28 October 2006

Social capital and the moral order

Where does moral order come from? Do we really have, as Marc Hauser proposes, an automatic ability to distinguish right from wrong? Is our moral order really a function of our biological evolution? What are the implications of a breakdown in the moral order in a society?

Some seven years earlier, in his book, ‘The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order’, Johns Hopkins professor Francis Fukuyama had suggested something similar: that human beings were biologically driven to establish moral values. That these values evolved from the ground up, rather than being imposed by government or organised religion.

If this theory is true, does it mean that the growing corruption that worries Indian youths today (see my previous post) is really a reflection of themselves?

Professor Fukuyama’s book did not mention India. It occupied itself with the United States and Western society, specifically with their development in the past 50 years. However, professor Fukuyama did talk about social capital as a key building block of modern society, something that permitted cooperation and trust within its members. He suggested that as social capital depleted in a society, so did cooperation and trust within its members. This, in turn, resulted in an increase in family break-ups, drug use, crime, and other anti-social behaviour.

Could this theory be true? If social pathology was an indicator – a measure, perhaps – of overall social trust, what meaning did it have for the level of corruption in India today?

[Professor Fukuyama defined social capital as “a set of informal values or norms shared among members of a group that permits cooperation among them. If members of the group come to expect that others will behave reliably and honestly, they will come to trust one another.”]

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