Thomas Sowell examines intellectuals’ damaging role in racial issues

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Hoover Institution senior fellow Thomas Sowell argues that the prevailing racial views that intellectuals unite around often serve to harm society and the racial groups about which they theorize.

In an interview with The Daily Caller last week about his most recent book “Intellectuals and Race” Sowell explained that the desire of intellectuals — or people who make their living off ideas and theories — to create all-encompassing reasons for racial differences, often leaves little room for nuance or contradicting views.

“It is grabbing one or a few facts and running with them to create some kind of overarching theory to supposedly explain it all,” Sowell said, noting that right now discrimination is one theory of racial outcomes that has taken hold.

“The fact that there was discrimination has been undeniable, it doesn’t mean it explains everything,” he said.

“Groups do differ, and one of the questions that get very little attention is: What do you do when the differences are huge?” he continued, “Do you simply deny it? Which is essentially what multiculturalism does. Or do you say, ‘What can we do that is best given the situation that exits?'”

In his book, Sowell delves into the notion that intellectuals have focused on different groups at different times throughout history. The tendency to shift focus from group to group throughout history has been a trend, he said.

“The pattern in which there are groups whose interests are considered paramount and of which you dismiss all adverse affects on others, that pattern has been there for a long time,” he said.

As an example of one group favored by intellectuals at the expense of another, Sowell cited labor unions during the 1920s and 1930s — noting that while they were the protected group du jour unions were preventing blacks from getting jobs, something he said, that was “brushed aside.”

“And now the fact that school integration causes many Asian-American youngsters to get beaten up by blacks, that doesn’t count because Asian-Americans are not in vogue at the moment,” he said.

“One of the sad things is we never know when one of these changes are going to occur. We don’t know that 30 or 40 years from now, blacks might fall out of favor and become targets again,” he added. “But it is the mindless way of looking at things that is the danger no matter who happens to be the favorite at the moment.”

In his book, Sowell points out that the intellectuals rarely pay a real price for theories that cause harm.

“[The lack of a price] I think is a crucial factor, in their persistence with ideas that are tremendously detrimental to other people,” he said. “In most walks of life, people do pay a price. I suspect that most of us — one of the reasons people in their forties have better judgment than people in their twenties is not because their brains have gotten any better, it is that they have made all the mistakes that people in their twenties are about to make and they have suffered the consequences.”

Sowell added that he is not optimistic intellectuals will shift away from their favorite theory of multiculturalism.

He surmised that there are few politicians or leaders who would echo German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2010 declaration that multiculturalism has “failed.”

“I don’t know of any [other] head of state that has said that. Certainly I wouldn’t expect the current head of state in the United States to say it,” Sowell said, “And I’m not sure, if there is a Republican next time, if there is a Republican would have the courage to say it.”

Sowell added that he does not expect politicians to have frank conversations about race anytime soon, outside of the blaming discrimination for disparities or abandoning multiculturalism as the best way to deal with differences.

“My hope is that by just discussing this, just explaining why this is such a dangerous what of thinking people will start to rethink they said,” he said, pointing out the rise of others who have been speaking out against the prevailing wisdom — such as Walter Williams, Shelby Steele, Ben Carson, Larry Elder and Herman Cain.

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