of stability. There have been plenty of times when the car GPS has gotten us more lost than if we had used the road signs. In your mention of Giddens examples of the plane, I would say that is closer to a trust in the pilot rather than a trust in the abstract system of the plane.



  5. Thank you for extending upon the idea that modern systems can only be in “impersonal principles that only “answer back” in a statistical way” (114-115). I had similar thoughts during these passages of his text. As you made clear in your response, a massive part of our faith in abstract systems do depend upon personal relations, like your mailman whom you’ve known for so many years. Faith in personal relationships makes me think about how abstract systems would function if they become totally impersonal. Would these systems run more efficiently, or would they crumble without close relationships to others? As we as a society advance technologically, it is incredibly possible that personal relationships in systems will disappear and of that happens how will it be handled?


  6. You argued that “There are aspects of personal relationships in abstract systems too, which Giddens doesn’t mention,” and go on to give the example of a mail man being a personal connection to an abstract system. Giddens does, however, mention this—he calls these people “access points.” As Giddens writes, “Encounters with the representatives of abstract systems,” which in the example you give would be the mail carrier, a representative of the mail system, “…may be regularized and may easily take on characteristics of trustworthiness and intimacy.” (85) This allows for a more rewarding connection with something, because people do not get the same experience interacting with an abstract system as they do with another person. It is one of the ways to reduce psychological vulnerability in a world made of systems we cannot fully understand.
    You ended with the curious statement that “there are still personal principles in abstract systems that society has not figured out how to get rid of yet,” suggesting that getting rid of personal interaction is a goal that society has. Perhaps it may seem that way, as the world becomes more complex, but I think it is an unintentional consequence more than a goal, and a consequence that is sometimes exaggerated. As you pointed out, there are still personal interactions in abstract systems.



  7. Matt,

    Your explanation of abstract systems was definitely very helpful, and I liked that you used the method of uncovering values, which is a method that was not commonly used by many people. Using Giddens example of air travel was also a very good idea, it helped further the idea of abstract systems and made the idea much more understandable to the reader. Bringing up the quote on page 114, “In the case of abstract systems, by contrast, trust presumes faith in impersonal principles, which “answer back” only in a statistical way when they do not deliver the outcomes which the individual seeks”, and using it to introduce your next set of views was also extremely helpful. The mail is a great example of an abstract system involving personal trust, my family too has great trust in our mailman, yet it is absolutely still an abstract system. You finish off your post by stating that Giddens is correct, but there is still a little bit more to his philosophy that he failed to touch upon; overall your post was very informative and helpful.


  8. Matt,

    You offer an interesting example here of the “personal relationship involved in mail, the mailman.” As some of your classmates have pointed out, this mailman could be understood as an “access point,” the face of an otherwise abstract system. In other words, your mailman delivers your mail, sure. But he doesn’t personally fly to California to get mail that’s sent to you from the west coast. That said, I wonder if you’re on to something when you suggest that such flesh-and-blood access points are waning. If so, what are the effects of that process?



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