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From High Social Trust to Low

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We’ve gone from a high to a low social trust society. 

Either from ignorance or malice, some people like to portray those who favor a strong border as xenophobic.  In reality, the desire for a defined national community could come from many legitimate places- a desire for meaningful and participatory citizenship could be one reason, a national tradition and sense of patriotism could be another.  The innate human desire for belonging and identity could be another reason to believe in borders.  These reasons and other don’t preclude xenophobia as a possible reason for wanting strong borders, but they do point out the fact that not everyone who wants a functioning border is a racist.  Regardless, and for many more reasons than immigration and the loosening of our border policy, the USA has changed from a high social trust society, to a low social trust society in the past 50-75 years.  On top of that, social trust only seems to be going down.  Charles Murray’s excellent “Coming Apart” about the hypothetical representative towns of “Fishtown” and “Belmont” is a good introductory start to this topic if you’ve never read it.

The first step it to point out the problem.  Scholars know that a low social trust society is one that’s more stressful to live in, even if people within the society are affluent on paper.  Think of the growing numbers of gated communities popping up all around us, something unheard of even in the 1990s. The main thing that can be done to build a sense of community is to reject ideological radicalism and to form social bonds centered around common goals.  Maybe it’s to build up a religious community, improve a city, or build a better and safer neighborhood.  Whatever it is, think local and build bridges where you can.  Most importantly, even if you disagree with someone, don’t take away their humanity. 

Another excellent book to check out is:

The Quest for Community by Robert Nisbet

Read next:  The Quest for Community: A Call for Public Health

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