Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. A Brief Excursion into Hero Worship

 

It’s strange that conservatives don’t believe in heroes. You would think that our focus on preserving that which is good in humanity would turn our gaze toward those who have come before. But it is progressives that claim that one reason for the lack of success among certain groups is due to a lack of role models. Not me. I grew up as an aspiring athlete. I had a weight bench in my bedroom during junior high. All I did was work out. All I wanted was to be a great athlete. My father was a great athlete, but I didn’t even know. Partially because I didn’t care, and partially because he never felt the need to point that out to me. All I knew was that I was going to be a great athlete. I admired the tough guys – Pete Rose, Mike Ditka, etc. These were not necessarily nice people. I admired their accomplishments, but I had no desire to model my life after theirs. I don’t believe in heroes.

My parents are without question the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met. But the most extraordinary person I’ve never met is Thomas Sowell. I consider him to be one of the greatest thinkers of the past couple hundred years. And one of the great men of the past couple hundred years. And he’s an American citizen. And nearly all American students have never heard of him. This is extraordinary. Allow me just one brief essay on one of my very few heroes.

Mr. Sowell was born in Gastonia, NC in 1930. His father died before he was born. His mother was a maid who already had four children, and sent her various children off to be raised by various family members. Mr. Sowell’s parents died at ages 29 and 31. He discovered much later in life that he was an orphan, never having known his parents. Mr. Sowell’s great aunt and her two daughters raised him in Harlem, NY. He was the first in his family to study beyond the sixth grade, but dropped out of high school at age 17 to work to support his family. He was a great athlete, and tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, but did not make the team. Some say racism may have played a role in that decision. Mr. Sowell points out that he would have made the team if he was a better baseball player.

A conflict of visions, if you will.

His winding road led him from odd jobs in Harlem, to the Marine Corps in Korea, to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard, earn a master’s from Columbia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (where he studied under Milton Friedman).

He was the first to describe what he called “Einstein Syndrome.” His son learned to speak late but had remarkable skills with math and abstract reasoning. Mr. Sowell did the research, found similar kids all over the country, and pointed out that they did not have Asperger’s Syndrome, but rather a previously poorly understood condition. Einstein was presumed to has Asperger’s as a child, and Mr. Sowell has demonstrated that this was not the case. Physicians of the day simply did not understand what they were seeing.

I have this syndrome (but not Mr. Einstein’s skill in theoretical physics), and Mr. Sowell’s writing on this topic was the first of his books that I read, on the recommendation of a psychiatrist friend of mine. I did not enjoy the book (his descriptions of those with this syndrome hit too close to home for me), but my wife did enjoy the book, and kept looking over the book at me and nodding her head, grunting, “Mm-hmm…” I enjoyed her reading of the book even less than I enjoyed reading it myself.

Thank you very much, Mr. Sowell.

His book, “Conflict of Visions” is the most brilliant book I have ever read. Anything which can compete with Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” is an extraordinary work. And it was written by an American, in 1987. And no American student has ever heard of it. This is extraordinary.

Let me say that again. This is absolutely extraordinary.

Mr. Sowell has also written around 60 books and innumerable newspaper columns. Every time I read something of his, I learn something. Every single time. A debt for which I am eternally grateful.

I think one reason that he is not acknowledged as a great philosopher is that he writes in language that anyone can understand. He takes complex topics and makes them sound simple. Which simplistic people mistake for simplistic thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a sign of genius.

It is the simplistic thinkers that take complex topics and make them sound even more complex. They conceal their simplistic thinking with complex language, which conceals their lack of understanding. Mr. Sowell reveals his profound understanding with his simplistic language. He has no need to conceal his meaning. Quite the contrary.

Such a blatant frontal attack on the absurdities of modern academia will not be suffered by our clown princes of the day.

He cannot be debated, so he will be ignored. This offends me.

America has produced some extraordinary individuals, most of whom, we ignore. Everyone has heard of Mickey Mantle, and Barack Obama, and Michael Jordan, and lots of other American heroes. But we ignore many of the true greats. Those who will be studied hundreds of years from now, we ignore now. I suppose this is just the way it is. But it is hard for me to accept.

Mr. Sowell recently turned 90 years old, and just published a book about the American educational system that is nearly 600 pages long, and has a bibliography that is longer than any book Mr. Obama had written for him.

