23 November 2014

Through the Looking Glass: A Journey into the Fantasy World of Thomas Sowell (1)

Thomas Sowell's columns appear on a regular basis in my local conservative newspaper. For years I have read his columns and have been baffled as to why so many conservatives and in particular conservative Christians are quick to praise him.

He provides the arguments (if you can call them that) that they're looking for, he mocks the left, academics and any attempt to solve society's problems apart from Free Markets and the elimination of all but military and police spending by the government.

If someone points out that conservatives and very often conservative policies are racist or imperialist, the trump card so often pulled out is Thomas Sowell. He's their token minority academic. His very presence and the fact that he's so appreciated demonstrate that right wing nationalists aren't racist at all. In fact if blacks were just as smart as Thomas Sowell they would see that the Republican Party and conservative politics are most advantageous to them.

This argument is only growing in prominence as the Right is desperate to counter the demographic shift occurring in the United States. If you're conservative and a minority the Republican Party will support you in a run for public office and several minority figures are quickly rising to prominence within the party.

But this all started a long time ago, with Thomas Sowell. I picked a fairly recent column to interact with to demonstrate a point. This column was pretty typical of what he writes on a regular basis. I don't believe people are actually reading what he says. If they did they would quickly realize it's not brilliant, or even insightful. In fact I don't believe anyone would even pay attention to him except for the fact that his very presence has long been a means to foil those who accuse their movement of racism.


The Mindset of the Left

by Thomas Sowell

When teenage thugs are called "troubled youth" by people on the political left, that tells us more about the mindset of the left than about these young hoodlums.

Seldom is there a speck of evidence that the thugs are troubled, and often there is ample evidence that they are in fact enjoying themselves, as they create trouble and dangers for others.

Why then the built-in excuse, when juvenile hoodlums are called "troubled youth" and mass murderers are just assumed to be "insane"?

At least as far back as the 18th century, the left has struggled to avoid facing the plain fact of evil – that some people simply choose to do things that they know to be wrong when they do them. Every kind of excuse, from poverty to an unhappy childhood, is used by the left to explain and excuse evil.

All the people who have come out of poverty or unhappy childhoods, or both, and become decent and productive human beings, are ignored. So are the evils committed by people raised in wealth and privilege, including kings, conquerors and slaveowners.

Why has evil been such a hard concept for many on the left to accept? The basic agenda of the left is to change external conditions. But what if the problem is internal? What if the real problem is the cussedness of human beings?

Rousseau denied this in the 18th century and the left has been denying it ever since. Why? Self preservation.


Well, as Christians this isn’t really a very difficult question. The unbeliever suppresses the knowledge of God. I question the Christian understanding of someone who thinks an unbeliever will be able to grasp these truths. A Naturalistic worldview can't account for evil, but the era of history in which the 'Church' controlled society wasn't Christian either. Sowell may or may not be of those who wish to redefine Christian and use it in a societal or civilizational sense, both of which are foreign to Scripture.

Can the Left or the Right change the 'internal' conditions? If not, then should all politics be abandoned? Are all political and social solutions a waste of time? Aren’t all politics at best an attempt to control the 'external' conditions?

Conservatives are constantly extolling Sowell and yet these types of meaningless statements are part of his normal commentary.

Of course how many Right-wing Libertarians also deny the reality of evil? I guess he doesn’t want to talk about that.

How many adherents of the Free Market have at best what may be described as very low view of sin and seem to act as if the Fall hasn’t affected man at all?

While not popular in the United States most Bible believers around the world have rejected Sowell’s understanding of economics and government because they believe sin needs to be restrained.

The Puritans certainly didn’t believe in the Free Market or anything remotely related to Libertarianism. Why? Their doctrine of sin. On the extreme side of the Christian Right you'll find Theonomists who are violently opposed to Libertarianism.

I’m not suggesting any of these views are the correct approach either. But Sowell’s commentary contributes absolutely nothing to the discussion. Sowell says the Left deals with externals only, but if anyone on the Left attempts to deal with the 'internal' condition, he and his allies cry foul and charge them with Orwellian engineering, the very thing (ironically) the Right is equally committed to.

His assessment of motives…another tactic he commonly employs…is completely subjective. How does he know what motivates every Leftist? I doubt you’re going to find a single one who will argue that they continue on, knowing that they’re wrong, for the purpose of self-preservation.

He thinks they're lying? And yet, how upset Sowell and his faction get when the motives of the Right are attacked? When the Right is labeled as self-preserving, only concerned with wealth and political power, they cry foul.


If the things that the left wants to control – institutions and government policy – are not the most important factors in the world's problems, then what role is there for the left?

