Why We Hate and How to Heal

Them: Why We Hate and How to Heal
 © 2018 Ben Sasse
272 pages

The tenor of civil ‘discourse’ in America today is disheartening and distressful, in part for at least over a decade there has been little discourse at all, only yelling.  We seem less a nation and more a mob of three hundred million people who happen to have some connection with DC. Ben Sasse’s Them  reveals the author (a fairly new senator from Nebraska whose hope has not been ritually smothered in subcommittee meetings)  to be similarly disturbed.   Despite his occupation, however, this is not a book on politics. It is, rather, a citizen’s thinking-over how things deteriorated to this degree and what, if any hope there is for finding our way out of the darkness.  It is a profoundly thoughtful and touching book, and although I don’t know if the course Sasse recommends will necessarily be adequate,  his description of the problem, with his heart fully on the line, is insightful.

The greatest problem, Sasse argues, is loneliness – a profound, sickening loneliness that is undermining our physical, mental, emotional, and civic health. We are living in a profoundly disruptive moment in history, in which the snowball effects of technology are making any sort of vocational stability a joke for many Americans.  A vocation is an important thing: it isn’t merely a means of putting food on the stable, it is a source of meaning for people, even for people who don’t have jobs that allow them to have a profound effect on people, like a teacher, nurse, or artist.   For someone to know that others need them is a vital piece of our interior lives.  Technological change is radically eroding the ability of many people to hold on to it.  This is especially the case in America’s poorer segments, who don’t have the material or social resources to  adapt quickly to the need for change.  The other major  source of our civic loneliness is the fact that so much of civic society has been destroyed, especially the family.  A poor child born to supportive family can climb their way into financial stability, but not one born into chaotic circumstances.  A supportive family is not just the means to a financial end, however:  families give us deep roots to our places, and meaning to our lives.

Our loneliness, alienation, and frustration are only part of the problem, says Sasse; what makes matters far worse is that we are trying to meet our needs for meaning and community by embracing anti-tribes. We sit at home in front of the television, attaching ourselves to ideological stories and personalities, or lose ourselves  for hours on and throughout the day in the constant roar of social media activity.  We are engulfed in a roar of online chatter, and those voices that we hear above the din are the loudest and the angriness. We do not hear the still, small voice of grace or reason — we hear only rage.  And it doesn’t matter if we’re raging against something, or we’re being raged against: either way,  our emotions are quickened,  our minds are stirred, and , we are engaged in poisonous rapture, and kept  addicted. It’s  good for the professional politicians, and it’s wonderful for the hack journalists — but it is woefully bad for America.

What can be done? First and foremost,  unplug from the noise. Sasse argues that we can and must redefine our relationship with the technology that has overtaken so much of our lives in this past decade, and re-prioritize the people who are physically in our lives.  (He and his family have scheduled ‘tech sabbaths’.) Second, people must reject anti-identities — defining themselves by who they oppose — and put politics in its place.   The government should not be used as a bludgeon to attack one’s enemies, and  each of us should labor to hold everyone to the same standards — even if they’re on “our” side. More importantly, however,  Sasse calls readers to be “Americans, again”: to re-affirm our common identity, rooted in the fundamental belief in human dignity declared with our independence on July 4th, 1776.   If we truly took one another’s dignity to heart, we could not rail against one another or ignore  our mutual sorrows.  Tying all these together is the need for humility.  Each and every one of us need to admit to acknowledge that we have our limits; to our knowledge, to our personal virtue, to our ability to control things or fate or one another.

We Americans are plainly in a dark place now,  and this earnest plea from Sasse is a welcome reminder that there are people groping in the darkness, trying to find others and a way out of it.   He is very much the citizen-writer here,  earnestly nonpartisan — quoting from liberals and conservatives alike, acknowledging his own biases as he entreats the reader to consider theirs.   We cannot know now how modern democracies will adjust to the volatile effects of social media, or to the industries of the 21st century.  Continuing to linger in mobwar will only lead to some nightmare like the cultural revolution in China, or greater tyranny still.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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15 Responses to Why We Hate and How to Heal

  1. CyberKitten says:

    I'm not sure if the *world* is in a mess right now but the problem extends far beyond the US borders. I think that the 'West' is in a bad place right now. How that came about I'm not 100% clear about (but I am researching it!) but Social Media is most certainly an element to be considered (it may actually be the prime element). What we can do about it… If only I knew. Hopefully we'll find out without too many people getting hurt in the process. Good luck to us all.

  2. Marian H says:

    Added to my TBR list…sounds like an interesting perspective on a big topic. I think a lot of people would benefit from taking road trips to other states. When you're driving for hours on end and watching the landscape change, you get a real sense of the vastness and variety of our country. It also forces you to get out along the way and interact with locals. Sadly we all tend to rely too much on media for our perceptions of other places/people.

  3. Stephen says:

    One of the minor points Sasse raises is that so much of the political news comes from reporters based in two cities: NYC and DC. They're biased not out of deliberation, he thinks, but because they've never really experienced American cultures beyond the east coastline. I think you're on the right track with that…it doesn't just apply to political reporters. I haven't traveled much outside the south (two visits to the southwest, and one planned for Oregon in 2020), but they've both been enlightening.

  4. Stephen says:

    You might be interested in \”Antisocial Media\”, a release from last year about facebook's distortive political effect. I haven't read it but plan to, and it may have information that applies 'across the pond', as it were…

  5. mudpuddle says:

    impressive that a politician can write a thoughtful essay like this… and he's got a grasp on part of the problem, imo, but not all of it… i still maintain that overpopulation is the underlying aggravator… and it's certainly true that manipulators in DC are out of touch with the rest of the country… enlightening post & comments…

  6. Elle says:

    It is interesting to see how technology can bring us closer together and at the same time make us feel very disconnected from one another. I think one thing that would help future generations connect more with people in different backgrounds is to volunteer. It can be just simply volunteering at a food bank or building schools at X country. It is a great way to disconnect from technology, connect with your community, and understand others more. There is obviously a lot of things that need to be done with our country, we just need to find and agree on the first step. Elle Inked @ Keep on Reading

  7. Stephen says:

    Definitely. Unfortunately people think political involvement means yelling at the national government, when they're capable of actually making changes in their home life. There's no community in the US that's without some challenge that locals could address.

  8. R. T. says:

    Loneliness? Ironic in an era of social media. Also ironic that the lonely loathe and fear others. I fear no rainbow after the current storm. I guess I have an apocalyptic outlook these days. More irony?

  9. I can not take anything Ben Sasse says seriously. He is all talk and no action.

  10. Stephen says:

    Would you mind explaining that?

  11. One major example is during the Kavanaugh hearings he gives this big grand speech basically about #MeToo…then votes to confirm Kavanaugh. It's such garbage.

  12. Naturally he and I are on opposite sides anyway though, because I am not and never will be a republican. I would never vote for or even entertain a candidate that holds his views on gay rights, abortion, and health care – among many others.

  13. Stephen says:

    Crooked timber and all that…I haven't expected to find a totally agreeable candidate since I was in college. There are a few I admire, and one who I almost donated to when he contemplated a 2016 run, but on the whole I'd just be happy if they would stop bombing people or fondling others. Is that so much to ask?

  14. Pingback: (Most Of) What I Read in 2019 | Reading Freely

  15. Pingback: Together | Reading Freely

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