Please, Mr. Sowell, hang in there. You are more important than you are willing to accept. And most certainly more important than Americans are willing to accept. There are those who ignore you, because they prefer not to consider anything contrary to how they’ve been indoctrinated in the very educational system you criticize. But there are others.

Others like me. Most of us are not important, like Mr. Obama or Mr. Jordan. But for what it’s worth, you are appreciated. By lots and lots of little people. Some day your work will be studied in the halls of academia. But for now, you are studied by lots and lots of little people. Lots and lots and lots of little people.

Little people like me.

Thank you, Mr. Sowell. I don’t believe in hero worship. We are all flawed, and I try to find my own road. I’m never disappointed by my heroes, because I don’t believe in heroes.

But, for what it’s worth, you’re my hero.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dr. Sowell is one of my favorite authors.

    • #1
    • August 7, 2020, at 1:50 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  2. Seawriter Contributor

    I don’t know Thomas Sowell the man. I do know his words. They are Sowell food for thought.

    • #2
    • August 7, 2020, at 2:08 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Hmm. May have to look up that book of his. I, too, was late to speak, and I always assumed it was mild Asperger’s. (Which does run in my family.)

    • #3
    • August 7, 2020, at 2:11 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt BartleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Conflict of Visions had a big impact on my thinking. I had to buy it twice since I started reading it on vacation and when I got home I couldn’t find it, so I had to buy it again to finish it. Worth every penny, and maybe the copy I left behind got read by someone.

    It’s always amusing when Sowell is being interviewed and someone asks a question that’s 3 paragraphs long, and then he gives an answer in 6 words. But that’s all he needs. Boom! Mike drop.

    It is a shame that more people don’t know about him. 

    • #4
    • August 7, 2020, at 2:19 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  5. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Dr. Bastiat: It’s strange that conservatives don’t believe in heroes.

    I disagree with your premise, but I love your post. Somebody wrote about about conservative heroes.

    • #5
    • August 7, 2020, at 2:24 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpringJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Totally agree. He can pack more insight and meaning into one readily understandable sentence than anyone I have read.

    • #6
    • August 7, 2020, at 2:43 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. PHCheese Member

    I was a late talker too. I think it had to do with my older sister telling me to be quiet.

    • #7
    • August 7, 2020, at 2:59 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  8. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge

    Sowell is a national treasure.

    NB: Dr. Sowell is not pictured below.

    Image result for national treasure

    • #8
    • August 7, 2020, at 3:14 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. Brian Wyneken Member

    In 1989 I left the active duty Air Force and moved to Minnesota (my wife’s home state) with my young family to attend law school. After settling in I was discouraged by our decision to move here. It was probably due to being a Hoosier/veteran/older law student at the University of Minnesota, but I had never been around so many smug and generally obnoxious people in my life – it all seemed to be about having the “right” set of beliefs and I did not fit in with this bunch. In trying to figure this out I went to visit the only (and the last) republican on the Minneapolis City Council and he suggested I go visit with a rising writer named Katherine Kersten for some perspective. She in turn recommended “A Conflict of Visions” as an explanation for this phenomenon I was witnessing. It did, and I read everything I could find of Sowell’s and still do. What a great man and thanks for posting this!

    • #9
    • August 7, 2020, at 3:22 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  10. Richard Fulmer Member

    Dr. Bastiat: His book, “Conflict of Visions” is the most brilliant book I have ever read.

    I would go with his book, Knowledge and Decisions, though Conflict of Visions is brilliant. His “culture” trilogy (Race and Culture, Migration and Cultures, and Conquest and Cultures) anticipated Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, and did it better.

    • #10
    • August 7, 2020, at 4:06 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I have read a few of his books. The man is brilliant, humble and a gift for the world. Thank you for honoring him.

    • #11
    • August 7, 2020, at 4:08 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    Dr. Bastiat: It’s strange that conservatives don’t believe in heroes.

    What conservatives are you talking about?

    • #12
    • August 7, 2020, at 4:10 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. Doug Kimball Thatcher

    I was a late talker. I also have a sister who is 12 months older than I am, so I did not have to speak. She spoke for me, which was OK by me.

    • #13
    • August 7, 2020, at 4:20 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor

    A number of you have me confused: did you have Asperger’s or the poorly diagnosed condition as late talkers? I assume I wasn’t a late talker, since that was never expressed to me.

