Abstract: Distrust is one of the main barriers to cooperation, and social life in Sateni (Romania) is rife with fear of predation or harm and suspicion towards fellow villagers. The low levels of cooperation appear from the design of households and the elaboration of mortuary rituals to systems of inheritance and local politics. Moreover, cultural representations of morality reveal a tendency towards familial autarchy and perennial competition even with relatives and neighbours.
Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork, I will discuss why intense distrust is not irrational but a reasonable, precautionary approach to social interaction. A complex interplay of evolved mental inclinations, ecological factors, and long-term historical processes kept Sateni at a low equilibrium of cooperation reproduced by high risks of costly deception or predation and by various barriers to mutualism. However, the boundary between trust and distrust shows signs of evolution over time, suggesting the relevance of life-history analysis and micro-macro causal relationships for social and cultural phenomena.