Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I See Intellectual People

Thomas Sowell is a national treasure. It's really too bad he gets next to no attention outside conservative think tank circles. Instead we are fed a steady diet of folks like Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman and David Gergen as America's intellectual heavyweights. How many people do you know that have even heard of Dr. Sowell? Being a right-minded intellectual black man it is no surprise to me that the major media pay no attention to him at all (to them he's another Clarence Thomas, antithetical to their view of an African American). He is never invited on for comment. It's a shame and it's very unfortunate for our country.

Recently I watched a video interview with Dr. Sowell that took place right before the 2008 presidential election. The topic essentially came down to a comparison of the "constrained" and the "unconstrained" vision of human interaction and institutions.

A brief synopsis: the constrained vision is that human nature is fundamentally flawed. For society to work we must somehow erect institutions to contain human nature - in a sense erect boundaries around our flaws and allow us to get on with it considering the fallen character of human nature. The unconstrained vision is that human nature itself is malleable but is being held down causing pain and suffering. In this view we must remake the man-made institutions that are causing this pain and suffering.

You can probably guess which side President Obama comes down on...

The unconstrained view believes you need to simply put smart people in charge and through intellectual capacity alone make all the problems just go away. The constrained view assumes that there are very limited things that institutions can actually do and the idea is to minimize the damage done by the flaws in our human nature. One relies on experience and history to guide it down the proper path while the other relies on superior people with superior ideas.

Peter Robinson, of the Hoover Institution who was conducting the Sowell interview recited a couple of revealing quotations from the two presidential candidates:


John McCain in the Presidential debate of October 16th, on the kinds of judges he would nominate to the Supreme Court “I will find the best people in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the constitution and not legislating from the bench.” Barack Obama, during the same debate, “If a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up if nobody else will and that is the kind of judge I want.”

(One of these answers falls toward reflection and experience and one toward undefinable feelings. )

Quoting Sowell: "There is an unwillingness to look at the facts of history and it is anti-intellectual, in a sense of intellectual process is unfortunately all too characteristic [of intellectuals] as an occupational category."

And Robinson asks: "Why would the unconstrained vision prove so particularly appealing to intellectuals?"

Thomas Sowell: "That is a tough one, but I think that I guess the short answer is they imagine that good people like themselves to make this thing go and if it has not worked in the past, it is only because they have not had the right people doing it. In other words, Communism would have worked if it had not been for Stalin. But of course, once you have a system like Communism, people like Stalin are the ones who will come to the floor."


In my humble opinion many, many highly intelligent individuals don't like people in general. They find it tedious to have to deal with others who can't match wits with them regardless of how decent the other person is. Since they have personally learned to control some of the worst aspects of human nature they find it very difficult to "suffer the fools" who haven't. Therefore allowing natural forces like market fluctuations, survival of the fittest and the stupidity of bad decisions just work itself out - no - they feel they and only they know how things should be and feel perfectly comfortable imposing their own will on others.

Intellectuals have got the answers if the stupid people would only stand aside. Forget that for the most part market economies respond to the natural forces of the interaction of millions of individual choices over time within a constrained set of lawful conditions. The unconstrained vision says that economies bend to the will of particular interests regardless of risk/reward, effort and/or hard work and need to be remade to obey only the public interest.

Of course not all intellectuals have such a superior view of themselves just as not all bad decisions are the result of stupidity. The point being that what the "unconstrained" believe seems so obvious to them that if you don't get it you must be incredibly obtuse or just plain dishonest.

When I think of the constrained versus the unconstrained I naturally think of adults and children. Children have the need to ask why things are the way they are. They haven't had many experiences themselves and often see things through the filter of fair and unfair. Often they have simple and frankly ignorant solutions to problems caused by the failings in the human nature of those they see around them. Young adults also seemingly have all the answers, ask any parent of a teenager, their freshly minted minds just haven't been beaten down by the reality of the daily grind. This is why we don't let teenagers call the shots. We don't really want the children running the world, do we?