Thursday, February 28, 2013

Institutional Confidence and Social Trust

The anarchist understanding of social relations is not paradoxical. Authority figures deserve challenge, while average humans deserve greater trust (since they lack the motivations and position for malice). This understanding suggests ways to empirical measure anarchist orientations towards others in society. Perhaps a simple, but useful, way of measuring this is by constructing a "two-by-two" typology regarding an individual's confidence in hierarchical institutions and their social trust in other people. Various surveys (such as the international World Values Survey) asks two key questions that could help measure respondents' orientations. This orientation could be conceived of as a continuum ranging from hierarchicalism to horizontalism.

One variable is a respondent's confidence in different institutions. Certain institutions have regularly and widely been asked about, and are clearly hierarchical in character: armed forces, police, parliaments, and churches. A second variable is a respondent's social trust, measured dichotomously as either "most people can be trusted" or "you can't be too careful". By contrasting responses to having or lacking confidence in institutions with trusting or not trusting others, four possible categories emerge.

1) Hero-worshippers/boot-lickers: people who have confidence in hierarchical institutions, but lack trust in others.
2) Paranoid/individualists: people who lack confidence in hierarchical institutions as well as trust in others.
3) Gullible: people who have confidence in hierarchical institutions as well as trust in others.
4) Horizontalists/anarchist-inclined (?): people have lack confidence in hierarchical institutions, but have trust in others.

Conceivably, these different categories have variant social positions, beliefs, and behaviors. Hypothetically, category #1 may justify social inequality and protest less than #4. Such hypotheses could be empirically tested, in a cross-national fashion even.