Them | Ben Sasse

Summary of: Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal
By: Ben Sasse


In an increasingly polarized society, ‘Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal’ by Ben Sasse explores the forces driving us apart and the consequences that arise from feeling rejected by fellow citizens. Through neurological studies on loneliness, changing workplace dynamics, and the impact of 24-hour news and social media, Sasse highlights critical aspects of the world driving enmity. By examining the role these forces play in shaping our society, this summary offers insights into how we can come together and work towards forging stronger, more tolerant, and empathetic connections.

The Deadly Effects of Loneliness

Loneliness is not just a feeling, but also a silent killer, contributing to a host of health risks such as weakened immune systems and heart disease. The effects of chronic loneliness accumulate over time and lead to premature death, with men being particularly susceptible due to a tendency to stop making new friends once they settle down. Lack of a partner or children can contribute to the quick disappearance of social networks, leading to an upsurge in loneliness.

The Changing Nature of Work

The concept of work has drastically changed over time. Initially, work was done in close-knit communities; however, this changed with the advent of the industrial revolution. The modern American workforce is constantly in a state of flux and has moved towards self-employment. As a result, the permanency and deep relationships of workers with companies are no longer guaranteed. This increasing trend towards gig work may lead to millions of Americans losing their jobs in the future. The article highlights the potential negative impact of such job losses on families and communities.

The Pitfalls of the 24-Hour News Cycle

The author questions the need for keeping up with the news in today’s world, where information is constantly available at our fingertips. He highlights that the addiction to the 24-hour news cycle has led to a lack of in-depth information, which is crucial for being well-informed about complex issues. Technology and social media have made it difficult to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant news items, leading to confusion and polarization of society. The author emphasizes the importance of being mindful of the sources of our news and not relying solely on entertainment-driven mediums like TV and Twitter.

The Rage-Monger Phenomenon

How Nutpicking and Enemies Fuel Anger-driven News Programs

Sean Hannity’s news program is the highest-rated news show in America, and the second spot goes to his radio talk show. What’s the reason for his success? It’s not because he advances logical arguments or advocate for specific policies, but mainly because he tugs on viewers’ emotions and helps them get angry.

Hannity induces anger through “nutpicking,” a process where the media searches social media platforms to find a random person saying something outrageously stupid. These individuals are then used to debase an entire community by claiming that the nutjob’s actions are typical of them. For instance, after the mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas, Hannity’s show attacked the lefties, accusing them of trying to politicize the incident. To support his argument, he brought viewers’ attention to a Twitter account purportedly belonging to a left-wing teacher who tweeted that they hoped only Trump supporters were killed in the shooting. Besides, Hannity mentioned obscure media and entertainment lawyer’s Facebook comment that they had little sympathy for the victims since they were Republicans.

As much as most Americans find anger-driven news shows unproductive, millions of viewers can’t get enough of them, such as Hannity’s. Interestingly, recent studies suggest that there may be a deep psychological reason as to why people keep tuning in such news programs against their better judgment.

Research has shown that having enemies provides a tangible psychological benefit. Enemies like phantom evil left-wingers conjured by Hannity create a sense of coherence in people’s lives. One compelling study directed participants to imagine a formidable foe such as ISIS. After doing so, researchers noted that the participants perceived the world as less dangerous and disordered, demonstrating that hate-mongering media pundits like Hannity help viewers make sense of frightening events and sow the seeds of social conflict by planting wicked “them” in viewers’ minds.

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