Social Animals
In Way Too Little We Trust

Why social trust matters, and seven reasons for its decline.

Appeared in: Volume 13, Number 4 | Published on: December 13, 2017
Adam Garfinkle is editor of The American Interest.
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  • Fat_Man

    Another cry for help from Garfinkle.

  • Everett Brunson

    The glue that holds military organizations together are the non-commissioned officers. It is they who take the pronouncements from the officer corps and translate them into useful instructions for rank and file soldiers. They are also the keeper of norms and traditions within the military community. In a similar manner it is the middle class that has long been the keeper of social norms and traditions in American Society.

    If applying Garfinkles’ seven points as an overlay to today’s social structures one can see how the reduction of the middle class reflects, at least, a correlational, if not causational, point to point intersection. This especially seems true if one further subdivides the seven points in that 1. immigration-driven heterogeneity, 2. the decline of traditional religious mores and related informal norms, 3. technology-driven isolation, seem to be the drivers of middle class breakdown which has then contributed to 4. the backwash of institutional dysfunction and elite dethronement, 5. the media-driven “mean world syndrome,” 6. family instability and breakdown, which then results in the 7. excessive intrusiveness of the state.

    How much excessive intrusiveness of the state (7) contributed to family instability and breakdown (6) or vice versa can be debated. Great Society Programs were intended to assist the lower economic classes but in time “trickled up” to the middle economic classes.

    • D4x

      5. mean world syndrome is a reflection of the politics of negative fear that underlies the photos Garfinkle uses to reflect his dark opinions This is my view of the Statue of Liberty – blue skies and what used to be a vibrant city, even though I lived there (the Central Park Five were arrested in front of my apartment building in 1989) during the worst crime, dirt, trash, perverts-and-drug-dealers-on-the-street years, 1978-1991:
      When I moved back in 2001, those blue skies were still there, but this is what Adam’s America became: especially on Nov. 5, 2008, the first time I was ever assaulted on a sidewalk for being white, by the high school students who saw me see them beating a white student in a doorway. All I was doing was walking by, to get a late lunch. Now, that photo symbolizes what Adam’s words, and media’s ‘mean world’ have done to the America where I always lived just fine, as a minority; my high school became Havana High; and 25 years in NYC outside Adam’s cocoon of privilege; but only became fearful since Nov. 5, 2008.

      I just can not read his words anymore. I skimmed the seven points, but, the photos from his cocoon scream: propaganda.
      I never did get to visit Lady Liberty – it was under repairs forever, then , too many tourists, then 9/11 cut downtown off, then Bloomberg turned Manhattan into Disneyland for Wall Street. Still remember the blue skies, and the architecture, and always wanting to wake up in the morning, until Nov. 5, 2008.

      • Psalms13626

        If Israel can carry on, than so can we. Through the night and blood, towards the light.

      • Everett Brunson

        Look to your Disqus feed for a partial reply.

        On the Townhall:
        That sure does not sound to me to be the remarks of someone who is planning on leaving in January. I have not seen a hint from the White House (POTUS) or WH staff there is any move to replace Sec. Tillerson. In watching and reading excerpts of the various meetings around the world I, again, do not see a man or an organization that appears at cross purposes with Presidential policy. In fact, what I do see is a man who is in complete agreement with the President’s position vis a vis the ME, China, and Korea.

        Last night I watched an old Kirk Douglas movie–Ace in the Hole. (And well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it) The main thrust is how a reporter (Douglas) cynically maneuvers the people around him to force the narrative of a story (a man trapped in a cave) for his own personal gain. It speaks much about people willing to sacrifice their own integrity for their own personal gain at the cost of the trapped man. I doubt TCM noticed the irony when they chose it to highlight the movie’s selection to the Library of Congress Film Archives. It seems to me the whole question of Tillerson leaving, or being forced out by Trump over policy disagreement a concoction of the Media to sow discord and nothing more. The same goes with all of the rumors about the firing of Mueller. The only people raising the issue is the press–as if by continually beating the horse the sheeple will take it as fact.

        Tillerson’s redesign process seems to be going well. In that it appears the stake-holders have buy in. In his synopsis I like the bottom up approach he and his senior staff have taken. If we only understand the process as portrayed by the press it sounds more like Sherman’s March to the Sea instead of internally welcomed changes that elevate individual worth, ease of communication, clarity of position, and pathways to promotion.

