Social capital and resilency; does Chattanooga have them?

A group of book-loving moms are about to sit at this table to dine and talk about favorite authors. Horizontal social capital.

A group of book-loving moms is about to sit at this table to dine and talk about favorite authors. Horizontal social capital.

By David Tulis

An important argument for local economy in Chattanooga is that it gives resiliency to the people of the city in times of adversity. The power of mutual aid and care was evidenced in April 2011 after tornadoes struck the area and private parties helped in recovery, or when 400 area people lost their jobs in the demolition of Carey Brown’s Internet businesses and were aided by social media activists’ holding a meet-and-greet.

Resiliency, like a muscle, is strengthened through use. It can be exercised not just through natural disasters, but manmade calamities such as a depression, or an extreme contraction in the supply of credit or currency.

Local economy, especially as seen through the lens of Christianity, develops social capital. Social capital comes in three kinds, says Tom Sander, an academician from Harvard who studies social connectedness. The first is bonding capital, which he says are “the close ties between people in similar situations — such as family and close friends. It builds trust, reciprocity, and a shared sense of belonging and identity.”

A second kind I would describe as having horizontality beyond family. Mr. Sander calls it bridging capital, “the looser ties to similar people, such as loose friendships, colleagues, or perhaps people we meet through social networking sites. It builds broader, more flexible identities and enables innovations to be shared across networks.” A third form of social capital contains verticality. Up and down relationships. Relationships between you and a superior or an inferior. “Linking capital helps ensure that people with different levels of power and status meet and learn from one another. It is the ability of groups to access networks of power and resources beyond their immediate community.”

Katrina shows how much damage occurs in the absence of vibrant Christianity and the creation of social capital as part of the fruit of simple faithful living and service to others. Before the hurricane hit, “our hearts were pained by a sea of black and poor victims, trapped on the Gulf Coast pre-Hurricane without an exit. We notice that they were carless and lacked money for bus fare, meals, and hotels. But far fewer notice that the poor were equally trapped by a dearth of these social connections, especially crossing economic lines. Specifically, they lacked affluent friends to give them a ride, lacked contacts to negotiate heavily discounted hotel rates, and lacked out-of-town relatives with extra bedrooms” (citation from Boston Globe, Nov. 14, 2005). People who fled Katrina did not return to New Orleans because it did not represent to them a community with which they identified. In Indonesia, after quake and tidal wave, communities were much more rapidly repopulated because residents had social capital in towns and villages.

National economy and our atomization problem

My hometown of Chattanooga has a great deal going for it. How much social capital it has can only be guessed at, but it’s fair to say residents have SOME social capital, particularly if we believe the reporting on the tech networks and social media culture downtown by’s Cloe Morrison, and if we esteem the work of the church and of Christian and benevolences such as Benwood Foundation.

One way of gauging social capital is to look at areas of culture penetrated and controlled by the state. There, social capital is sharply reduced. Social capital in Chattanooga is constrained by what Charles Hugh Smith calls “existing hyper-structures of our centralized state-cartel economies.” Because of Chattanoogans’ disconnection from Christianity, another god has risen before them as deliverer, and as the eyes of many have turned upward to behold its glory, they have failed to turn eyes left and right to other people. They are less supple, less willing to create social capital with a horizontal aspect, thinking the only relationship that matters is that with the impersonal state. Christians’ detachment from original principles of self-government, grace and the church accounts for the longevity of non-organic institutions: The state-run school, public welfare programs that make no ethical distinctions among recipients and mass indebtedness to the credit industry.

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