The Dark Side of Social Capital

I was invited to participate in a Convocation at the University of Northern Colorado in the Rehabilitation Department. They asked me to focus my remarks around ethics and while preparing I found an article that focused on the dark side of social capital. Now we know that social capital, or relationships in our lives, promote amazing positive effects among people. In fact, the ethical ramifications have been clearly documented by sociologists.

But the article I found suggested that along with the positive effects, social capital can have a dark side. Top among them is the exclusion that can happen to people not considered members of the tribe. That is, the strong bonding that can happen between like people, can also result in painful exclusion of others. This can also lead to distrust, lack of cooperation and intolerance.

In our current era where nationalism and anti-immigration policies are promoted certainly can bait the darker side of social capital. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented the rise of hate groups, and we are seeing more and more assaults on ethnic, religious, and immigrant groups. Quite simply, the bonding nature of some things can lead to a real sense of exclusion of others.

To this end, social capital alone will not create greater ethical behaviors. Rather, the critical values that are associated with ethics are equally important in the relationship perspective. We must come to realize that social capital is so much more potent when it is coupled with strong inclusion values.