Monday, December 02, 2013

mistrustful Americans

A recent poll indicates that Americans apparently no longer trust each other. How true this is, overall, I have no idea; I lived for a few years in the small mountain town of Front Royal, Virginia, and people there seemed to trust each other just fine. It was the sort of town in which you'd feel safe leaving your car door unlocked in the Food Lion parking lot. Admittedly, this may have had something to with the fact that Front Royal is the county seat for Warren County, Virginia, which means there was a very high concentration of police vehicles there.

Anti-diversity conservatives (see my post here) might seize upon this poll as evidence of the corrosive effect of diversity: the more the diversity, the less the overall sense of community, leading to a decreased trust in one's fellows. Perhaps America is slowly becoming a low-trust society; I wouldn't know, but I also wouldn't be too quick to blame this erosion on diversity: South Korea is an extremely low-trust society, and in comparison to the United States, is sorely lacking in ethnic and cultural diversity.* Mistrust is more of a cultural phenomenon than a racial/ethnic one.

Many factors doubtless play into the increasing feeling of mistrust in America. As interactive technologies, such as social networking, produce the ironic effect of isolating us further in our own homes, this isolation makes us socially stunted and awkward. Political squabbling is now leading to Americans' wanting to live in neighborhoods among people of a like-minded political outlook. The current conservative push toward more balkanization isn't helping matters; as I argued previously, ethnic purity increases ethnic ignorance.

If this poll is correct (and I'm not sure that it is; the linked article doesn't mention how many people were polled), this is a sad turn of events. The erosion of trust in a society necessarily means an erosion of that society. Let's hope this isn't the case, but if it is, let's work toward a rebuilding of the trust we've lost.

*Live here long enough, of course, and you'll see diversity peeking out all over the place. Koreans aren't all of the same racial stock (despite their silly danil-minjok, or "one race," attitude), and regional loyalties (with attendant differences in accent and local culture) ensure that diversity will reign: each region, in touting its own uniqueness, has an interest in doing things differently from surrounding regions.



Bratfink said...

What is meant by 'trust'?

I don't trust people enough to leave our vehicle unlocked while in the driveway, although Bill did that (against my advice!) until it was rifled through and a bunch of stuff stolen from it. A hard lesson to learn, of course, but at least they didn't tear the stereo out of the dash. (An iPod is a better stereo, to be honest!)

Anyway, my point is what are the trust areas? Trust my neighbors to call the fire dept. if flames are coming from my roof?

I dunno. 'Trust' seems vague to me.

Bratfink said...

OH! I remembered one more point I wanted to make.

If Americans are getting worse about trusting people in money matters perhaps it comes down to the fact that right now there are a LOT of people hurting in American due to the (lack of) jobs situation.

I imagine there are people out there who don't have friends and relatives that won't let them hungry and with the loss of food stamps to so many people... well, what's a person to do?

I know not everyone who steals is trying to feed themselves or their families, but *I* wonder how many people are? Hunger is a great motivator.



Kevin Kim said...

Ruth, I think you bring up a really good point, as well as a strong reason to be skeptical of this poll. Good research methodology involves a clear definition of terms, and a term like "trust" is inherently fuzzy, elusive, and subjective.

I, too, would be curious to know what sort of terminological assumptions undergird the polling. For survey purposes, the word "trust" has to be turned into something directly or indirectly quantifiable. Is that even possible?

It's a shame the article doesn't directly reference the poll or talk about its methodology (as other articles often do when discussing polling). That's shoddy journalism, in my opinion.

Charles said...

Wait, was this poll conducted by Americans? I'm not sure I can trust it...