Them

Why We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal

[Amazon Link]

Ben Sasse is (you probably know) a US Senator from Nebraska. I speculate that, against his 99 colleagues, he is the brightest, funniest, best-read, and most insightful. I'm not sure who even comes close.

This book is his diagnosis of the social illnesses in the early 21st-century US. The litany is well-known, pretty much, but the book's subtitle ("Why We Hate Each Other") is an incomplete summary. At the root of things, Sasse claims, is loneliness: the increasing fraction of people who lack deep, thick roots into their communities. Various symptoms: people living alone, or far away from their extended families. Declining chuch attendance. Declining importance of civic organizations. Increasing urbanization. Lack of dependable long-term employment. And on, and on.

So nasty spats between political tribes are at best a secondary symptom of our underlying institutional decay. When the non-governmental institutions dry up, the only thing left is, for better or worse (and it's usually for worse) is politics. Choose a tribe, and go to no-holds-barred war with the infidels.

[Amazon Link]

A possibly-unfair observation: one of the more important books of the last few decades was The Future and Its Enemies by Virginia Postrel. At a number of spots, Sasse sounds like … one of the enemies.

Sasse has a number of recommendations, but they're aimed at the reader: wherever you live, join with good people doing good works. Take time for your family. Limit your tech time. (I think he recommends unfollowing your politics-obsessed social media buddies! That's something, hm, I could see doing myself.

Hey, he could be right, and the trends our country are mindlessly riding might take us right into the ditch. I would bet on us muddling through, as usual. Mainly because I remember the 1960s vividly—literally before Sasse was born—and the social fabric was in much worse shape then.

Sasse's prose is super-accessible; anyone at a middle-school level or above would have no problem whizzing through the book. I sometimes call this USA Today-ese: "We're eating more kale then ever before." That's not a slam, Sasse wants to appeal to the broadest audience.

So I had some problems with the book, but I recommend it to anyone concerned about the long term future of our culture. And I wish that somehow, magically, we could install a bunch of Sasse clones in our Federal, State, and local legislative bodies.