A Guest Post from someone who wants to be known only as “Bastiat” deals with the importance of trust in a free society. Without trust, it is questionable whether freedom can exist or on what basis. When trust disappears or even declines, it implies a society vastly different from what we are used to.
What holds a society together?
In these troubling times, it is a question worth asking. While society is an unknowable and complex abstract, I think there is a very simple and very useful two-part answer to this question:
- The division of labor
The division of labor should make intuitive sense. Rather than all of us learning to make our own shoes, bake our own bread, grow our own food and sew our own clothes we are all better off if we specialize and trade. That way, we tend to do what we each do best increasing the productivity of society. As a result there is a a higher quality of more goods available. Clearly, we’re all better off if we specialize and trade. This benefit encourages social cooperation among individuals.
Trust is the tricky one.
The division of labor only works when there is exchange. And to enter into exchange, especially complex exchange, you’ve got to trust that the other person will hold up his end of the bargain. You’re also got to have confidence that the rules of the game won’t change as you are playing it. As far as possible you want to know the risks and manage them. Against The Gods is an excellent and entertaining study in how much of the modern world is made possible by the management of risk.
There is a basic presumption of fairness and equity that allows the decent folks of the world to truck and barter in peace; to work their jobs and live their lives in relative peace and security. The fancy word for this is justice.
The absurdity of the media spectacle surrounding Treyvon Martin is breathtaking. If it were not so tragic, there would be huge amusement to be found. Perhaps my favorite bit is the ability of pundits and race pimps to take a Hispanic guy with a Jewish last name and magically transform him into a Caucasian. I suppose (in accordance with the dull mythology of our age) the logic goes something like this: he’s a villain, therefore he must be white. Seriously, check out this New York Times article
But the nonsense of race-baiting is unimportant here. No matter how you creatively read the awkward narrative that is playing out in the media you get two facts
- One or both or parties were pretty stupid. (Seriously, only an idiot goes looking for trouble in the rain.)
- We’re a profoundly racist country. There is no chance of this matter being adjudicated separate from race. We simply do not judge people by the content of their character, but rather, we grant people all manner of special privileges based on their real or perceived ethnic background. As Thomas Sowell has so ably observed, in many books, just because people share the same skin color does not mean they share the same culture.
What we can all agree on about the Trayvon Martin shooting.
No one has the expectation that justice is being done or the the truth is being served. A recent Reuters Poll found that 68 percent of those surveyed – including 70 percent of whites, 69 percent of blacks and 57 percent of Hispanics – said the real story of that night would probably never be known.
That poll reveals the real tragedy. It’s bad when anyone gets killed, (even if you believe in capital punishment, you must agree that it would be better if the crime necessitating the punishment had been avoided.) but if you believe that the tragedy is that a kid in a hoodie was shot, I think you miss the bigger picture.
This erosion of trust, embodied in the belief that the real story will never be known, and by extension that justice cannot be done, is an indicator of the extent to which our society has collapsed. From the top to the bottom, the fog of bullshit is so thick, none of us can see our way through it anymore.
We have lost our ability to come to terms and produce justice. The majority of us no longer trust the official account. And we’re not wrong to do so.
When trust breaks down, so does the basis of societal cooperation.
The shooting of Treyvon Martin is not a result of the fraying of our societal fabric, but it reveals our lack of faith that justice will be done. Or that anything resembling reason is in operation. I don’t know how we managed to lose our sense of justice, but there it is.
Is the Trayvon Martin episode merely a symptom of our decline? Are we becoming barbaric as has been alleged in Britain?