6.2. Declining Institutions, Declining Communities

Societies need strong, trustworthy institutions. Our lack of them makes us feel fearful, insecure, and unsafe.

A lot of people feel like we lack a strong sense of community, in this day and age.

And a lot of people blame convenient scapegoats—like smart phones—for this development.

But there’s a better explanation.

The crisis we feel we’re in, with respect to our lack of strong communities, is the result of a very real and ongoing crisis we’re experiencing with respect to our institutions.

Over the past fifty years, the trust we have in the government, in businesses and corporations, in the media, in the educational system, in organized religions, and in institutions of all kinds has totally imploded.

We don’t trust the government. It’s corrupt. It’s wasteful. It’s being held hostage by a two-party system that has very effectively split the American people in two, and divided us against each other.

It causes us to fear and distrust each other, even within our own families. It causes us to feel like half the country is out to destroy it. And since it’s considered taboo to talk politics even with the people we know, it causes us to regard most people we meet with suspicion.

We don’t trust businesses: with their misleading ads, their corporate greed, and how they continually prioritize their bottom line over the well-being of workers, consumers, and the planet we live on.

They glorify a competitive, dog-eat-dog mentality. They encourage us all to be free agents, looking out only for ourselves. Even if we personally don’t buy into that kind of mindset, we feel like we have to be on guard all the time, questioning everybody’s motives.

We don’t trust the media, which has discovered that fearmongering sells better than the truth, which has figured out how to fake objectivity, and which bombards us with bad news that feeds our growing sense of despair and distrust.

We don’t trust the educational system, which has grown to an enormous size, keeping kids in school and separated from the broader adult world well into their twenties. When people live a third of their lives in a separate world from everybody else, is it really a surprise that our communities aren’t as cohesive as they used to be?

And we increasingly don’t trust organized religions, which are good at cultivating communities within themselves, but accomplish this in part by cultivating an us-versus-them mentality against the nonbelievers.

Societies need strong, trustworthy institutions.

Our lack of them makes us feel fearful, insecure, and unsafe.

We don’t trust our institutions anymore…and so we increasingly don’t trust each other.

We feel like everybody is out there trying to accumulate power, money, and glory for themselves…and is willing to stab us in the back to get it.

So we feel vulnerable. We feel cautious. We feel we need to be careful not to share too much, unless we know for certain that we’re in a safe space.

It’s not a coincidence that the decline of community over the past fifty years has tracked alongside the decline of trust we have in our institutions. The two go hand in hand.

There are things we can do to encourage stronger communities. But to a large extent, restoring our faith in the integrity of our institutions is going to fix what ails us in our communities.


This is the 94th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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