    • #14
    • August 7, 2020, at 4:25 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. MiMac Thatcher

    I really think Conflict of Visions is a great book. I have lent it out so many times that I’ve bought 3 copies- one I never lend out and one has disappeared. He gave an interview years ago rebutting the claims that banks were discriminating against Blacks. His reasoning was so unrefuttable, yet so simple I was determined to read & listen to him more. He simply said, if Black customers were being discriminated against that means that banks required them to be better qualified than whites to get a loan-if that were true than Blacks would default less than whites-so you could easily prove it by looking at the readily available data. But he looked & lo & behold the default rate for Blacks & Whites was equal- thereby proving NO discrimination. He readily agreed that the races differed on loan characteristics- but since the default Rate was the same the banks were correctly gauging the risks.

    • #15
    • August 7, 2020, at 5:04 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  16. Lois Lane Coolidge

    This is really lovely. Just lovely.

    • #16
    • August 7, 2020, at 5:13 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  17. Ansonia Member
    AnsoniaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thank you, Dr. Bastiat, for honoring my hero with this post.

    • #17
    • August 7, 2020, at 5:16 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  18. MISTER BITCOIN Member

    the tragic vision vs the utopian vision

     

    • #18
    • August 7, 2020, at 5:18 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Richard Fulmer Member

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    I was a late talker. I also have a sister who is 12 months older than I am, so I did not have to speak. She spoke for me, which was OK by me.

    We met this sweet little old lady who told us about her youngest son who was a late talker. She had his baby book, with a place reserved for his first word, but,… no first word. One summer, the family went on a road trip. When they stopped for gas, Dad had everyone get out of the car and use the restroom. Jeffery, the oldest, maintained that he didn’t have to go, and stayed put. When they were just pulling out, though, the youngest son who had never said a word piped up and shouted, “Mommy, Jeffery has to go piss!” She said she just couldn’t bear to put that in his baby book.

    • #19
    • August 7, 2020, at 5:27 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  20. Hartmann von Aue Member

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: It’s strange that conservatives don’t believe in heroes.

    I disagree with your premise, but I love your post. Somebody wrote about about conservative heroes.

    I also disagree with your premise but thank you for the post. I am currently listening to Intellectuals and Society on Audible. 

    • #20
    • August 8, 2020, at 1:48 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Henry Castaigne Member

    MiMac (View Comment):

    I really think Conflict of Visions is a great book. I have lent it out so many times that I’ve bought 3 copies- one I never lend out and one has disappeared. He gave an interview years ago rebutting the claims that banks were discriminating against Blacks. His reasoning was so unrefuttable, yet so simple I was determined to read & listen to him more. He simply said, if Black customers were being discriminated against that means that banks required them to be better qualified than whites to get a loan-if that were true than Blacks would default less than whites-so you could easily prove it by looking at the readily available data. But he looked & lo & behold the default rate for Blacks & Whites was equal- thereby proving NO discrimination. He readily agreed that the races differed on loan characteristics- but since the default Rate was the same the banks were correctly gauging the risks.

    Also blacks do more crime and Asians do less crime. Strangely, no one mentions that America is biased towards Asians. Mr. Sowell has explained that races can have differences that aren’t related to a bigoted society for literally decades. It is a testament that man’s stupidity that he hasn’t changed the debate. 

    • #21
    • August 8, 2020, at 1:55 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  22. MISTER BITCOIN Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):

    I really think Conflict of Visions is a great book. I have lent it out so many times that I’ve bought 3 copies- one I never lend out and one has disappeared. He gave an interview years ago rebutting the claims that banks were discriminating against Blacks. His reasoning was so unrefuttable, yet so simple I was determined to read & listen to him more. He simply said, if Black customers were being discriminated against that means that banks required them to be better qualified than whites to get a loan-if that were true than Blacks would default less than whites-so you could easily prove it by looking at the readily available data. But he looked & lo & behold the default rate for Blacks & Whites was equal- thereby proving NO discrimination. He readily agreed that the races differed on loan characteristics- but since the default Rate was the same the banks were correctly gauging the risks.

    Also blacks do more crime and Asians do less crime. Strangely, no one mentions that America is biased towards Asians. Mr. Sowell has explained that races can have differences that aren’t related to a bigoted society for literally decades. It is a testament that man’s stupidity that he hasn’t changed the debate.

    regarding loans, banks look at your credit score. If your credit score is under 700, you will have a harder time getting a loan regardless of race/ethnicity/gender/etc.

    regarding crime, the number one factor I’ve seen is out of wedlock birthrate. There is an inverse relationship between out of wedlock birth rates/2 parent families and income, wealth, education achievement, rate of incarceration, etc.

