I've been tinkering with an idea about trust, and its relation to organized religions and other socially insular groups. Trust between individuals, I felt, was bolstered by a mutual, implicit commitment to some set of prescribed moral rules. However, it struck me yesterday that in commerce a similar sort of thing has occurred: cooperative trade is made trustworthy not because the transacting individuals demonstrate mutual trust in some moral code, but instead they trust in a set of social and legal rules which carry clear, punitive outcomes. Cash can be seen to aid this trust because it is something which people trading in it mutually believe in - the value of money.
The punitive measures in this framework are clearly motivated by the desire to be apparent and utilitarian - not *fair*. We can almost certainly see that preserving the value of money is a public and social good with high worth to any individual in possession of a twenty-dollar bill. Yet despite this, carrying out punishment against individuals merely believed to be in violation of the rules governing money may violate the moral principle of treating people only ever as ends. Therefore, I'm not sure I can agree that an institutional arrangement like this one is *subject* to the same moral constraints. An aggregate group of people abiding by a set of rules, thus comprising an institution, may not individually be charged with violating one person's autonomy when the individual in question has engaged with that *institution* and not merely the individuals.
There's another idea here that bugs me though. If cash is a kind of social technology, which works to assist cooperation and reduce disputes via trust in a third, intangible party (as religious dogma does), by what means can we leverage this technology in other areas of interpersonal activity? Indisputably criminal activities, such as unwarranted violence against one's neighbor, might be a violation of the victim's trust in the perpetrator - but this can only be true where the victim and perpetrator know one another. If the victim knows the perpetrator, but not vice-versa, then the criminal can be easily seen as violating the mutual rules which these two abide by, and in this case the *institutional* trust only fades if the consequences that institution mandates - the punishment - is not carried out. If however, the victim does *not* know the perpetrator, regardless of the perpetrator's knowledge, then this abuses the victim's trust in the *institution*.
Thus, rule-mandating institutions serve to offload the resentment one might feel against criminals when they act against one's own person, to the institution itself. For trade of objects, money is mistrusted when it can be easily stolen. For interpersonal violence, people are mistrusted when the courts are unable or unwilling to punish offenders. Seeing the point as the preservation of trust makes it clear why we must also do all in our power to avoid punishing innocents, or allow the value of money to fluctuate wildly -- either would disabuse members of their trust in their respective institutions.
Does religion accomplish the same offloading of resentment for interpersonal violations among members of that group? I think it does, and does so even more clearly when there exists any conflict between the expected consequences mandated by a religious rule, and the consequences afforded by the legal rule. Trust in one or the other on this point is, perhaps, not merely contrary, but contradictory -- a zero-sum game for hearts and minds.