What if it is things like the family, the culture and the traditions that make a more positive difference than the bright new government "solutions" that the left is constantly coming up with? What if seeking "the root causes of crime" is not nearly as effective as locking up criminals? The hard facts show that the murder rate was going down for decades under the old traditional practices so disdained by the left intelligentsia, before the bright new ideas of the left went into effect in the 1960s – after which crime and violence skyrocketed.


Is he simple minded? Can government solve the problem of the family, culture and traditions? I thought he believed in small government? Does he (like some kind of Theonomist) want draconian policies that control every aspect of our lives?

No, the Left is simply engaged in pragmatism. It doesn’t work either, but they’re trying to deal with the plate that sits in front of them rather than an idealized 'vision' of society rooted in romantic fantasy that never really was.

Locking up criminals? Well that’s worked well hasn’t it? Our society incarcerates more people than any other…and the answer is to build more jails? Is he ignorant of the state of the judiciary and the penal system? Does he know what's going on?

He wants the Left to quit asking about ‘root causes’….isn’t that what he’s doing by suggesting evil as the problem? Isn't he arguing that he's found the root cause and therefore...lock them up? His government solution is to spend billions of dollars on a prison-industrial complex?

As far as the crime wave in the 1970's, as far as I know the jury is still out. Sowell claims to be an economist. He should know that not everyone agrees. In fact you'll find economists can't agree on what caused the Great Depression or what brought the United States out of it. Some argue the crime wave in the 1970's was brought on by moral decline, and yet were the 1960's the very first era or generation of massive moral decline? I think not. How do you explain other 'decadent' decades like the 1920's or the 1890's?

Others have argued it was a combination of factors. The economics of the country were in turmoil. The post-war boom was already beginning to implode, there was an energy crisis, inflation and there were massive demographic changes. There had been a great migration of blacks moving to the north and this led to racial tensions. The country was destabilized by Vietnam and questions regarding the legitimacy of government. I know Sowell probably thinks Vietnam was necessary and glorious, but it raised deep issues that people like Sowell never even consider...issues that generated moral crisis.

It's common among conservatives to blame feminism, the breakdown of the family, and many other factors for the destabilizing of society. While there is no doubt some truth to this, I have to place myself in the shoes of non-Christians for a moment.

If you're not a Christian it's only natural to begin to question social norms. In fact as Christians we need to question more of them. As people wrestle with the 'why' of what they do, they're forced to acknowledge that so much of what they do was the result of tradition and social pressure. At the end of the day if they don't believe in the God of the Bible why would they wish to follow his dictates?

Does this spell doom? Sure. But I strongly protest the notion that before the1960's this country or society was somehow following or pleasing God. Just because the divorce rate was lower and mothers stayed home, it does not mean the society was somehow Christian in its outlook. This argument is indicative of a feeble understanding of American social history, a feeble understanding of the Bible or more likely both.

Again to make a point, people read Sowell and because he says what they like, they praise him. He’s brilliant. And yet I read him regularly in my local paper and every time (I cannot think of an exception) I find his columns to be ludicrous and nonsensical. Even if I agreed with him, I could not endorse his work. His arguments are infantile and completely contradictory.

Normally my wife and I are laughing about his Ivory Tower traits…yes, the very traits he often attacks. In one column not too long ago he was talking about people on welfare with colour televisions.

Colour Televisions? Has he been out lately? Sure back in the 1980’s we all had black and white televisions sitting in our guest rooms or a back bedroom.

But that was thirty years ago. He’s a classic case of someone who rails against the poor but hasn’t talked to any poor people in 40 or 50 years. He’s forgotten his own past and though successful, he never actually learned anything from his past.

What about his race? Yes, I’ll go there. Since Sowell seems to be all-knowing and knows what motivates everyone I’ll take a stab at the same game.

It was kind of like that awkward moment when Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court. Everyone knew he had to be replaced by another African American. George HW Bush wanted to appoint a conservative but the problem was…there weren’t a lot of conservative black judges. Clarence Thomas wasn’t really qualified but it more or less had to be him. He had spent his career rejecting racial quotas and yet there he was standing next to Bush. Why? Because he was black.

I think that Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams have been successful for basically the same reason. I don’t think either exhibits any great degree of brilliance, but they have been guaranteed success because conservatives are desperate to put forward any minorities they can get their hands on.

Sowell has spent the majority of his career at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. While Sowell hates academia, mocks arrogant elites, refers to them as useful idiots...it is he who has made a career in detached academic circles. He is what he criticizes. He's part of a think-tank, an institution that is funded by energy and military interests. Their primary task is to engage in scholarly work to advance the interests of these industries. If they fail to do so, they will lose their funding. It's that simple.

Thus we must ask, is this scholarly academic work, or little more than propaganda?