Gun Rights Musings – Social Trust

Since news is relatively scarce, I’m going to start a recurring feature sharing things I’ve come to believe over the past decade. Thinking some more I realized how much my post the other day didn’t really include. Even if there’s no news I can probably think up something every couple of days for a while to fill space. I’ll start with a topic, then opine. Now, what I opine about in these might be bullshit, but it’s bullshit I think about. By all means, if you think I’m wrong, argue.

Today I’m going to talk about how we ended up with much of our current gun control. I don’t mean how we ended up with them politically. How we ended up with them politically is we lost the battle against the Gun Control Act and Brady Act. But there was a larger cultural framework that got us here.

There is a significant difference between rural and urban societies in terms of social trust. Social trust basically means whether you believe in “the honesty, integrity and reliability of others.” Rural populations have higher levels of social trust than urban populations. It’s been shown that rapid urbanization lowers levels of trust, and the United States experienced a significant urbanization, especially in the three decades that followed the Second World War. Moreover that urbanization coincided with a great increase in mobility.

As a society urbanizes and becomes more mobile, in high-trust societies like our own, there’s a tendency to formalize mechanisms of trust. In a non-urbanized society, or even in an urbanized but largely sedentary society, I know not to hire Joe because it is well known that Joe is lazy, his family is lazy, and generally no good. In an urban and mobile society, a process like hiring becomes more formalized. Joe Smith presents a resume. Maybe fills out a job application. He’ll be interviewed. Someone will ask for and check references, etc.

In my opinion, most of the gun controls of the 1960s up until the Brady Act has been driven by the inclination of an urbanizing people to formalize mechanisms of social trust. Social trust in urban or mobile environments can’t come from the fact that you generally know the people around you. I also believe this is why urban populations are more accepting of big government, because it is seen as a necessary agent of building social trust. I’m not saying the gun control advocates who pushed these issues were motivated by promoting social trust. Any successful social movement will pick up on social trends and exploit them. The question is what resonates with ordinary people not engaged closely with your issue? Sometime in the 1990s, the gun control movement switched to exploiting cultural condescension as a social trend.

Polls show that social trust is on the way down. While I think this is bad, because societies with a low level of social trust don’t tend to work very well, I’m not sure it will result in more gun control. It may actually result in less, and people feel less secure. But I think a desire of people to preserve social trust in an urban and mobile society explains much of our current gun control regime. I’m not saying it’s right, or effective, but I am offering an explanation of why we’re here.

21 thoughts on “Gun Rights Musings – Social Trust”

  1. First let me say that I think this sort of “philosophical/social theory” feature is a good idea — because I like thinking about these things too.

    Since I was out of high school before JFK was assassinated, and an adult before GCA ’68 became a reality, I will comment on that period, though I don’t know how much I can contribute on how “we” thought at the time. I would classify myself and my family as part of the “rural” population you refer to, as the county had not yet been paved over at the time.

    BUT — like everyone, I remember the JFK assassination as being a social shocker. Then after that it seemed we entered an era of assassinations, which I guess are defined as politically motivated murders of celebrities. We think of the high profile assassinations, but JFK was followed by the assassinations of Malcolm X, George Lincoln Rockwell (the American Nazi leader), then Martin Luther King and RFK. Those, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War dragging on, gave everyone, whatever their ideology, an impression that everything could be coming apart.

    From my viewpoint, large scale military service probably contributed to the “loss of social trust” you refer to, as country boys like me came home a lot more street-wise (if not “urbanized”) than when we went away. “Street-wise” can perhaps be simplified to “cynicized.” Lots of people learned that our institutions had feet of clay.

    To go off on a small tangent: The nature of “social trust” in rural societies you suggest was very dependent on that society being very homogeneous; meaning I don’t know how true it was, in many rural places. What people “knew” about their neighbors was often a function of biases based on ethnicity or religion; everybody “knew” how “them Italians” or “them Catholics” were, and it was easy for mutual mistrust to be compounded.

    It would be interesting to know how the parameters of “social trust” compare for “more diverse” versus “less diverse” areas that are otherwise equally rural. Is it possible diversity is more a factor than “urban” or “rural,” strictly speaking? For example, how does/did “coal country” in Pennsylvania (populated by sequential waves of immigrants of different ethnicities and religions) compare to the more homogeneous South, or Appalachia, in terms of “social trust?” And from that, did their degrees of social trust correlate with how much gun control they sought or successfully implemented?

