The Fallacy of Trustlessness

I am a big supporter and believer in the blockchain technology. After I fell down “the rabbit hole” I have become that we are on the verge of a technological revolution and blockchain technology will play an integral role.

As with many innovations, there technological and systemic issues that need to be addressed, from basic UX, operational accountability, marketing, and regulations, but also ideology. As often with innovations, the initial idea for the use-case is not necessarily the one that will get adoption, and sometimes the most significant inventions are the one repurposed for their ultimate use case.

One thing that has bugged me from the start, however, is the concept and rhetoric of “Trustlessness.” To me, it is a destructive idea and a fallacious argument.

Trustlessness:

In the blockchain and crypto community, one of the resounding arguments through the years is that the technology offers “Trustlessness.”

The “Trustlessness” refers to the fact that it is decentralized, and there is not a need for a centralized validator who will validate the transaction. Instead, the network will verify the transaction via consensus. In it’s purest form, random strangers review transactions and agree that A sent money to B, and we don’t need a bank to tell us that.

As lovely as the technology itself is, there is a fundamental flaw in the argument of trustlessness, and describing it as such is misleading and discouraging. The mechanism introduces a new means to achieve transparency, immutability, and smart contracts that do not necessarily require centralized approval systems, yet, in no way does that eradicate trust nor eliminate the need for it.

What is Trust?

The definition of trust is “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.”

The Blockchain already relies on Trust:

Blockchain technology doesn’t eradicate trust, rather, the technology creates a new way for us to enforce trust end reduce our need to put all our trust in a single party for certain transactions. Further, in theory, it should improve transparency and reduce the risk of corruption that can be a single point of failure in centralized systems, when used correctly.

Further, there are numerous incidents where the user needs to put his trust in the transaction. The user needs assurance that his transaction will go as planned. He needs to trust the transaction uses the right information. In some cases, you need explicitly need to establish Trustlines.

So, while using the Blockchain, trust is always needed in practice, and someone pointed out, it’s a self-enforcing and self-sustaining loop. When A happens, B will follow.

Also, Trust isn’t something that people value in direct correlation to bank balances or deals. Trust is a fabric of society. Trust is a psychological need and essential to persons well being.

Trustlessness is destructive and promotes cynicism:

Something that is trustless has a negative connotation to it, and in fact, it goes against many fundamentals of being human. Further, it promotes cynicism. Trusting someone is beautiful, and one of the greatest things in life come from trusting someone, like family. Knowing that you can trust them is rewarding in itself, and that’s why it hurts so bad when that trust breaks.

Let’s find a better word:

I get why the word is used, and I understand what is meant by it, but it is not the right word.

We need to think of it as a “Trust mechanism,” “trust enhancement.” Something that in general empowers trust, rather than devalues it. Something that is positive and describes better what it means.

People want to have trust in the blockchain; in fact, we as humans need to.

No smart contract can nor should, replace trust, in the sense that we need it to exist. The technology is practical.

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