Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Sowell Mate: the wit and wisdom of the great Thomas Sowell

Source: Stories blog

Reading about the rest of the world’s limp-wristed reaction to slave state North Korea’s latest nuclear test this morning, I was reminded – as I so often am – of the words of the American sage, Thomas Sowell:
If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win.
Stephen King went through a phase of always featuring wise old black guys in his novels who were mystically in touch with universal truths hidden from us white folk. For me, Thomas Sowell is the incarnation of that wise old black guy - only there's nothing mystical about his diamond-hard insights.

I know I’ve referred to Sowell often on this blog (here, for instance - and here). The reason for that is simple: he is my favourite living writer on politics, economics and society. Others consult the I-Ching or Tarot cards or the Koran – for me, it tends to be the New Testament or conservative philosopher Roger Scruton or Thomas Sowell. It’s not that Sowell has persuaded me to change my mind on any particular issue: it’s just that he regularly articulates with perfect clarity in one or two pithy sentences what has often puzzled me for years. The number of times I quasi-orgasmically shout out “Oh, yes!” while reading Sowell is remarkable: he also makes me laugh a lot, which always helps.

Regular readers may have noticed that I’m obsessed with our left-liberal politico-media elite’s ineffably high-handed habit of advocating policies purely on the grounds that they reinforce their own sense of moral superiority – as long as it makes them feel good about themselves, the results (which are invariably disastrous, and for which they never pay the price) are irrelevant.

I’d always been dimly aware that modern urban leftists were emotional masturbators who, as a matter of course, rejected common sense and experience and human nature and facts and the lessons of history - but I only fully understood why their self-pleasuring smugness was so infuriating when I read Sowell. He's been writing about this phenomenon with forensic precision for decades. (The group term he uses for these dictatorial onanists, by the way, is “The Anointed”):
Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good. 
It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.
Liberalism is totalitarianism with a human face.
Liberals seem to assume that, if you don't believe in their particular political solutions, then you don't really care about the people that they claim to want to help. 
The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive. 
Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important. Some confuse that feeling with idealism.
One of the most pervasive political visions of our time is the vision of liberals as compassionate and conservatives as less caring. 
The charge is often made against the intelligentsia and other members of the anointed that their theories and the policies based on them lack common sense. But the very commonness of common sense makes it unlikely to have any appeal to the anointed. How can they be wiser and nobler than everyone else while agreeing with everyone else?
For the anointed, traditions are likely to be seen as the dead hand of the past, relics of a less enlightened age, and not as the distilled experience of millions who faced similar human vicissitudes before.
The vision of the anointed is one in which ills such as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from 'society,' rather than from individual choices and behavior. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by 'society'.

Sowell is particularly illuminating on the subject of race and “diversity”. The anointed have used race as a stick with which to beat the unenlightened (that's you and me), blithely condemning working-class blacks to a life of increasing dependency in the process. This evidently annoys the hell out of Sowell, who comes from a black working-class background:
If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today. 
The poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits ever since 1994. You would never learn that from most of the media. Similarly you look at those blacks that have gone on to college or finished college, the incarceration rate is some tiny fraction of what it is among those blacks who have dropped out of high school. So it’s not being black; it’s a way of life. Unfortunately, the way of life being celebrated not only in rap music, but among the intelligentsia, is a way of life that leads to a lot of very big problems for most people.
The word 'racism' is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything - and demanding evidence makes you a 'racist.' 
The next time some academics tell you how important diversity is, ask how many Republicans there are in their sociology department.
Can you cite one speck of hard evidence of the benefits of "diversity" that we have heard gushed about for years? Evidence of its harm can be seen — written in blood — from Iraq to India, from Serbia to Sudan, from Fiji to the Philippines. It is scary how easily so many people can be brainwashed by sheer repetition of a word.

He’s also extremely sound on modern liberal teaching methods:
Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.
Too much of what is called "education" is little more than an expensive isolation from reality. 
The problem isn't that Johnny can't read. The problem isn't even that Johnny can't think. The problem is that Johnny doesn't know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.

As a libertarian economist, he is particularly scathing about the anointed’s endless attempts to redistribute wealth:
The real minimum wage is zero.
I have never understood why it is "greed" to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else's money.
Bailing out people who made ill-advised mortgages makes no more sense that bailing out people who lost their life savings in Las Vegas casinos.
Since this is an era when many people are concerned about 'fairness' and 'social justice,' what is your 'fair share' of what someone else has worked for?
One of the consequences of such notions as ‘entitlements’ is that people who have contributed nothing to society feel that society owes them something, apparently just for being nice enough to grace us with their presence. (Oh, yes! YES!!!)

Inevitably, Sowell takes a dim view of politicians and public sector bureaucrats:
You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing. 
It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer it.
The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings. 
No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.
The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
...killing the goose that lays the golden egg is a viable political strategy, so long as the goose does not die before the next election and no one traces the politicians’ fingerprints on the murder weapon. 

Here, he explains why arguing with liberals is so maddening and, ultimately, so pointless:
As for gun control advocates, I have no hope whatever that any facts whatever will make the slightest dent in their thinking - or lack of thinking. 

Despite being an eminent member of America’s intelligensia, he is under no illusions about the harm clever people can do:
There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.
Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it. 

Here, he sums up the role of the anointed in fomenting trouble around the globe:
There are few talents more richly rewarded with both wealth and power, in countries around the world, than the ability to convince backward people that their problems are caused by other people who are more advanced.
Civilization has been aptly called a 'thin crust over a volcano.' The anointed are constantly picking at that crust.

Here, he tackles modern politicians’ mania for apologising on our behalf for stuff we didn’t do:
We seem to be moving steadily in the direction of a society where no one is responsible for what he himself did, but we are all responsible for what somebody else did, either in the present or in the past.

I’ll leave you with a deeply conservative saying that could usefully be tattooed on the eye-balls of babyish liberals – preferably without an anaesthetic:
There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.

God, he's wonderful! The Great Man is now 82, but still writing regularly - and brilliantly: his articles can be found at the Townhall wesbite, here

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