  2. Social trust is down because diversity is up. This is the central truth that nobody wants to acknowledge.

    1. That might be a little simplified but IMO is definitely part of the whole problem.
      However the people to blame for that are those that can’t handle diversity rather than diversity itself, if that makes sense. Sure, the latter would be easier, but if you classify diversity as something positive, only the former makes sense.

      Interesting read!

      1. @Arnold: “APR 22, 2017 AT 6:07 PM
        That might be a little simplified but IMO is definitely part of the whole problem.
        However the people to blame for that are those that can’t handle diversity rather than diversity itself, if that makes sense”

        First, let me point to the oft-used tactic (see: Whetherman’s use of this tactic) of deconstructing whiteness in order to pretend as if Somali and Arab populations will somehow integrate in a similar fashion to previous waves of “white ethnics”. Our society views all white people as a single group just as it views all black people as a single group, all Spanish-speaking people as a single group, etc. Each group defends its unique interests AS a group, *except* for whites, who are for all practical purposes prohibited from organizing as a group with interests to defend. Pointing out that the Irish weren’t exactly welcomed in the late 19th to early 20th century is nothing more than a tactic to prevent the formation of group cohesion *today*.

        I should point this out too: Yes, I have very close friends and family who are not white. And I’m a “racist” at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.

        Secondly, the idea that white racism is entirely to blame for the whole situation is ridiculous. Go ahead and send your kids to public school in Philly and let me know how you feel about things then.

        And another thing – the whole idea that “diversity” (read: unassimilable third-world brown people) is somehow the natural progression of things is fucking retarded. It used to be plain common sense that people are not interchangeable economic units and that the dirt under our feet will not magically change this fact. But now we’re forbidden to notice this.

        “Sure, the latter would be easier, but if you classify diversity as something positive, only the former makes sense.”

        Nearly all white people proclaim their love of diversity because they *have* to. The proof is where they choose to live, where their kids go to school, the bars they hang out in, etc.

        Why can’t we all just admit that we prefer to be comfortable in our surroundings and stop feeling guilty about it?

        1. “Pointing out that the Irish weren’t exactly welcomed in the late 19th to early 20th century is nothing more than a tactic to prevent the formation of group cohesion *today*.

          But it seems to me you are the one who is fantasizing a “group cohesion” and creating a group where there is none and never has been. The Irish make a particularly good example because they in fact were not considered racially “white” by Anglo-Saxons (Americans and British) in the middle of the 19th century. So, where would your “group cohesion” have been at that time? It would have sucked to be Irish, I guess — and hey, it did!

          And historically, a lot of the old farmers where I grew up, had been adults before the end of the 19th century. I remember one instructing me, in my teens, “Italians got a lot of [n-word] blood; lay a gun and a knife on the table and an Italian will go for the knife first, just like an [n-word].” So, where would our group cohesion have been if we had been required to cohere with Italians, pseudo-[n-words] that they were?

          In fact, your “group cohesion” is a bullshit concept, implying we owe loyalty — in how many different ways, exactly? — based on nothing other than skin color. Does say, bullshit economics become not bullshit if I’m told it benefits mainly whites? Etc. (And of course any other “race” that adheres to such bullshit is equally bad.)

          But in any case, I’m glad that at least you people are being open about where you’ve always been coming from. I can find it kind of nostalgic, in a way.

          1. Amen.

            To bring this back to gun rights, I know I have told the stories on these pages before about when overt racism was working against gun rights. To condense them, they were the time two “Friends of the Sportsmen” Republican state representatives tried to persuade our county group to support their Gun Control Lite, by resorting to telling us tails of what “n-words” did to pretty little blonde-haired, blue-eyed convenience store clerks; and when a prominent state gun rights activist confessed privately that he didn’t support “constitutional carry” because our state had too many “‘n-words’ and spics and dirtballs” who shouldn’t be allowed to carry guns without prior vetting. The significant thing about the latter story was that I knew he was the gun rights “brains” behind “the best pro-gun legislator in the state” who was more or less considered the voice of gun owners in the legislature. The legislator himself knows or cares nothing about gun rights, public rhetoric notwithstanding.

            In both examples, it was implied that in the name of “group cohesiveness” we were supposed to support gun control because of its utility for controlling distasteful ethnicities, and that we were traitors for not being “team players.”

  3. “Social trust is down because diversity is up.”

