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Thomas Sowell, Political Conflict, and Madmen in Authority

The impact of well-articulated ideas could be insignificant in their influence on a particular election or legislative vote, or an act of a leader of the state. But the context in that this decision-making takes place could have a specific view or a particular conflict of ideas when intellectuals have played an important role in history, not just by speaking words of wisdom into the ears of political leaders as being a part of the massive and powerful currents of concepts and misperceptions that propel humans’ actions. The impact of visions does not depend on them being articulated or on decision-makers being aware of the implications. “Practical” decision-makers often disdain concepts and ideas because they are too busy to think about the underlying assumptions on which they’re acting. However, the purpose here is precisely to study the fundamental social views whose conflicts have affected our lives and could influence the future.

The vision of the unconstrained had no limitations on human knowledge or its application to reasoning. It was the 18th-century exemplars of the unconstrained perspective who ushered in “the age of reason,” according to The title of Thomas Paine’s famed book from that time. Reason was just as essential to their vision as was experience in the narrow vision. According to [William] Godwin, experience was greatly overrated–“unreasonably magnified,” in his words–compared to reason or to “the general power of a cultivated mind.” Therefore, the wisdom of the ages was seen by Godwin as largely the illusion of the ignorant. p. 40

The implicit in the unconstrained perspective is a stark difference between the opinions of “persons of narrow views” and those who have “cultivated” minds. p. 41

The power of clearly articulated rationality is essential to the freedom of vision. The capacity of unarticulated social processes to organize and mobilize information is crucial to the constrained view. p. 47

What differentiates people with constrained vision is the inherent limitations that humans consider to be severe enough to prevent the type of dependence on the individual’s articulated rationality that lies at the core of the vision that is unconstrained. The morality, the knowledge, and the courage required to implement the idea of freedom are not present according to the idea of constrained people. They aren’t likely to be developed either by the general population as well as by elites. p. 106-107

In the unconstrained view, it is evident that there is a huge gap between the general population in the world and people who’ve pushed more towards the intellectual and moral capabilities of the human race. …. For those who have a limited vision, there’s less of a gap between the moral and intellectual elite on the other hand and the common individual on the other. p. 153-154

This conflict of views can be seen in the present cultural strife. The phrase “woke” originally was used by people on the left to refer to people who are able to acknowledge and strive to end the discrimination in the existing institutions. It is now an epithet employed by people on the right side to define an individual who would substitute important institutions with ineffective options (“defund police”).

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Jane S. King

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