I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
No one left to trust?
At the library the other day, I picked up a book that’s since held me transfixed with its simple explanation of many of the cataclysmic societal changes we’ve already seen — and its accuracy in describing some to come.
It’s called “True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society,” by regular Salon contributor Farhad Manjoo, and in six short chapters, it details the behind-the-scenes machinations behind the Swiftboating of John Kerry, the 9/11 conspiracy movement, the so-called “AIDS doubters” who ignore all scientific evidence that HIV causes AIDS, and much more.
Manjoo is fascinating as he uses these case studies to attempt to explain how it is that apparently reasonable Americans see the world so differently. The collapse of the mainstream media and the rise of citizen journalists posting to You Tube and Flikr and countless blogs is just one of the phenomenons he examines as he looks for what forces truly influence Americans now.
But it’s the book’s epilogue that stayed with me for days.
That final chapter, called “Living in a World Without Trust,” looks at the plummeting rates of trust among Americans since the 1960s.
Specifically, according to Manjoo, the rates of so-called “generalized trust” among two American strangers from a given community has dropped from nearly 60 percent in 1960 to a low of 32 percent in 2006.
Manjoo cites the 1954 study “The Moral Basis of a Backward Society,” by political scientist Edward Banfield, in which Banfield determined to find out why villagers in Northern Italy were prospering and thriving, while villagers in Southern Italy remained peasants.
After studying the residents of one small unnamed town, Banfield issued his finding: The people of the town could not act together for their common good because they did not trust each other. Women who saw the doctor lied about their symptoms, because they didn’t want to reveal any weaknesses. Fathers told their sons to lie about how many goats the familly owned. No one would report corruption because they thought the accusations would surely be twisted to include them.
In short, concluded Banfield, they didn’t trust each other enough to “act together for the common good, or indeed, for any end transcending the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family.”
Of course, when Manjoo published his book back in July, he had no idea about the scandal to come involving Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff.
This week and last, we learned Madoff is suspected of bilking investors out of up to $50 billion.
I’m not the only one who laments the increasing lack of trust that Madoff’s alleged betrayal is about to rain upon our collective heads.
In this article for Slate, writer Anne Applebaum somewhat dramatically predicts that Madoff’s deception and the coming fallout could cripple American capitalism.
Applebaum mentions another book, “Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity” by Francis Fukayama, that describes the differences between fairly primitive “low trust” societies and the “high trust” society that America has, so far, been able to maintain (gotta put that one on the reading list).
Think I’m overreacting?
Well, another sad story that dominated the airwaves this week shows that a single, tragic, resonant event and its fallout can truly cause galvanic change in American society — albeit in a completely different way.
Twenty-seven years ago, a trusting mother left her little boy left alone for a few minutes in a Hollywood, Fla. department store and never saw him alive again. The kidnapping and murder of 6-year old Adam Walsh all those years ago — but only solved this week — changed public policy and literally changed the way people parented their young children.
But sadly, these changes were based squarely on fear.
What (the Adam Walsh case and his father’s advocacy) also did, said Mount Holyoke College sociologist and criminologist Richard Moran, is make children and adults alike exponentially more afraid.
“He ended up really producing a generation of cautious and afraid kids who view all adults and strangers as a threat to them and it made parents extremely paranoid about the safety of their children,” Moran told reporters just after police closed their investigation into the Walsh case Tuesday.
In the epilogue to his book, Majnoo predicts American’s continuing erosion of trust will lead to further factionalizing and fear for all of us — and I’m afraid he’s right.