    The thing is, “diversity” can’t be helped. So, how do we analyze the problem from there? Then how do we handle it?

    We were whiter than white, but when we moved into Bucks County, PA, lo, 70 years ago this year, a neighbor got up a petition to try to keep us out, because we were neither an acceptable ethnicity nor an acceptable Christian sect. No one wanted any more diversity than they had known before, and, they often blamed past social problems on it. One of the most suppressed bits of history in the county is that only 20 years before that, the Ku Klux Klan had been extremely active in the county, focusing mainly on people like us, and not so much on blacks or Jews. The Klan wasn’t the rednecks or farm hands, either, but the upper crust; they used to hold their rallies and burn their crosses by the local country club.

    Those kinds of attitudes had gone underground by the time I was in my teens, but would be detected in offhand remarks from time to time. Today we are seeing they never really died. I can’t help thinking of that TV commercial “If you ever had the chicken pox the virus is already inside you…you could have an outbreak at any time.”

    It’s become ancient history now, but ironically in the late 1960s my father — the guy who Patriotic Americans had wanted to keep out — was approached to join the Klan, which enjoyed a brief resurgence during the Civil Rights Era. And as in the 1920s, the guy who approached him wasn’t some hod-carrier, but an affluent member of the local business community.

    So, I think we were talking about “social trust?”

    1. “The thing is, “diversity” can’t be helped. So, how do we analyze the problem from there? Then how do we handle it?”

      This is repeated so often that we accept it as truth. Do you really think we would have the same amount of “diversity” as we do today if national origin quotas were maintained as they used to be?

      The whole thing was engineered.

  4. I blame Hollywood. Most people only know law and social interaction from television and movies. Law knowledge (generally wrong) will be from New York or California laws and even those will be a biased view and not factual.
    Understanding of your fellow citizens and responsibilities toward one another will be equally skewed with Hollywood bias. We do not meet our neighbors so we only “know” them from visual media. I am not sure how to get out of this. We are screwed.

  5. Rural populations are more trusting for the simple reason that you are less likely to encounter a random knucklehead because you know your neighbors. It’s human nature to think other people are the idiots. My driving is great.

    To give a concrete examole, many gun ranges in Maryland disallow holster draw practice. Or make take a short class. You might think of all places, gun ranges run by people pushing for shall issue would be ok with holster draw.

    Why? Because they have kicked out knuckleheads for stupid stuff on the range. It may be a very small population, but boy does a ND make an impression and scare the crap out od people. No one will recall the 100 other people who had no problems.

    The more people you encounter, the more stuoid people you encounter, so the more likely you are to think we need a rule to stop the stupidity. We need an actual law to tell people to keep their eyes on the road and not text while driving, because dumbass.

    It’s not trust, per se, just the law of averages.

    The best defense is to set a good example and make sure its well known knuckleheads are the exception. This is one of the reasons I favor open carry- normalization of good examples.

    1. I have to agree with this. Trust in people on large scale depends on common beliefs and traditions That is why homogeneous areas have high trust factors. Natural human behavior is that people of common heritage cluster together. Italians have done so in many cities The same with Irish, Jews and Polish. In the early colonial days Lord Baltimore recruited many Germans and they were Lutheran. They had similar traditions and knew what to expect from each other . A basic agreement of social rules Do not steal. lie and murder. That is what the 10 commandants are just basic rules for people to live together.

      Hostilities arise when people of different cultures contest over territory or children fall in love outside their group.

      The American idea was a set of beliefs that we all believe in and follow. Since the radical left reject those common ideas there is hostility and is getting worse.

  6. Social trust is down because diversity is up. This is the central truth that nobody wants to acknowledge.

    I won’t disagree with that, but…..I suspect it is the type of diversity that may constitute the problem.

    A century (and longer) ago a rather diverse group of Europeans arrived, usually at New York harbor, passed through Ellis Island and took up residence, many in the five boroughs of New York and its environs.

    It took a couple of generations for reasonably complete assimilation to occur, and it’s not surprising that the grandchildren, and, especially, the great-grandchildren, of those arrivals to carry not a great deal more than the family name and recognition, rather than practice, of traditions from the “old country;” they were Americans, not because of a piece of paper but because they lived and practiced “America” in the full sense of the concept.

    Becoming “American” through assimilation was expected, and accepted by those expected to assimilate. The “diversity” we have today is different, a top-down action used to condemn and attack the foundational culture, by the deliberate act of not assimilating and forcefully asserting the assumed value of “mandatory diversity”. Perhaps “Weaponized Diversity” might be a more accurate term.