        • D4x

          Yes, that has been my point about Tillerson all along. Just caught up on DPBs from Dec 5, 7, 12 & 13 – who needs Hollywood? Wish I could spend the time viewing the videos – new reporters are showing up, not sure who is tired of AP’s Matt Lee dominating the DPBs, must g o first, always obsessed with Israel – and wonder if there is a betting pool to see if anyone ever asks Nauert about her introductory news. What I have been seeing at TAI is worse: they deliberately post about an issue to deflect from actual news about that issue – I only follow foreign policy – but it is part of a greater conspiracy to ‘disappear’ Team Trump. As if they do not exist, have not been strategically working on serious issues every single day. I have lost another year of life because of this pure evil calumny. State is just fine, whether America can survive American media/punditry is far less certain. Wish I had never been born, to live the past twenty-five years, and it comes to something worse than any dystopia I have ever read.

          December 07, 2017 DPB transcript:
 NAUERT: Matt, that is your opinion. That is your opinion, but the President announced his policy, and we are pushing ahead with that policy.
          QUESTION: Okay. […][Jerusalem…]
          QUESTION: But it must have dominated —
          MS NAUERT: But he did have some face-to-face conversations
          with some of his counterparts about this issue, but there are many important issues facing the United States. We have a whole world to deal with. Okay? Let’s switch onto something else because I don’t have anything else for you on this.

          December 12, 2017 DPB transcript:

          QUESTION: — Heather, how – that was a very nice, full-throated support of freedom of the press you just gave, but how
          comfortable are you doing that and how comfortable are you that you can speak for the entire administration given the fact that you just went off on the – you heavily criticized Poland for this – going after a TV station for biased reporting, but we’re hearing the same thing coming out of the White House every day. Criticism, yes, not legal action, at least not yet. Are you comfortable —
          MS NAUERT: Well —
          QUESTION: — that you speak for the entire administration —
          MS NAUERT: — I think —
          QUESTION: — in your support for —
          MS NAUERT: I think that – I think these instances are night and day. The administration is rightfully concerned about some erroneous reporting that’s come out. I have said to some of you here before – although I think you are all terrific reporters here at the State Department. We are very lucky to have a professional group of reporters who take the issues as seriously as you do. There have been in the past mistakes that have been made.
          Whether or not they have been intentional or not on the part of reporters, I cannot speak to because I’m not involved in that. But there have been times in the past where reporters have just frankly gotten it wrong, and I understand that members of the administration would be concerned about reporters getting things wrong.

          But I am not going to back away from my defense of a free and fair press that reports responsibly and accurately. That is something that we stand for here in the United States. We like to set an example for other countries and talk about how we can have uncomfortable conversations here in this room. You’re asking me that very question. That is what we stand for. You [RT] from the Russian Government, you were asking me those questions too. You are welcome here anytime. That is what we stand for here in the United States —

          December 13, 2017 DPB transcript:

          […]MS NAUERT: Okay, Matt, get on the airplane and come along.
          QUESTION: Sorry, sorry. My fault.
          MS NAUERT: Okay, shall we move on? Okay, okay. […]
          MS NAUERT: Let’s move on from North Korea. What do we want to talk about next?
          QUESTION: (Off-mike.)
          MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.
          QUESTION: One more North Korea.
          QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on —
          MS NAUERT: We already covered Jerusalem.
          QUESTION: I know, but I – but you moved on to North Korea
          too quickly.
          MS NAUERT: Okay. Nope, we’re – I’ve got nothing more. I’ve
          got nothing more on Israel. I have nothing more on North Korea. So let’s move in. We’ve got a big world out there. Does anyone want to ask me about the reporters who were arrested in Burma? Anybody from Reuters here? […]

          Who needs Hollywood? I did not even check the video –

          • Everett Brunson

            I’m just back from reading the full transcript of Nauert’s DPB on 12/12. Two observations—Matt isn’t the only disingenuous reporter on the State beat. Some of the questions by people who I would like to trust, but whose actions and questions leave me cold, has resigned me to the fact that no one in the press corps is interested in the well being of the United States. Rather they waste time on whether the Embassy move to Jerusalem will be two years, three years, or ten–as if they are not aware of the real issues contingent upon the move. All they are after is to find some mis-step they can amplify for purely political reasons. It makes me want to puke.

