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Thomas Sowell’s Vision was Right
Thomas Sowell wrote A Conflict of Visions thirty-five years ago. It seems even more insightful now than when he wrote it. He dissected the difference between the “unconstrained” view about the supposed perfectibility of human beings and their surroundings versus the “constrained” view that imperfect reality and imperfect human nature present imperfect choices. The former viewpoint is given to utopian schemes which often have spectacular downsides. The latter is all about making the best of perceived trade-offs.
The expectation of perfection in the unconstrained view means that the status quo is always damnable. It is why revolutionaries who come to power often wind up being executed for betraying the ideals of the revolution which were never achieved or simply changed. Those who had voiced support for the rights of women and homosexuals are now pilloried for alleged insensitivity to transgender issues. Whatever the issue of the moment, the unconstrained view forbids gratitude, acceptance and affirmation of what exists and how it came to be.
The constrained view does not condemn the Founders for not freeing the slaves, nor enfranchising women nor expressly affirming the LGBTQ at the same moment they created the American model of governance to serve and protect natural rights. The Founders did that in a world where most Russians and Chinese were serfs, where Africans willingly sold other Africans, where Islamic rulers had conquered, enslaved and/or forcibly converted millions, where the Comanche, Lakota, Iroquois subjugated, enslaved or killed weaker tribes so as to build empires as the Aztecs and Incas had done before, a world in which there was only the barest flicker of ideas about personal freedom and autonomy, freedom of conscience, accountable rulers and equality before the law. The surprising thing in that world was not that slavery existed in the Americas but that it ever ended and that a continuous, living drive for equality under the law survived the onslaught of the basest of human defects, fears, and malevolence.
The constrained view is grateful that Washington, Madison, and Jefferson were hypocrites who put wondrous things in motion instead of just remaining on their plantations and giving up on such dreams. The constrained view is grateful for the example of the power of hope and strength of the character of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Abraham Lincoln when all around them counseled resignation and despair. In contrast, the unconstrained view is more likely to have a checklist of ideological failures of all historical figures. The unconstrained will operate under the prejudice that the past is villainous almost by definition.
I don’t know why the unconstrained view is so prevalent in modern America (bad education alone is not an explanation—my generation had no problem resisting the moral components of our education when it suited us) and why it drives every political issue:
Climate Change. Alarmists tell us we must save the world with Green policies. They refuse to acknowledge costs or even permit a discussion of the reality of trade-offs. The increasing likelihood that the risks are overstated and the certainty that the proposed solutions cost much and accomplish little are impermissible ideas. All demonstrations of allegiance to a Green agenda provide moral satisfaction, meaning, and social membership. Typical of the unconstrained view is issue monomania—nothing else matters or can be considered and once framed, the issue cannot be critically examined.
Black Lives Matter. We can only focus on perfecting the spiritual and cognitive state of white people and govern accordingly. Actual causes of social dysfunction and crime, self-defeating behaviors, prevalent warped value judgments and/or any disconfirming statistics may not be acknowledged. Signaling adherence to BLM (no matter how overtly stupid its ideology or warped its focus) provides moral satisfaction, meaning, and social membership.
COVID. We must let government-control policies continue to metastasize and only focus on deaths attributable to the virus. All other costs and even increased deaths from other causes due to shutdowns may not be considered. Wearing absurdly porous masks, ineffectual distancing rules have become virtue-signaling moral imperatives along with obligatory condemnations of the presumptive greed of those who want to reopen society. Restating these ideas in social media signal membership and provide moral satisfaction.
The unconstrained view also rejects accountability for itself. Think of the sheer idiocy and moral obliviousness of being a 21st century Marxist. How does one who expressly endorses the ideology of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro etc. feel entitled to deny any culpability for that choice but will nevertheless assert that a white, equality-loving, left-of-center American whose ancestors arrived from Poland or Italy in the twentieth century owes reparations for slavery? It is diagnostic of the unconstrained view that one assigns guilt but never accepts it (except as cost-free ritual when it suits).
I used to think that conservatives simply needed to work harder to make common sense notions more persuasive. I now think that something qualitatively different needs to be done to eliminate the attraction, the appeal of the sensibility that gives rise to the unconstrained view.Published in General
We may now finally be forced to recognize the pure evil that has been building up and waiting in the wings. BLM/Antifa are just puppets/dupes of larger Marxist sinister forces.
