25 November 2014

Through the Looking Glass: A Journey into the Fantasy World of Thomas Sowell (2)


What happened when old-fashioned ideas about sex were replaced in the 1960s by the bright new ideas of the left that were introduced into the schools as "sex education" that was supposed to reduce teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases?

Both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases had been going down for years. But that trend suddenly reversed in the 1960s and hit new highs.


I certainly don't side with the Left on the issues of sexual liberation and am not going to suggest that 'sex education', contraception and all the rest have been good for society.

But I will argue with Sowell. First of all the data really only goes back to the early 60's. Apart from the Kinsey study, which I agree was a joke, there wasn't a lot of data.

That said, I'll grant the rates have all gone up. But was it the 1960's?

The 'pill' was invented in the 1950's and though it became popular in the 1960's it wasn't a result of the 'hippie' generation and their ideas about free love. Its highest demand was to be found in the middle class. What it did for the hippies, was to allow them to engage in sexual behaviour with less consequence.

I know Margaret Sanger is hated by the right and certainly was an unsavoury person but a big part of the push for the pill was rooted in older movements. Birth Control politics was nothing new and there's a dark nexus in the early 20th century where birth control politics and anti-immigration coincide. The traditional Right/Left divisions break down.

Many like Sowell will oversimplify and argue the Progressives were all Leftist in their sentiments...equivalent to contemporary Leftists. And yet, there were many who supported Eugenics who believed in doing so they were standing for Christian civilization and conservative values. He (and he's by no means alone), often reads modern Leftism back into the past which can be quite misleading.

How can these traditionalist conservatives stand for something like Eugenics? The answer is pretty simple, and that is racism. Progressivism sometimes overlapped with anti-immigration policies which today most would consider to be a pretty conservative political stance. People have forgotten how affected the country was in the early 1900's by the waves of immigrants that had come to this country. And after World War II many have selectively forgotten that much of the mindset of the Western Establishment was imperialist and most certainly racist.

With industrialization, American factories needed workers. In England and much of Europe what was left of the feudal order was broken up forcing thousands into the cities desperate for work in a new cash economy. In the United States the old WASP-ish folk who were farming the countryside were not going to be easily enticed off their farms to go work in a polluted city doing factory work.

The Titans of Industry or Robber Barons depending on your economic and political theory needed immigrants. But they came in such numbers the country was shaken, the Klan rose again...this time in the North as well and people started talking about Eugenics. The Rockefellers played no small role in the early days of this movement. While they're viewed as 'Liberals' it's only that simple in Thomas Sowell's world. You're not going to find too many big oil people who are going to be 'liberal' in their outlook.

Sowell likes to attack the Left for overcomplicating arguments. He views it as a tactic. I have to say for many years I would have agreed with Sowell. I hated people who didn't see the world in simple black and white terms. Back then I listened to Rush Limbaugh and allowed him to get me all worked up when Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992. I thought the country was coming to end etc... The present anti-Obama frenzy is nothing new though many seem to have forgotten the dire predictions and doomsday warnings in the early 1990's.

Then (praise God) I was converted to Christianity and as per Romans 12 my mind was renewed. I began to apply the Bible to all of my life and rethink everything I had ever been taught or to put it differently, I began to re-think how I had been taught to think.

I realized much of what I had been taught was half-truth and often just blatant lies. The world grew more complex. Far from being terrifying, it was humbling. As an unregenerate young man I had been filled with pride, anger and would have easily been recruited to put on a uniform, pick up a gun, go hurt people in other lands and would have believed it was right to do so.

The world was a pretty simple place. Becoming a Christian I had a much better understanding of good and evil. But unlike Sowell I realized in the real world the bad guys don't wear black cowboy hats and the good guys don't wear white ones. It's more complicated. Sometimes the bad guy is a nice guy who smiles, shakes your hand and buys you dinner. He might have a nice family and live in a nice neighbourhood. He might carry a Bible. The real world is far more confusing and dangerous.

I can see why people want to fall back to the simple world of Sowell, Palin, Bachmann, Reagan and others. It's easy to convince yourself that you're good and that you're standing against evil.

The Biblical position is quite different and destroys both pride and man's projects. It won't baptize pride and ambition. The dreams of wealth and power are dissolved. Sowell's heroes become pretty evil people. And those he calls evil...I'll grant him this point...they're pretty evil too.


