The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy, by Thomas Sowell. Originally published in 1996. 320 pages.
Upon learning of Thomas Sowell’s announced retirement I was motivated to read one of his books that I had not yet read. I chose this one because despite being over 2 decades old, it dovetails nicely with state of affairs in which we find ourselves in 2017. In fact, his words are more relevant now than ever before.
The thrust of the book is exactly as its title implies, that our academic, media, legal and political institutions are increasingly staffed by those who view themselves as anointed to do what is best for we in the huddles masses by virtue of the fact that they know best. That with just the right amount of tinkering, social experimentation, and deference to their view of a perfect world, we would all be living in a utopia.
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.
That is, we could, if it weren’t for the benighted plebeians. That would be those of us who make up the general public, religious zealots, and anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to the notion that degrees, microphones, and political pedigree make one the rightful arbiter of all that is good and right for everyone else.
In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume (1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted and (2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total: direct knowledge brought to bear though social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.— p. 114
This book is heavy reading, full of facts, and doesn’t flow with the ease of a book driven by a plot or even primarily by the political opinions and analysis of its author. In fact, were it not for the fact that I am something of an intellectual groupie of Dr. Sowell’s, I might have put it aside once I got the gist rather than reading through until the very end. If you have the time and temperament to sift through it all, it’s worth the read. He does what so few political commentators do: provides concrete evidence for the conclusions reached and positions asserted.
It is easy to be wrong-and persist in being wrong-when the costs of being wrong are paid by others. p.136
And the cost, Sowell notes, is rarely paid by the anointed as they are far enough removed from their benefactors to never have to deal with the fallout of their outrageous social science experiments.
The presumed irrationality of the public is a pattern running through many, if not most or all, of the great crusades of the anointed in the twentieth century–regardless of the subject matter of the crusade or the field in which it arises. Whether the issue has been ‘overpopulation,’ Keynesian economics, criminal justice, or natural resource exhaustion, a key assumption has been that the public is so irrational that the superior wisdom of the anointed must be imposed, in order to avert disaster. The anointed do not simply: happen: to have a disdain for the public. Such disdain is an integral part of their vision, for the central feature of that vision is preemption of the decisions of others.— p 123-124
The way these gambits work is through verbal sleights of language. For example:
Another way of verbally masking elite preemption of other people’s decisions is to use the word ‘ask’–as in ‘We are just asking everyone to pay their fair share.’ But of course governments do not ask, they: tell. The Internal Revenue Service does not ‘ask’ for contributions. It takes. — p 197
Widespread personification of ‘society’ is another verbal tactic that evades issues of personal responsibility. Such use of the term ‘society’ is a more sophisticated version of the notion that ‘the devil made me do it.’ Like much of the rest of the special vocabulary of the anointed, it is used as a magic word to make choice, behavior, and performance vanish into thin air. — p 199
I could drop quotes all day, but time is short. So for the policy wonks, evidence seekers, and general nerdy folks who read here, pick up the book. Especially if you don’t possess a particularly conservative perspective. Sowell isn’t asking you to agree with him based on the depth of his feelings on issues. He is inviting his readers to take a look at the facts.