What I went looking for was an answer to a deeper question about the metaphoric holes left in a person, a family or a community by murderous acts, whether by guns, knives, or bare hands. If nothing else, talking about guns can serve as a beacon, starting me on the road toward answering the question: Why do Americans kill so much?
There are two kinds of social capital—bonding and bridging—and each impact a society differently. Bonding capital is what you get within a given group. These tend to be closer and more reliable bonds that form the foundation of our social capital. Yet bonding social capital is not always positive: Tight-knit groups can turn insular, reaching their logical conclusion in gangs and militias but with negative effects found in everything from families to groups of friends to certain kinds of religious communities.
In contrast, bridging social capital reaches across a societal divide such as race, region or religion and is by nature weak. But it also promotes empathy and tolerance and enlarges our radius of trust, allowing us to see other people as people, not as a faceless other.
This sense of bridging a divide is especially important in the U.S. because, contrary to popular opinion, we regularly put the needs of the group ahead of the needs of the individual in a way Europeans don’t. In surveys, Western Europeans are more likely than Americans to say citizens should follow their conscience and break an unjust law or that citizens should defy their homeland if they believe their country is acting immorally.
On the other hand, Americans are more likely to believe they control their own fate and to believe in a more laissez-faire relationship with the state. It’s a more complex mix than our myths allow for, and the end result is that it can be hard to fathom just how different Americans are from the rest of the world.
Perhaps, like a true original sin, groups in power in the U.S. have systematically destroyed social capital in vulnerable communities and between groups of all kinds in order to gain wealth and power and deny it to others. And perhaps they have done this in more ruthless fashion than in other comparable cultures. This could explain why the murder rate in New York has been more than five times higher than London’s for 200 years, though the American propensity for violence reaches even farther back than that, going all the way back to frantic religious refugees with visions of the Apocalypse both at their back and before their eyes.”