One of the oldest and most dogmatic of the crusades of the left has been disarmament, both of individuals and of nations. Again, the focus of the left has been on the externals – the weapons in this case.

If weapons were the problem, then gun control laws at home and international disarmament agreements abroad might be the answer. But if evil people who care no more for laws or treaties than they do for other people's lives are the problem, then disarmament means making decent, law-abiding people more vulnerable to evil people.

Since belief in disarmament has been a major feature of the left since the 18th century, in countries around the world, you might think that by now there would be lots of evidence to substantiate their beliefs.

But evidence on whether gun control laws actually reduce crime rates in general, or murder rates in particular, is seldom mentioned by gun control advocates. It is just assumed in passing that of course tighter gun control laws will reduce murders.

But the hard facts do not back up that assumption. That is why it is the critics of gun control who rely heavily on empirical evidence, as in books like More Guns, Less Crime by John Lott and Guns and Violence by Joyce Lee Malcolm.

National disarmament has an even worse record. Both Britain and America neglected their military forces between the two World Wars, while Germany and Japan armed to the teeth. Many British and American soldiers paid with their lives for their countries' initially inadequate military equipment in World War II.

But what are mere facts compared to the heady vision of the left?


Sowell likes to speak of hard facts and many Reformed who praise Sowell find this type of argument a little embarrassing. Hard facts are often not as concrete as people would wish. Facts are meant to be objective, in fact they have to be in order to be facts. But, people interpret and assimilate all data based on philosophical assumptions. Different epistemologies are going to deal with data in a different way.

As Christians we have a different epistemology than a naturalist or materialist. But when it comes to something like guns and society we should be able to say something. We should be able to put together some data and make some observations.

Sowell makes the classic argument that if you take away guns from law abiding people then the criminals who refuse to abide the law will have them and terrorize the law abiding public who does not.

To Sowell arguments for gun control represent a naive view of the world. The world is full of bad guys and we have to fight gun violence with gun violence.

But the facts don't support his conclusions on several levels.

One, it's a 'fact' that in societies like Britain since the vast majority of the public is disarmed, they have only a fraction of the gun violence. Are a few people killed every year by gun toting criminals? Yes. Do they have violent crime? Certainly.

But in general the number of 'gun related' crimes is far lower. It's ten times lower in Canada and forty times lower in Britain.

Sowell doesn't want to admit it, but if guns are removed from society there's a lot less gun violence. I guess that's hard to grasp for some people but it should be obvious.

Now I'm not saying that taking away guns is right or wrong, I'm simply stating the case and pointing out that Sowell's logic is faulty. That doesn't mean that his position is wrong, but his argument is wrong. His use of facts and argument are misleading.

I realize there are cultural and legal issues regarding gun possession in this country. That's not the point.

I also realize that culturally this society would have a much harder time in ever clearing all the guns from the streets. If guns were banned and confiscated there would still be millions of firearms floating around the criminal underground for many decades.

Sowell is just plain wrong and like most of his crew their commentary is filled with a mix of facts, misinterpretations, complete errors and in some cases delusion. Not everything he or his colleagues say is wrong but generally even if they get something right, it's applied in a flawed manner.

As far as national disarmament, this is a more complicated topic. Sorry, but Sowell's simplistic naiveté is showing through once again. For many conservative hawks anything less than continual expansion is akin to disarmament. There are economics involved as well as an overall cost to society by maintaining large scale standing technological armies. Eisenhower warned of the 'Complex' even after he helped erect it.

As far as the interwar period, Sowell (I hope) would recognize there were a lot of different things happening in British and American societies that make this issue a little more complex than a simple call for disarmament in the name of Leftist principles. A second Great War was unthinkable. The League of Nations had been established. There was a worldwide depression. There were mixed feelings about what had happened at Versailles.

To suggest that it was simply 'the Left' that wanted to disarm is more than a little misleading. In fact it was many on the Right who stood for Isolationism. In fact paleo-conservatives will tell you that they are the true conservatives and that our modern hawkish warmongering conservatives aren't actually conservative at all but part of the Progressive tradition, a re-cast of Manifest Destiny on a geo-political scale.

Sowell is banking on an audience that is ignorant. And then if he's rightly challenged for being simplistic he counter-attacks by suggesting that you're employing an elitist intellectual trick and obfuscating, muddying the waters in order to mute his point.

His points are impotent and juvenile. His high school debate club arguments only succeed because they tickle the ears of his audience.