Some jerk cut me off in traffic today, so I chased him at high speed until he crashed. Then I pulled him out of his car, punched him bloody, and smashed his windshield with a rock.
Well, no, that didn’t actually happen. Yes, I got cut off in traffic, which is a near-daily occurrence because I live in Los Angeles. But I didn’t chase the guy.
Hey, did you think I actually drove after somebody and assaulted him? Wow, you have a low opinion of me.
But it’s understandable that you don’t hold your fellow Americans in high regard. Recent surveys have shown that “Americans are feeling frustrated with their government, their economy and their fellow citizens.” In addition, trust in our institutions and other Americans has bottomed out in recent years.
OK, that’s depressing, but what does that have to do with road rage and my fictional foray into car-related violence? Well, social scientists have noticed that car accidents are way up, and they theorize that one reason for more auto wrecks and obnoxious driving is because “people are frustrated and angry, and those feelings are fueling increases in violent crime, customer abuse of workers, student misbehavior in school and vehicle crashes.”
You see, more Americans are meeting grisly deaths under the wheels of rampaging SUVs due to social disengagement, which is “a lack of contact with other people that in normal times provides pleasure, support, and comfort.” And when we are feeling socially disengaged, enraged, and bitter, we are more likely to stomp down on that accelerator, flip off the other driver, and embrace the “feeling that the rules are suspended and all bets are off.”
And then bang—car crash.
As stated, this thesis also helps explain the rise of the Karen, the breakdown of political debate, and even the country’s recent crime surge. Indeed, crime “tends to increase if people lose trust in society’s institutions and basic fairness.” Furthermore, when “empathy for other citizens declines, crime also rises.”
Therefore, the loss of faith in our nation’s institutions, combined with pessimism about the country’s massive inequality, has ramifications far beyond just making us all feel sad. In truth, “social alienation makes some people more willing to break the rules and act violently.”
There is even a sociological phrase for this trend. When large numbers of people start doing crazy, violent shit in public, it is referred to as a “moral holiday.” You will be displeased to know that some experts believe that “the United States is now in the midst of an extended moral holiday,” as evidenced by the fact that “criminal acts that were heretofore shameful, such as beating unarmed, peaceful protesters or burgling a hair salon, are now performed in full knowledge that dozens of cellphone cameras are turned in your direction.”
Basically, truncheon-wielding cops and smash-and-grab robbers share “an implicit sense that we are in a time of accelerating change, making what was forbidden suddenly licit.”
Wow—what could be worse than our nation’s disfunction creating more violence?
Well, many studies have found that “trust—in the government and in our fellow citizens—[was] a significant predictor of a country’s ability to act cooperatively and reduce the spread” of the coronavirus. Nations where people trust one another did better during the pandemic. Countries where the citizens are perpetually aggrieved did worse.
In America, “trust is near historic lows after decades of decline and is relatively low compared to other high-income countries,” which helps explain why the USA leads the world in COVID-19 deaths. In fact, “if people around the world displayed the same level of high trust that Danes do in their government and each other, 40 percent fewer people might’ve been infected with the virus globally.”
As I’ve said before, damn these sneaky Scandinavians.
Now, it is natural to ask if anyone benefits from this quagmire of distrust. Who would be so vile as to encourage more anger, cynicism, and disbelief?
Well, I suppose that people who despise the government, express contempt for factual evidence, promote the loathing of marginalized groups, and assign outlandish, grotesque motivations to their political opponents might succeed in building an audience of paranoid, furious partisans.
Fortunately, we don’t have people like that in America. Nope.
Every day, we hear the wailing of demagogues who shriek that the government is so corrupt that we have no choice but to storm the Capitol. That attitude of boiling rage and hatred fuels an increase in crime, which provokes those same individuals to say, “Crime is out of control because our government is so corrupt,” leading to more rage and hatred, more crime, and so on, ad infinitum.
This is more than a vicious cycle. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of annihilation.
It’s enough to make you want to clear your head by going for a nice, long drive.
But don’t do that here in America—that shit can get you killed.
Featured image: garyturner/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0