Sen. Tom Cotton: ‘Woke Champions’ on the Left in America Turning a Blind Eye to China
Why is it that people now in their 20’s and 30’s evidently imagine, the way only 17 year olds once did, that they would have been anywhere as decent to the people who were their slaves as people like Washington and Jefferson were. Why do they think, evidently, that if they were back in time, born into Washington or Jefferson’s situation, they would have done not just as much but more than these men did.
You get the feeling that these people tearing down the statues wouldn’t be doing that if the circumstances of their own lives had ever compelled them to face how much they failed to live up to their own ideals.
It’s like they’ve never had to take an honest look at themselves, so, they have no humility. Instead, they have a self esteem based on self delusion. It’s out of that delusional self esteem, and extreme ignorance of history, that they judge the men whose statues they tear down.
There might be something else too: I think a lot of them are taking their anger at absent or unreliable fathers out on statues.
Great summary of Sowell’s book.
This is brilliant. Jonah Goldberg railed about the stupidity of the people who toppled the statue of Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist and Union Officer who died in the Civil War. Maybe they weren’t stupid. Maybe they knew what they were doing. Why show gratitude for ending a slave regime that never should have begun? Why show gratitude for people who fought and died to save a Union that was impure?
Some of the solutions, such as corn-based biofuel and possibly wind turbines, make the problem worse. But, again, these “solutions” cannot be questioned. So we continue to make things worse rather than question our dogma.
And thus deny that black Americans have agency. White woke people envision blacks in the role of perpetually demanding justice until white people perfect themselves.
Since when has common sense been at all common?
Or maybe the point of this entire thing is just to demoralize traditional Americans. To make them watch as their heritage is mocked and vandalized.
I too wonder about the fatherhood issue.
It is also noteworthy that people who are terrified at disagreeing with the herd on social media and largely incapable of independent much less original thought are nevertheless convinced they would have defied the conventional wisdom had they been born in Alabama in 1830.
I’ve not read A Conflict Of Visions but, based on your description, I’m not sure whether Sowell’s “unconstrained” vision neatly fits what is erupting around us right now. Critical Race Theory, which created the Woke, is not based upon the supposed perfectability of human beings and their surroundings. In fact, it has a rather dark view of the world and its race essentialism explicitly denies our common humanity. The two current bestselling tomes of the movement, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Ibram Kendi’s How To Be An AntiRacist are not kumbaya books and they are deeply pessimistic about people. Race brings with it immutable characteristics and whites are permanently damaged goods. The theory is explicitly discriminatory. It’s why the Democrats in the California legislature recently voted to repeal the anti-discrimination and equal protections clauses in the state constitution.
In Critical Race Theory there is no coming together on common grounds. There is only who ends up in power at the top of the hierarchy, a hierarchy determined by race and, depending on the variant in the theory, gender and ethnicity. These are the only things that count – ideas do not, they are not real, just word and phrases used to maintain the current power structure domination by white people. Power is determined by who controls the language, which is why they employ such bizarre sounding words and phrases to describe ordinary things, or use our common words but with completely different meanings, and why they will not engage in argument – they reject our language and concepts as elements of our control and will not engage.
However, many of those they prey upon are people with the unconstrained vision who lack the ability to understand how they are being manipulated and the ultimate agenda of the academics and activists who created the Woke. For that reason, James Lindsay, a progressive who for the past several years has been trying to raise the alarm about the dangers posed by Critical Race Theory, refers to it as “evil” because “it plays on people’s best nature, it takes good people and twists them to its purpose“. His website New Discourses contains very useful material explaining this and suggestions on how to combat it. He was also interviewed recently by Joe Rogan and it’s worth a listen.
Re # 6
That certainty about their own superior character is something you expect to see in teenagers who haven’t been tested by life yet—-people who haven’t had to face the undeniable discovery of their own moral cowardice, or faithlessness, or lack of ability or whatever. But these people aren’t teenagers. In the past, people their age had been married parents and working for years.
Re # 5
It’s as if we’re all the parents who failed them, or as if we’re all the kids they hated and envied for having better, more stable home lives than they had.
It’s one of the 5 most important books I have read
I hate my dad so now I hate my country. It’s not logical but it seems like it describes humanity pretty well.
Agreed, Black Rednecks and White Liberals is another one.
Schools and universities are left wing propaganda machines.
By the way, there are no experts when it comes to covid
“All other costs and even increased deaths from other causes due to shutdowns may not be considered. Wearing absurdly porous masks, ineffectual distancing rules have become virtue-signaling moral imperatives along with obligatory condemnations of the presumptive greed of those who want to reopen society. Restating these ideas in social media signal membership and provide moral satisfaction.”
