Written by Sanford Begley
Trust. According to research, our society is considered a high trust society. This means that if your new neighbor comes over and wants to borrow a pair of pruning shears you don’t think twice, you let him. This is made possible because our society is a high trust one. We do not expect everyone to steal and lie simply because we are not family. One of the mechanisms that allows this is the public censure of individuals who violate that trust. If your neighbor steals, even if it can’t be proven in a court of law, other neighbors will notice this and cease extending him those opportunities.
In practice this has worked well through most of our nation’s history. We have had relatively small communities and the theft had other consequences. Credit was not extended. People were less likely to hire you. When someone did hire you you weren’t left in positions where you could steal again. The mechanism wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough that we don’t consider bars on the windows of the average home a necessity.
That level of trust has even extended to our large cities for the most part. Most people follow the mores of the community even if they can get away with violating them. Other societies are not so fortunate. The Arab society, for example has always been a low trust society. You trust your brother before your cousin, your cousin before the village, your village before your region etc.
Now we are seeing a lessening of trust in our society. We are still a high trust society, but it isn’t quite as high as it has been historically. Why is that? Well there are many reasons. The simplest and probably most pervasive is the widening gap between segments of our society. When people are raised for generations being told that they are victims, that another subset of the community has stolen everything from them and that they are owed, well, they feel entitled to take what they feel they are owed.
Add that to a lack of consequences for their actions and the problem expands. If you are told that you will never hold a real job and your only way of ever having anything is to steal it, well you were raised to believe it, so you steal. When you get caught, and your immediate community says that it is wrong to punish you, you feel that you are wronged by being punished for your crimes. We have all heard the stories of families claiming their child should not have been killed by a homeowner for breaking in, “How else is he supposed to get school clothes?”
Another reason for the problem is the resentment of the mainstream of society for the direction crime and punishment is going. Rightly or wrongly the average American who is trying to make a life and a better future for his children sees the state of the legal system and feels almost equally victimized. They know that if a gangster breaks into their home and robs them an attorney will claim that the poor unfortunate youth was simply left with no choice and that they are horrible people for calling the police. The police are getting afraid of arresting criminals for fear that any force needed will backlash on them, even resulting in them going to prison for trying to do their best to protect and serve.
The police are often in a position where they feel they cannot trust anyone. The people they spend the majority of their time with are criminals. Which subconsciously leads many of them to assume all people are criminals. Add that to the fact that many police departments have had their jobs switched from protecting the public to revenue gathering and things start to get a little untrusting. On top of this the SWAT teams are the glory positions, on police forces, so they get oversized and used instead of a regular officer. And the increasing bounty of surplus military equipment being issued and it is getting to the point where there is little trust of the public for law enforcement, and no trust of the public by law enforcement.
We have time to change this slide into a low trust society where everyone turns their hands against their neighbors, but that time is running out. What do I see as the first steps in fixing the problem?
Well we could start by erasing the plethora of bad and useless laws that effectively make everything illegal. We could start expecting the members of various interest groups to start obeying the laws and being punished when they do not. We could remove from positions of influence those who profit by dividing us. And we could start holding our elected representatives to a higher standard.
Do I think we will do any of those things? Sadly no.