    It’s said (and mentioned a few times above, in the comments) that rural societies have more trust than urban ones. I suspect it’s more complicated than that. New York, for example, is not just the five boroughs, but the neighborhoods within each borough; neighborhood residents know those in their nieghborhood, know the dealings with the merchants and service people in their neighborhoods. I’ve seen the same ‘local trust” situations in those types of urban neighborhoods that’s common to rural environments; “on my block,” or its local equivalent, is a phrase heard fairly often in urban areas. Urbanites are probably more accepting of change than rural folks because they see more of it, but human nature being what it is, there’s still tribal effect at work, in this instance, the “tribe” assembled through geographic proxmity and frequent association rather than the familial relationships common to rural areas, and at a faster rate (there are areas in Appalachia where 5th and 6th generation descendants are still the “new people”).

    1. I don’t want to make this a long essay (when a book is what is deserved) but I think it needs to be realized that a good deal of what Americans believe about their past immigrant experience is a comforting myth. For now I’ll just say that “acceptance” and “welcoming” was nowhere near to the degree we want to believe, nor was the degree to which immigrants sought to be accepted.

      For example, most people are not aware of what percentage of immigrants went back to the countries they came from, but for different groups it ranged from perhaps a low of 20 percent to as high as 50 percent. It would probably not be too big a stretch to say that almost everyone who achieved economic success quickly enough, used the money to go home. That had been their intent when they came here, unless they were political exiles.

      My own family embraces the classic myth about our grandfather instantly becoming a patriotic American, demanding everyone in the family speak only in English, etc. But when I got into some actual genealogical research, all circumstantial evidence points to his intention to go back to the old country, and in fact he did go back, but soon came back to America after being arrested in the old country, either for having dodged the draft or for emigrating without permission. How he got out is not clear, because he was not an American citizen yet, a status he didn’t pursue until he came back and apparently gave up on the old country, forever. And, I never heard him speak English to anyone unless that was the only common tongue they had to speak in; like with his grandchildren, like me. And yet his descendants have all absorbed and repeated the classic “instant patriot/insistent anglophone” myths.

      The “acceptance” of diversity didn’t begin until his children’s generation, when my parents’ social circle (if you could call it that) was made up of second generation people who had been street kids from diverse but distinct ethnic neighborhoods. But it has occurred to me there was no crossover with what might be referred to as “WASPs”, i.e., longtime “established” Americans. That didn’t begin until my (third) generation, when we also became “rural.” (My grandfather had bought a farm after deciding to stay in America, during WWI, but oral history suggests that also was in an immigrant community; his younger kids didn’t speak English until they inexplicably moved back to the city, c. 1921.)

      But all of the above, long discourse is to say, when we seek to make contrasts with the past, we need to entertain that some of the ideas we have about how things used to be, are popular myths.

      1. I think there’s some truth to what you say. My wife is a genealogist, and she has a story about a grandma or great-grandma who, when she first met her husband’s family, thought they didn’t like her, largely because they didn’t speak with her. Then one day her mother-in-law asked, in a heavy German accent, “So, how are things going?”.

        The husband was a third- or fourth- generation immigrant from Germany, possibly descended from the Hessians who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. They formed their own communities and even immigrated three or four times deeper into American territory. They learned English during WWI, when it became unpatriotic to speak German.

        Having said that, there are a lot of immigrants who become American; I suspect that these folk, even though they still spoke German, managed to absorb the cultural love of freedom that Americans allegedly appreciate.

        This isn’t to say that diversity is bad, per se. But the kind of Diversity that’s pushed today seems to be “all that matters is your skin color, your sexual orientation, or your heritage — your thoughts MUST belong to us”, where “belong to us” is generally anti-freedom and even to some degree anti-American.

        However, I suspect that, whether immigrants come here to work and go home, or come here to stay, a good portion of their motivation is the understanding that you come here to be free. Thus, for all the “Your diversity is welcome unless you don’t like government” that goes around, there’s a certain unintentional amount of assimilation that happens, no matter what.

        So, while I fear that immigrants coming to America may (perhaps even unintentionally) destroy freedom in America, I have some hope that they can be assimilated faster than they can ruin things.

