Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Birthday Homage

In 1930, an age when the South was ruled by Jim Crow and the country was about to get plunged into the Great Depression, Thomas Sowell was born fatherless and black in rural North Carolina.

His aunt relocated him to Harlem and raised him as her own. In his teenage years, economic hardship compelled him to drop out of high school and join the workforce. Four years later, he was drafted by the Marines at the height of the Korean War.

After his military service was done, Sowell got his GED and used it as a springboard to a remarkable career as a scholar and researcher. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, master’s from Columbia, and doctorate from the University of Chicago, then went on to teach at Howard, Cornell, Brandeis, Amherst, and UCLA. He has been associated with four major research centers over the years, most notably the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

A true thinker, as opposed to one of the touchy-feely sorts who have taken over academia, Sowell has mastered the rare art of pursuing truth above all else. Unlike most people, he follows the facts and honestly reports them, no matter where they lead; he meticulously sets aside emotions and pre-conceived notions, in order to analyze evidence thoroughly and objectively; and he is far more concerned about being right than he is about being liked. These qualities led him to become a staunch and unapologetic defender of capitalism, after having started out as a Marxist.

Over the years he has penned numerous essays, dozens of books, and thousands of editorial columns. His essays have been published in magazines, and his editorials, which still average more than two per week, are syndicated in newspapers and on web sites across the land. And no matter how complex or unconventional his topic, he always makes his point in clear, unambiguous language because he understands what too many writers do not -- that the whole point of writing is for your audience to understand you.

Thomas Sowell’s writings pack a philosophical punch like no one else’s. When I read one of his works, I can sense myself thinking faster and clearer than before and it feels like I have a buzz. During the pre-Internet days, I felt let down every morning the Tampa Tribune failed to feature Sowell on its editorial page.

Though he is known mostly for his championing of judicial restraint and laissez-faire economics, he deals with all kinds of subjects and many of his writings are sociological. In one series of books he explores the phenomenon of children who begin talking late in childhood and are often misdiagnosed as being autistic.

Today is Thomas Sowell’s 79th birthday. If you have never read any of his works before, I encourage you to do so. His web site is here, and you can read his takes on a particularly timely topic here and here. And finally, here are some of his “pearls of wisdom” that I have collected over the years:

A gullible people cannot indefinitely remain a free people.

Do not expect common sense to return to the criminal justice system by itself. The commonness of common sense makes it unattractive to those whose whole sense of themselves depends on their feeling wiser and nobler than the common herd.

All human beings are so imperfect, no matter what color wrapping they come in, that to exempt any group from the standards of performance and behavior expected of others is not a blessing but a curse.

Nature lovers marvel that newly hatched turtles instinctively head for the sea. But that is no more remarkable than the fact that people on the political left head for occupations in which their ideas do not have to meet the test of facts or results.

For gun control laws to be effective, criminals must respect those laws. But if criminals respected laws, they wouldn’t be criminals.

All across this country, the school curriculum has been invaded by psychological-conditioning programs which not only take up time sorely needed for intellectual development, but also present an emotionalized and anti-intellectual way of responding to the challenges facing every individual and every society.

Are we afraid to face a little spin to protect what others before us have faced death for?

What is history but the story of how politicians have squandered the blood and treasure of the human race?

We do not live in the past, but the past in us.

Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.

The assumption that spending more of the taxpayer’s money will make things better has survived all kinds of evidence that it has made things worse.

Now matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: “But what would you replace it with?” When you put out a fire, what do you replace it with?

Nobody is equal to anybody. Even the same man is not equal to himself on different days.

For evidence that private property rather than democracy is the key to prosperity and freedom, I point to India and Hong Kong. In India the electoral franchise is wide and elections have long been regular, but property rights are weak. For most of the post-World War II era, in contrast, Hong Kong had no democracy, but property rights there have been among the strongest the world has ever seen. Indians are poor and shackled by a massively corrupt state; the people of Hong Kong are wealthy and free. Private property, not democracy, is the great guarantor of prosperity and liberty. And because it decentralizes power, it safeguards us from madmen with utopian hallucinations.

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

Sometimes it seems as if love songs are being replaced by sex songs.

Those who say that all cultures are equal never explain why the results of those cultures are so grossly unequal. When some cultures have achieved much greater prosperity, better health, longer life, more advanced technology, more stable government, and greater personal safety than others, has all this been just coincidence?

The scariest thing about politics today is not any particular policy or leaders, but the utter gullibility with which the public accepts notions for which there is not a speck of evidence, such as the benefits of “diversity,” the dangers of “overpopulation,” and innumerable other fashionable dogmas.

What is far more of a threat than the little dictators who are puffed up with their own importance is the willingness of so many others to surrender their freedom and their money in exchange for phrases like “crisis” and “compassion.”

People who are very aware that they have more knowledge than the average person are often very unaware that they do not have one-tenth of the knowledge of all of the average persons put together. In this situation, for the intelligentsia to impose their notions on ordinary people is essentially to impose ignorance on knowledge.

Liberals seem to assume that, if you don’t believe in their particular political solutions, that you don’t really care about the people that they claim to want to help.

In Washington, the clearer a statement is, the more certain it is to be followed by a “clarification” when people realize what was said.


genetic said...

awesome, i love that guy. why can't we get intelligent people like him to lead our country?

genetic said...

Hi John, its Erin from work...Geno didnt know this was you! He came across one of your comments and thought that you made good points. He was telling me about this smart guy he found in Land O Lakes...I said that is where John lives. Low and behold it was you! HAHAH wow I guess great minds do think alike! HILARIOUS!!! Have a good weekend!!!!