Monday, July 07, 2014

Is Generalized Trust a Fruit of Privilege?

I am working on how some people come to have a sense that people in general can be trusted. 

Some argue that we learn particularized trust from experience with specific people in specific institutions.  Generalized trusters then generalize from that experience.  This is Robert Putnam's position in Bowling Alone.

Others argue that we learn generalized trust at home as part of our morals, prior to and independent of our experiences in particular institutions.  This is Eric Uslaner's position in The Moral Foundations of Trust.

I incline to Uslaner's position. I would modify it by saying that generalized trust does depend on how trustworthy we find our family to be.  More exactly, I think most people find it hard to trust if they feel betrayed by adults when they are young, especially by the adults in their own families.

Uslaner found that people from intact, mainline religious families were more likely to be generalized trusters.

We know from other evidence that people from intact, mainline religious families are also more likely to enjoy most of the privileges of our society, made all the more powerful because they do not realize that they are privileged. 

SO, is generalized trust a fruit of that privilege?

My best thought at this moment is that privilege insulates you from many of the betrayals that would undermine a sense that people in general can be trusted.  Privilege does not produce trust, nor guarantee it.  But privilege reduces the circumstances in a young life that would undermine generalized trust.


Pancho said...

A happy childhood is no preparation for life.

Gruntled said...

I can't agree with you - I think a happy childhood is the best preparation for life, and a gift to the lives of others.