Thursday, August 30, 2007

Social Capital

Trying to be a bit more positive today.....after all my complaining this week.

Twice in the last month the WSJ made reference to a book called "Bowling Alone." The follow-up study to this book empirically confirms the sentiments I have regarding the loss of community in our society. They call it "social capital" and civic engagement. I call it "anti-socialization."

In response to their initial findings, they have also followed up on their research by trying to address the situation. They compiled a list of things you can to do build social capital.

While the research has been criticised as being anti-diversity, I think people wrongly assume that diversity means the color of someones skin. The author clarifies by noting that in diverse communities trust erodes not only between members of different ethnic groups, but within them as well.

To some degree I have to agree with him. For instance comparing Salt Lake City to Sacramento. The cities share similarities in climate and economy, however SLC is religiously and ethnically very homogeneous (my little cousins were told by their Mormon classmates that they were going to hell since they were not LDS...sigh). I get a strong sense of local pride in community when I visit SLC as compared to Sacramento. Would I personally want to live there....heck no. But I truly wish we could somehow create the same level of community pride in Sacramento.

(And for the record, some of my dearest friends are LDS...I think the sense of community they have is a wonderful thing....I just wish they would be a little more accepting of those who don't share their faith).


Giacomo said...

AB: this looks to be worthwhile reading, thanks for the tip.

Anecdotally, I lived in Pasadena (SoCal) long enough to see it evolve from a fairly homogenous community (mostly Anglo and socially conservative) to very diverse one (a mix of Anglo, HIspanic, Black, and Armenian, with no dominant group).

In recent years,on issues ranging from city planning to appropriate public behavior, there was rarely a consensus about what was correct, or fair. For instance, if there was a proposal to tear down a historic building and replace it with an apartment building, there was usually a marked division along cultural lines. In fact, there was so much diversity of opinion about what was "loud," "ugly" or "offensive" that the city gave up enforcing any laws that made such judgments.

BTW, though I'm not LDS, I have family in Utah that is. I'm told that SLC is actually mostly non-LDS now; so Provo might be a better example of a "large" town where the church dominates.

buying time said...

Would love the cliff notes version if you do read it. I can barely fit in the time for my daily WSJ (there is a huge pile next to my bed).

The situation you mention is unfortunate, because in the end, no one is happy. There doesn't seem to be an easy answer...which is why I don't see the situation getting better anytime soon.

Cmyst said...

It's really difficult for large, diverse cities to have the cohesiveness of small towns. However, you can achieve something similar if you think of neighborhoods or regions within those cities as their own little "towns".
I know that a lot of Euro-American people in California bemoan the erosion of the dominance of their ethnic group. For me, though, having grown up and raised half the kids through high school in a town that was 87% White, 12%Black, and 1%Hmong (and the Hmong only showing up about 2 years before we left) the ethnic diversity of Cali is wonderful.
The other thing about Cali is that people of other cultures have been here since the beginning. There are Chinese and Japanese families in Sacramento that have been here since the Gold Rush. There are Mexican families that have been here since BEFORE the Gold Rush. There are also Italians, and Portuguese in pretty significant numbers and a fairly significant Irish and Scottish presence. And all of these people -- unlike the mostly Scots-Irish people I hail from, who identify more with Appalachia hill customs than with anything Scottish or Irish -- have cherished and preserved their old country customs, yet are proud Americans.
It is human nature to seek the safety of living among people who look and act like you do. But I find that if you don't look like most of the people in your neighborhood, they will still accept you if you demonstrate that you wish to belong.
And while it's insignificant compared to the larger moral issues, I think that had something to do with the outrage against Michael Vick. He had rejected the social mores of the same group his income had placed him in, which seemed like a slap in the face.
There are also sub-cultures in which one's ethnicity is only a peripheral concern, such as sports and the military.
The Sig and I are different culturally and ethnically. But that doesn't cause near the problem that his having gone through a military school training and his Olympic track/field experience do.

mr big said...

I have lived 4 differnet places here in arizona waiting out the bubble and believe me there is little social interaction.All 4 places the neighbors never talk to me at all.Where I live now I am good friends with one neighbor but only because we are both single and we like each others company.

What I have noticed is that out in public the only time people talk to you is when you buy something from them.

We have a serious situation brewing right now. Money has become so important that little else matters.We have mcdonaldization of society happening.Never seen so many walmarts in my life around here. When people need interaction they go shopping. Do you wonder why the consumer has been propping up our economy? That is where we are getting satisfaction now. Very sad.

Giacomo said...

(So far) I can recommend living in a small town, like the one we are renting in now. It is relatively homogenous; most of our "diversity" is economic, rather than cultural. Because people live further apart, there is not a lot of day-to-day contact, but there is always a big turn-out at community events. The social "web" is tighter: when you meet someone new, they are almost always connected to people you've already met.
I haven't seen much evidence of intolerance; but perhaps that's because there isn't enough variety to threaten the status quo.
Almost no one's house is built to look impressive from the road (even though many properties are huge). Generally, one feels less impetus to spend money, because there aren't many places to do it, and there's little opportunity to show off fancy clothes or toys, anyway.

buying time said...

"But I find that if you don't look like most of the people in your neighborhood, they will still accept you if you demonstrate that you wish to belong."

Agreed. But what the reasearch is finding, is that there is not as much "wish to belong" as there used to be.

For instance in my last neighborhood, very few of my neighbors spoke english well. We all exchanged smiles and ohhs and ahhs at eachothers children...but couldn't really communicate about the most basic items. While I enjoyed the diversity, I do feel that if you want to call this country your home, you need to learn to speak English so you can engage civically with your community.

We need some common denominator, and language tends to provide that. Not sure this situation applies to Sacramento, I think the "wish to belong" is the issue around here.