Them, by Ben Sasse

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Summary: Senator Sasse’s book describes how the breakdown of community due to advancing technology, changes in the way we consume news, and general changes in how we interact with each other has led to heated tribalism.

My Thoughts: I totally agree with Sasse about several subjects – especially how we consume news. Instead of reading accurate, important, and informative news, our media outlets and social media feeds are focusing on stupid, distracting tribalism. For instance, why are we focusing on whether Melania Trump slapped Donald’s hand away (or what she’s wearing) instead of focusing on major issues like healthcare and border security? Focusing on things like this is hateful, useless, and silly. Because we are inundated with this information, it is more difficult to find the important news. I also agree with Sasse about addiction to screens, and how it is causing a breakdown in family and friend communication. However, despite agreeing with his main points about technology, I found his chapter on technology too long for the point he was trying to make. He’s not an expert on technology, he doesn’t need to write pages and pages of descriptions of upcoming technologies.

I did not relate to Sasse’s argument on a number of points. For instance, he grew up in a small town and describes the breakdown of that small town culture over his lifetime. Despite growing up in the same decade as Sasse, I can’t relate to this loss at all. I’m sure it’s great that everyone was able to sit around every Friday night at a small town football game and chat about politics amicably. But that’s not the life I grew up in. How does Sasse’s argument about the breakdown of culture apply to great number of people who, like myself, did not grow up in that situation? Or am I not his target audience? I can see Sasse’s point that loneliness and lack of occupation leads to depression-like symptoms, which can then lead to hateful speech and focusing on the negatives of life. However, I have not been lonely or lacked occupation. Though I mainly avoid hateful speech (I like to think), I do lean heavily to the left politically. (In other words, I have my tribe.) So there’s more to tribalism than the loss of small town dynamics, loneliness, and lack of occupation.

I thought Sasse did an excellent job of remaining as unpartisaned as he could, considering his strong right leanings. Of course, he had to include some partisan points because he needed to talk about subjects he was familiar with (which is why he focused so much on the breakdown of small-town life when many of his readers will not be able to relate to that subject). But he did a good job of keeping it down to a minimum and not saying anything strongly controversial for the sake of his more liberal-leaning readers. I really admired his restraint on staying as unpartisaned as he could.

In fact, the only objection I had to what was in the book was one comment in which he used the word “schizophrenic” in an inappropriate sense, using it as an adjective to describe people who move from job to job in an erratic way. Misuse of words like “bipolar” and “schizophrenic” is one of my pet peeves. Mental illness is real, Mr. Sasse, and it’s painful. Misusing these words minimizes the pain people with mental illnesses (like myself) go through. I would say that this is not a partisan thing, but I guess sensitivity to others’ feelings (a.k.a. political correctness) IS actually a partisan thing sometimes.

Anyway, enough of my rant. I want to give the book 3.5 stars because I felt that it made some very good points, but had some rather boring sections (like the overly-long chapter on technology). I’d like to give him an extra half of a star for remaining as unpartisaned as possible, however, so I’m settling on 4 stars.

four snowflakes

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