Yes, yes, yes, YES.
Natural consequences are among the best teachers. If only the woke could experience them without dragging the rest of us into that s—hole with them.
Great post. Thomas Sowell is a national treasure and should be required reading in high schools.
The other take-away principal from A Conflict of Visions is this: The unconstrained vision operates with no limiting principles. Whatever its goal today, once achieved, it will not be enough.
Lots of people are sure that the government’s reaction to the coronavirus was justified and lots are sure that it wasn’t. I’m sure that I don’t know. Maybe after this is over and we’ve learned the final death toll and much more about the virus itself, we’ll be able to decide who was right. Possibly, we’ll decide that everybody who is sure today was wrong and what we should of done was something entirely different from what the government did and from what its critics are demanding.
I don’t blame elected officials for initial reliance on the official experts. I do blame them for not adapting to a high protection strategy for the vulnerable as the nature of the risks became clear. I also blame them for illogic. If masks actually work then shutdowns should have been greatly limited to bars, restaurants and other places where the masks cannot be continually worn. I also blame them for almost instantly metatasizing a two-week shutdown to “flatten the curve” and protect health care resources into a multi-month ‘wait till there’s a cure or vaccine’ strategy. I blame them for not reopening schools when it became clear that kids don’t get the bug and don’t transmit it and have even less risk than they do to normal flu. This one-size fits all command and control strategy was the epidemiological equivalent of the Maginot Line—static, dumb and doomed to fail at needless cost.
I find this somewhat similar to the people who believe in reincarnation. They are all very sure that they were royalty in a previous life and not a simple peasant. Just like they would be one of the few standing up for 21st century values in the 18th century. Most people have an unrealistic view of their own bravery.
Fr. Longenecker gives the straight story on human nature:
It ain’t pretty.
My takeaways from Sowell:
1) The unconstrained vision is primarily fantasy based. It places the utopia in their heads above the real-world problems at their feet. When the world doesn’t conform to their imagination, they rail against it, calling it “unacceptable”, as if reality needed you to accept it to be true. “Constrained” folks develop their plans, goals, values around the limitations of reality. Life “is what it is,” and we make the best of it in our limited time on this rock. There is no heaven on earth.
2) The unconstrained view has Zero sense of gratitude. Period. All progress must be ignored because progress doesn’t fit their imaginary utopia.
3) The unconstrained crowd is especially vocal right now because life is exceptionally easy for them. It’s easy to be ungrateful when you 1) have prosperity handed to you on a silver platter and 2) have no idea how that prosperity was made. This is the perpetual cycle of decadence.
4) Much of what you see today is a manifestation of postmodernism that has been utilized to push radical racial identity politics. The clever wordplay, the moral relativism, and the immunity to hypocrisy are all hallmarks of postmodernism.
5) Their sense of entitlement is truly galling. The very notion that they could be victims of the verbal traps they set for others is simply beyond them. They have no intention of living by their own rules.
Ethnic America might be one that could be reasonably pushed these days.
“What? You have a problem with a book on diversity by a black man?”
In a sense to hate one’s father is to hate the Father, and everything he created.
Is this why people who are the least victimized embrace victimhood the most? I have noticed the Kaepernick effect with black-American people. Black-Americans who have experienced the least amount of hardship and the least amount of bigotry are the most radical. The same goes for homosexuals and anti-poverty advocates. Though admittedly based on anecdotal observation, I have noticed that light-skinned blacks are more radical than dark-skinned black (African-Americans from Africa are the exception. They are well-acquainted with oppression.) I highly suggest watching the OJ Simpson documentary. The lighter the black-American, the more radical their politics were. It’s quite fascinating.
The chapter on German-Americans was quite good. I’m German-American and it seemed like he nailed it. However, I think he needed to do a better job to distinguish between Quakers and non-Quaker Germans.
Colin K was adopted and raised by white parents in Wisconsin.
He is clearly going thru an identity crisis. I heard that he did not have a good relationship with his black teammates because of his hybrid background.
all great piano makers are German
I wish he did a revised version, just to get it more attention. (And I’m sure some updates would be necessary – I think it was released in the late ‘80s)
Maybe, but I’ve heard his girlfriend is a radical lefty. And you know how men are under the influence of a bad woman. Sad.
Why does going through an identity crisis make you a dogmatic and dumb lefty? Also, white and black footballers have historically got along because they were so obsessed about the game that race didn’t matter much. What happened?
Leftism ruins everything.