“Social trust” is a term sociologists use for the confidence we all have in each other within the social networks that comprise our everyday lives. Social trust is the lubricant that allows communities to function and thus one of the glues that holds societies together. If we trust other members of our social networks we’ll do business with them, respect their interests, work with them to maintain our community, join civic organizations with them, and trust them when they hold cultural and political power over us. Social trust is vital in developing our “social capital,” the good will, sympathy, and connections in our communities that we can (reciprocally! use to our advantage. High levels of social trust/social capital leads to better lives, stronger communities and a more united nation.
Okay, maybe I’ve been reading too much Sociology for Dummies. Still, a lot of observers are really worried that Americans’ trust in each other is falling apart. The political polarization that we talk about a lot is just one part of it. On Monday I will explain in a little more detail what I mean. I’ll lay out why experts think social trust is so important and whether/why we may be losing ours.
Here are some targeted discussion questions to ponder and a little basic reading on social trust.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- CONCEPTS: What is social trust? What are its components and how is its level measured? How does it relate to social capital?
- IMPORTANCE: Why does social trust matter? Historically, who has had high/low levels of it in America? What do individuals and societies lack when social trust is low?
- DECLINED? Has our social trust fallen? Evidence?
- WHY? What caused the fall? Is it rational or irrational (are people less trustworthy?), cause or effect (of other problems like rising inequality or higher immigration), temporary or enduring?
- INSTITUTIONS: Trust in most major U.S. institutions (govt, big biz, news media, etc.) has collapsed. Is this related to falling social trust?
- POLITICS: Is falling trust a cause or effect of our political polarization and paralysis?
- FUTURE: Will social trust keep declining? Could the internet reverse that?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- The importance of social capital and social trust.
- “The Decline of trust in the United States.” Your big recommended read.
- Institutions: We’ve lost trust in almost all our major institutions. Recommended.
- Causes? One study says rising poverty and inequality. Maybe.
- In politics, partisan distrust has turned into hate.
- Obama and trust: What he tried to do and why it failed. Recommended.
- Trump and trust: He lives off of growing White distrust of a changing society.
–> The silent majority has become an enraged minority.
Next Week: Would a female president govern differently?