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The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis--and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance - Ben Sasse

Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse, author and narrator
This book which purports to be about a vanishing population of the hard-working, ethically motivated American, an American that does not concentrate on or live to collect material wealth but rather to grow intellectually and spiritually, seems to really be about promoting the author. I couldn’t help wondering, as I forced myself to continue reading what was fast becoming overly detailed and boring, if he was planning to run for another office and was kicking off his campaign by writing a book that put him in the exalted position of scholar and instructor for those of us beneath him, those of us who did not have the proper lists or rules to guide us in our own lives or the lives of our children.

His theories seemed a bit lofty and patronizing as he haughtily presented them. I thought that he was attempting to quote from every author and book he had ever read and his success in that effort only made the book seem to have been written by a self-important, arrogant person with a superiority complex. He covered every topic from soup to nuts and promoted his way as the one right way for all of us, all of us who have lost our way and are busy collecting things rather than learning to understand what is really important in life. He covers birth to death and our approach to all that occurs in between. I felt, after reading the book, that Sasse may sincerely believe we have lost our way and are busy collecting things rather than learning to understand what is really important in life, and that we may be pursuing based on “consumption” rather than “redemption”. In many ways, I agreed with him, but I also thought that his rules were too broad and there were far too many of them. I love and value books, and I did appreciate his effort to promote good reading habits, but most of his dialogue was written almost as a “how-to” text, and it became overwhelming with instruction.

I have one rule of my own to offer. Authors should generally not do the audio of their own books, especially, I think, when they are non-fiction and relate to their personal lives. Some come off too dry and intellectual, some come off as if they are trying too hard and some simply sound like they are tooting their own horns. I will leave the decision as to which category Ben Sasse falls into, to the reader. Just let it be known that I often zoned out during the reading because his presentation was not engaging enough or seemed falsely emotional.

The main thrust of the book was supposed to be that our young people may not be growing up into mature adults, but rather they are being held back by the demands of others who try to protect them at every turn, preventing them from dealing with any kind of difficulty enabling them to grow and become more responsible. He believes they do not have the opportunity to properly “suffer” (author’s term, not mine), through certain coming of age moments, certain maturation experiences, certain growing pains, certain hard work experiences that will teach them that their needs and wants are separate entities, one being necessary and one being desirous. In his effort to explain his views on the subject, he outlines the changes that have taken place in our society concerning views on child rearing, education, personal behavior, respecting the rights of others and to rules that have taken on too much of a PC culture to function adequately, holding back the developing child. If a child can’t learn how to play tag because he might get scraped, or he can’t do hard work because he might get tired or even, perhaps, hurt, he cannot grow up. He remains a child. Parents that helicopter parent are delaying a child’s ability to become an independent adult, perhaps ever.

He concentrates a good deal on the sixties when moral values began to change and rules began to loosen governing children and sexual behavior, while rules governing the behavior of the adults in charge tightened, preventing them from being in control, in some cases, and making it easier for them to pass along the parenting responsibility onto others. While dress codes and moral codes relaxed, so did educational goals and religious affiliation. Devotion to family and faith began to wane as sexual freedom increased and acceptable modes of behavior broadened. As our values changed, so did the desire/need to have pleasure first and responsibility later. Children were being protected from injury and hard work, in an effort to give them self confidence, but instead, it seems to have created a perpetual child, and in my belief, a lazy parent more interested in working to provide material possessions than guidance and family values.

Sasse outlines rules for creating an atmosphere in the home and the outside world for children to live, play, work and grow because he believes that if children are exposed to alternate life styles and hard work, they will prosper emotionally and mentally.

Because he overly referenced and intellectualized the concepts with quotes and readings from the works of others from all fields of endeavor, I found the book overwhelming. I (sarcastically) wondered how many authors wrote this book along with Sasse. I also found that at every turn he began to sound somewhat like a martyr, a bit pompous and condescending. I did not feel that observing a friend’s wife deliver a child was a necessary prelude to understanding one’s own spouse’s experience. I did not feel that a child had to suffer to grow. A child simply has to experience life and not be overly protected in order to mature. A child has to know there are expectations he has to fulfill and standards have to be set that challenge the child to improve and succeed. I believe that trophies that are given for non-performance are worthless. Some of his examples for experiences children should engage in seemed a bit extreme and some seemed to simply be common sense. After awhile, I began to dislike his presentation and could understand why he is the contrarian in Congress. The book simply became all about him.

In every chapter, Sasse name dropped using references from classical authors to authors in the modern day. He quoted philosophers, educators, musicians, religious leaders, politicians, etc. He over thought the problem and presented what seemed more like a memoir or a text book, rather than a self-help handbook.

There were just too many references and asides from others to allow the narrative to flow smoothly. This list represents only a small fraction of those mentioned.

Adam Smith
De Toqueville
St. Paul

I had high hopes for a book that would explain the morphing of our society into one that was unwilling to accept the responsibility of adulthood, but instead it morphed into a book about the self-promotion of its author. Now I know that Ben Sasse is very smart and very capable, but I know little about the vanishing American or how to help recreate him/her.