            Secondly, related to the first, Nauert impresses me just as much as Sarah Sanders. The ultimate schoolmarm in a second grade classroom. Today’s Our Miss Brooks.

  • QET

    A welcome foray into matters far more important than mere policy. Garfinkle practically plagiarizes Axel Honneth in laying “reciprocal shared expectations” at the base of social life. And I have more than once in these pages quoted Iris Murdoch’s statement to the same effect as Scott’s quoted by Garfinkle.

    The second Blankenhorn excerpt, however, is worse than useless. Such statements, which are depressingly common, are mere tautologies, matters of definition. All of those prescriptions presuppose a harmonious social life. They are the very definition of it. Make society more just. Reduce inequality. Well gee, why didn’t you just say so? One just society of equals, coming up, Mr. Blankenhorn! Would you like fries with that?

    What Garfinkle leaves out of his account is human will. Assertion of will is the paramount human concern. Such assertion is not merely a matter of “expressive individualism” but of satisfaction that one’s own will has shaped one’s social (and natural) environment. How else to explain the phenomenon of uneducated black 18 year-olds demanding admission into Harvard, Yale etc. and immediately upon arrival demanding that the curriculum that made those institutions great and worthy of seeking admission to be replaced with a curriculum whose sole virtue is that it has been produced by people who aren’t white? The mere presence of portraits of white persons offends. Mastery of knowledge produced by Europeans–knowledge that is continually said to be the key to economic success, of which blacks claim they have far too little–is subordinated to the more pressing need to see their own will reflected back at them in their surroundings. Far easier to redefine “knowledge” to accommodate their will than to subordinate their will to mastery of knowledge produced by persons other than their own kind.

    And it’s not just blacks: every particular identity group is seeking the exact same thing.

    Injustice and inequality are hoary bywords that continue to be taken by intellectuals for the underlying reasons motivating people’s polarizing and partisan actions, when it is patently the case that their motivations are the assertions of their own wills. It matters not what gets destroyed in the process and what gets built in its place, so long as it is they who have built it. This is an unresolvable problem in a nation of such huge numbers that is not pressed into social unity by an external threat. Only if we could somehow return to the kind of true federalism envisioned by the Anti-Federalists, one where the national government was extremely limited in its authority and the states were true sovereigns, could the various identity groups find their way into different states and, in those smaller civic populations, order their respective state societies according to their respective wills.

  • Anthony

    “As America’s problems go, the hemorrhaging of social trust is a torque for the future.” (Adam Garfinkle) – Anthropology, Sociology, Political Theory.

    Perhaps, what is happening as the average citizen looks on in disbelief (confusion, anger, frustration, fraying social connections, etc.) is that an outworn, patched politico-economic system is cracking, while no serious steps are taken to ascertain the causes and remedies (Garfinkle’s 7 inclusive). A thought from reading this long piece is that the causes of American insufficiency at home (and perhaps abroad too) are political, not economic, or at least political before they are economic – essentially they are cultural. Concomitantly, serious problems cannot be solved on the basis of a consensus of value-disoriented instrumentalities (people, institutions, arrangements, etc.).

    Simply, “a diverse America requires constant reminders of ‘e pluribus unum’ andthe need for assimilation and integration. The idea of Americanism is an undeniably brutal bargain which we all give up primary allegiance to our tribes in order to become fellow Americans redefined by shared ideas rather than mere appearances.” – basis for Garfinkle’s diminishing social trust perhaps.

  • Otis

    A good, thoughtful essay made better by the fact that it is the first Garfinkle piece in a long time without any gratuitous Trump-bashing. Keep it up!

  • TBL123

    This reminds me of Jonathan Haidt’s 2015 essay about how U.S. politics polarized to an unhealthy and broken degree. Haidt’s 10-point list overlaps somewhat with Garfinkle’s 7-point list about the breakdown of trust. Both mention heterogeneity due to immigration, differing values due in part to divisions of economic class and urban/rural locations (that’s covered by one of Haidt’s points and two of Garfinkle’s), and in my view Haidt’s point about “cross-party friendships” also connects with what Garfinkle called institutional failure (as it occurs in part due to polarization and distrust itself).

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