Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse

Senator Sasse regularly reminds people that he has among the most conservative voting records in the US Senate.  I take his word for it.  Before coming to the Senate, he turned around a Liberal Arts college in Nebraska (Midland) as it's President.  It is largely his pleasure with that success that seems to motivate this ambitious and admirable book.

I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by the author, so I had the additional benefit of the inflection of his voice to imbue his writing with meaning.  He is sincere about his opinions.  I agree with many of those expressed in this book, particularly those about what builds character in adolescents.  In fact, early in this book I was cheering for it's success, making lists of friends with young children who I wanted to send it to.

He fails while he knows that he is failing.  He makes frequent mention of the need for lifelong learning, the need to constantly question one's own beliefs, and that's precisely what this book needs when he gets to theories of government and social order.  As he details his canon of great works that form the basis of a commonwealth of intellectual territory for a society there is a complete lack of scripture or literature from the East.

He continues, with sincerity, as if the only religious thought that matters is Abrahamism, turning a blind eye to the simple majority of the world's people, ignoring India, China, Africa and the non-Muslim portion of the Pacific Rim.  They simply don't merit mention, not even as his own unexplored territory.  He seems to believe these wells of human wisdom simply have nothing to offer.

So, this is when his narrative becomes cringeworthy, as he paints "socialism," a word he seems to spit out like bad fish, as a close relative of fascism, and counts some millions of lives which were ended by it.  By the same logic, one could argue that the "abolitionism" in this country slaughtered 620,000 of our nation's citizenry, and countless slaves, in the four short years that it held our nation's attention.

I was very sad, because I wanted to like this book, which he seems to have wanted to keep free of partisan polemics, become torpedoed by a myopic social analysis.  His view is mostly disabled by his lack of exposure to works like the Bhagavad Gita, The Tao Te Ching, Confucius, Sufi poetry and the like.  He is myopically Western and seems to have unwittingly bought in a kind of Abrahamic echo chamber, something he explicitly warns against in this very book.

Nevertheless, had he run in 2016, I would have voted for him over Hillary Clinton, even though HIllary and I are far more sympatico on policy.  The people of Nebraska are lucky to have him, and the country is lucky to have his level-headed conservative voice in the Senate.

As a Democratic Socialist, I *know* I have things to learn from Republican Conservatives.  I do not hold their philosophical notions directly responsible for the awful policy they sometimes produce.  Imperfect human beings make policy, one can take a perfectly good idea and execute it with greed, ignorance and ill-will.

I wish Senator Sasse promoted the idea that he is in possession of similar self-doubt.