     

    • #22
    • August 8, 2020, at 2:12 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. Dr. Strangelove Thatcher
    Dr. StrangeloveJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dr. Bastiat:

    Mr. Sowell recently turned 90 years old, and just published a book about the American educational system that is nearly 600 pages long, and has a bibliography that is longer than any book Mr. Obama had written for him.

     

    Dude. That is going to leave a mark. 

    • #23
    • August 8, 2020, at 5:24 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  24. Quietpi Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Also blacks do more crime and Asians do less crime. Strangely, no one mentions that America is biased towards Asians. Mr. Sowell has explained that races can have differences that aren’t related to a bigoted society for literally decades. It is a testament that man’s stupidity that he hasn’t changed the debate. 

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    regarding crime, the number one factor I’ve seen is out of wedlock birthrate. There is an inverse relationship between out of wedlock birth rates/2 parent families and income, wealth, education achievement, rate of incarceration, etc.

     

    These are absolutely true. The single most destructive thing done to blacks (and other minorities) since the passage of the 14th Amendment, has been the Aid To Families With Dependent Children Act (AFDC), which made a man in the house a liability. If you spend any time working with felony defendants, inmates, etc. it becomes so slap-in-the-face obvious that denying it is in itself an indication of a warped mind.

    Nobody yet has mentioned my favorite Sowell book, Basic Economics.

    • #24
    • August 8, 2020, at 7:26 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  25. Goldgeller Member

    Enjoyable post! I’m a big fan of Thomas Sowell and I think it is shame he isn’t discussed more. The Vision of the Anointed and Knowledge and Decisions are two of my favorite “foundational” books that helped me really grow as a thinker. He has written so many great books. 

    It is funny because in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis (I was moderate– right on social issues left on spending) I was looking to really understand what happened and how the “smart set” could have gotten things so wrong. Long story short, someone said check out Paul Krugman (already a fan at the time) and Thomas Sowell (I didn’t know who he was). The book store didn’t have the Krugman book I wanted–but they did have Sowell– I bought it (Vision) and it was fantastic. There was a lot I just wasn’t aware of and the argumentation was persuasive. From there, you could say it was “off to the races” on understanding sincerely presented right-leaning arguments and it pushed me towards my minarchy stage. 

    I’m sorry Sowell doesn’t have a bigger following. I’ve seen him on two syllabi but I’d like to see him on more. 

    • #25
    • August 8, 2020, at 7:59 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  26. Songwriter Inactive
    SongwriterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’ll add Intellectuals and Society to the looooong list of brilliant books by Sowell. His ideas about consequential knowledge and inconsequential knowledge basically eviscerate the cultural elite.

    • #26
    • August 8, 2020, at 8:15 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    I see all these comments about the (obvious) greatness of Dr. Sowell, so I guess the OP was about him. I missed that part, because I never made it past the part about conservatives not liking heroes. I’m still trying to figure that one out. If anything, conservatives seem to be the only ones who still do. In fact, we’re often criticized for believing in rugged individualism; the idea that individuals can overcome great odds. Meanwhile, the Left is canceling even their own heroes, like Margaret Sanger. RGB and John Lewis are about the only heroes they have, and we can expect them to run afoul of the mob sooner or later.

    So what gives?

    • #27
    • August 8, 2020, at 8:16 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  28. Bryan Van Blaricom Member
    Bryan Van BlaricomJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):

    It’s always amusing when Sowell is being interviewed and someone asks a question that’s 3 paragraphs long, and then he gives an answer in 6 words. But that’s all he needs. Boom! Mike drop.

    One of my favorite examples was in an interview he did with Peter Robinson (probably one of his Uncommon Knowledge interviews), paraphrased:

    Peter Robinson: You stated that you were a Marxist in your youth, and yet you eventually changed to embrace free market economics and capitalism. What caused you to change your mind?

    Thomas Sowell: Facts.

     

    • #28
    • August 8, 2020, at 8:45 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  29. Joe Boyle Member

    I was a talker who stopped talking. Many times I’ve wished I had never stared again.

    • #29
    • August 8, 2020, at 9:09 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. Seawriter Contributor

    Joe Boyle (View Comment):
    I was a talker who stopped talking.

    This happened after your got married, right?

    • #30
    • August 8, 2020, at 9:21 AM PDT
    • 2 likes