Asha Rangappa @AshaRangappa_ Fmr FBI Special Agent, lawyer, faculty @JacksonYale. Tiger(ish) mom. @CNN analyst. Editor @just_security. Karaoke, golf, and Shakespeare aficionado. Views mine. Jul. 14, 2019 2 min read

THREAD. I’ve watched this clip over and over, trying to figure out why I love it. I think it’s because it embodies something that I talk about Disinformation & Democracy class, and in my talks to various groups — it’s the idea of “generalized reciprocity,” or social trust

2. Generalized reciprocity, as defined by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone, is the idea of giving your fellow citizen — even a complete stranger, whom you don’t know — the benefit of the doubt. Of having their back. It’s connected to civic engagement

3. In the video, note that this man — who probably has other things to do — feels a sense of responsibility to contribute to a situation. And, equally important, notice that the drivers — who otherwise have a self interest to just ram full speed ahead — follow his direction

4. It’s quite extraordinary, esp if you have been to other countries, where this kind of social trust isn’t as high (I’ll use India, as an example, since I’ve seen the traffic there). This kind of trust rests on an understanding that we’re all engaged in a common enterprise

5. Do where does generalized reciprocity come from? Well, Putnam says it comes primarily from creating relationships across diverse sets of people. He calls this “bridging.” Contrast this with “bonding,” which is creating relationships within smaller, homogenous groups

6. Bonding is important. They provide social safety nets, and leverage shared strengths — think about immigrant communities, or religious orgs, even (to a degree) political parties. But too much of this can also lead to tribalism, which leads to exclusion and *mistrust*

7. I say all this because the purpose of Russia’s active measures — and certain people who promote their tactics — is to break down this generalized reciprocity, or social trust. “In-groups” and “out-groups” are all a part of this. The goal is to forget the common enterprise

8. Cities like NYC, by virtue of their size and diversity, naturally create a certain amount of “bridging” that helps inoculate against this and create the kind of scene above. But fostering this in other geographic areas, or contexts (arts, sports), can help facilitate this too

9. I wrote about this in a (retrospectively idealized and somewhat naive) piece on how this works in social media. But groups and cities should think abut ways to promote bridging — and social trust — as a way to fortify civic values and democracy 

P.S. If you want some extra reading on this idea, Alexis de Toqueville described this unique feature of America as “self interest well understood” — excellent essay on its application today here 

You can follow @AshaRangappa_.


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