        But I also have another, even greater fear: that a certain class of native-born third-to-fifth generation Americans (of all races, but generally white, and even rich), convinced that government must fix all things, will destroy freedom faster than immigrants, and even the latest native-born Americans, can assimilate it…

  7. Part of the trust problem is that many have been thinking that certain beliefs such as paying your bills and mortgage was the right thing to do Then 2008 and the sharks at the banks did not suffer but a lot of mortgage holders did when they were upside down. So a portion of normally law abiding middle class people decided screw it walked away. The Obama administration corruption withe the false HARP programed help engender that distrust.

    1. I think an important factor of that was, a perception of who The State provides protection for.

      FWIW: The first people I knew to walk away from a mortgage — long before 2008 — were affluent, entrepreneurial people who had bought a house in a “gentrifying” neighborhood of the city that reversed and went south. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford the mortgage, it was that the numbers didn’t work anymore. So they simply walked away.

      I tell that in the context of the class of people who embrace “certain beliefs such as paying your bills and mortgage was the right thing to do.”

      Today they own a magnificent “gentleman’s farm” in our region, which I envy.

  8. Another aspect to consider is generational. Talk to some WWII-aged folks, and you find that their belief in the Federal Government is secondly only to a belief in God, generally speaking. These people tend to be anti-gun for anything other than a double-barrelled shotgun and a Model 94. Successive government screw-ups and scandals over the years have made later generations less and less likely to give .gov the benefit of the doubt.

    Similarly, a lot of Gen-X’ers figured out that their parents’ marriage vows didn’t mean anything. As time goes on, faith in the institution of marriage erodes.

    This is only two examples, but I belive it gives a general illustration of where we are headed.

    1. I wanted to say that there’s something not right about Sebastian’s analysis, perhaps something that’s just missing, that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I know it had to do with the WWII generation, and government trust. You managed to mention it before I can formulate my thoughts myself.

      The first national gun control law, after all, came in 1938, an era where almost everyone trusted government to fix everything.

      I’d like to say this probably didn’t start with WWII, either — you can certainly see this in WWI, and probably the Civil War — but it probably even goes all the way back to the Puritans. America has a strong libertarian streak, but it’s tempered by a certain moral control streak that, intellectually at least, descends from the Puritans.

      To understand the desire to control guns, I think we also need to understand the desire that gave us the amendment to control alcohol…and to understand how to defeat this impulse, we would probably do well to understand the impulses that gave us the amendment to end the Federal ability to control alcohol….

      1. “I wanted to say that there’s something not right about Sebastian’s analysis…”

        Quite possibly, but that’s why it’s good to discuss what we’re thinking!

        But a recurring thought to me, as I scan all of the above comments, is that I see an underlying dependence on cultural mythologies which, while they all are based on some degree of truth, deserve to be reanalyzed as to just how much truth they incorporate.

        I have observed in reading all kinds of histories, that nothing will get a historian on our culture’s shit-list faster than dredging up facts that contradict our favorable mythologies about ourselves; while a totally careless, pseudo-historian can achieve a broad following by, in some cases, making up “facts” that tend to reinforce what we want to believe.

        This is perhaps not the best example, but consider how many quotes attributed to The Founders (with possibly Jefferson being the most frequent example) are totally bogus; in some cases having been made up in very recent history. But I suspect we all have a collection of such that we loved reciting for years, before we ever looked into them in any serious way.

        1. Amen to that! And it isn’t just a problem with gun culture.

          A couple of years ago I was attending a conference that was held at a local community college, and I saw posters of Galileo and two or three other famous people, with quotes about education or something of that nature. I *really* wanted to check to see if the quotes were accurately attributed (and my suspicion was that they weren’t).

          Another example was Bellesiles’ “Arming America” that got a major history award, but took ten years after people starting to notice that his facts were taken out of context or out-right made up for the historical society to finally revoke the award. His book so closely matched what the historical society wanted to believe, that they had no need to follow up on the research to double-check that he was right.

          I wish I could say that I’m diligent in making sure my quotes and historical anecdotes are up-to-snuff, but I’m sure I fall into similar traps myself….

          1. “I’m sure I fall into similar traps myself….”

            All I can claim is that I’m more careful than I used to be. Of course, the internet now makes it easy to check on things, that would have at one time taken serious research time at the library.

            I can make excuses for my own past (and other people’s, too) by noting that I was roughly 50 before there was any internet to speak of, and search engines still sucked pretty bad for some years after that. But today when I’m feeling self-righteous, I can’t help wondering why more people don’t do some basic checking on the things they repeat.

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