Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: The Vision of the Anointed

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, August 9, 2013

“…the very commonness of common sense makes it unlikely to have any appeal to the anointed.”

Would you believe that good intentions can defy the law of gravity? If not, you wouldn’t make a good politician in today’s America.

RecommendationRead now
AuthorThomas Sowell
Year1996
Length307 pages
Book Rating7

Thomas Sowell’s Vision of the Anointed is Sowell’s attempt to explain what, to rational outside observers, appears to be the irrational behavior of politicians and social leaders. They implement programs to fix problems, the problems grow worse under the solutions even in defiance of predictions of doing nothing—and they expand the programs. As if they believe doing the same thing harder won’t have the effect of even further exacerbating the problem.

Sowell’s thesis is that this is just what they believe. That rather than believing in a world of systemic processes—logic and science—the political elite believe in a world of intentions and anointed heroes—a world, in other words (not Sowell’s), of magic and sorcery. In this world where intentions have physical effects upon the world, their intentions are good, while the intentions of their enemies—the benighted—are bad. This is by definition: their intentions are, by definition, good, and so anyone who disagrees with them is, by that same definition, bad.

Thus, when a well-intentioned program fails to achieve its stated goals, this is not, to the anointed, a refutation of a testable theory, but proof of the interference of evil intentions.

One of my favorite quotes is George Bernard Shaw’s about the “unreasonable man”:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. — George Bernard Shaw (Man and Superman)

This is a thrilling view of the world. It succinctly encapsulates the vision of the anointed: that there is a small band of special people whose intentions change the world.

Let’s apply Shaw’s statement to some specific part of the world, however:

The reasonable man adapts to gravity; the unreasonable one persists in trying to change the laws of gravity.

Stated this way, acknowledging a world ruled by natural laws, rather than “the dangerous illusion that reality is optional”, it is clearly the reasonable man who advances humanity. It is the reasonable man—specifically, the legion of reasonable men all attempting to adapt the dream of flight to the laws of gravity—who successfully flies, and who gifts to humanity the miracle of flight.

The unreasonable men, fervent in their belief that it is unfair for birds to fly while men are shackled to the sod, create programs that steal from birds their wings and glue them to men, creating a world where neither men nor birds fly. They eventually decide that flight was overrated and it is good that birds now walk while men crawl, or they assume that since their program could not fail, that men can fly, and they send millions to die from high cliffs.

For gravity has no intentions. We must respect gravity before we can fly.

For the anointed, the gravity they usually want to repeal is the market. Unlike those who would build wings and gift to humanity a soaring economy filled with the opportunity for jobs, investments, and savings, they would snip the wings of those who understand the market and drive the world into cronyism and poverty.

Among the many other questions raised by the nebulous concept of “greed” is why it is a term applied almost exclusively to those who want to earn more money or to keep what they have already earned—never to those wanting to take other people’s money in taxes or to those wishing to live on the largesse dispensed from such taxation. No amount of taxation is ever described as “greed” on the part of government or the clientele of government.

And where the predictions of those who believe in gravity come true, and cronyism and poverty abound, they will expand their programs in defiance of the scientific method.

Systemic processes tend to reward people for making decisions that turn out to be right—creating great resentment among the anointed, who feel themselves entitled to rewards for being articulate, politically active, and morally fervent.

A lot of what Sowell says, and re-viewing past politics through Sowell’s lens, reminds me of the old joke about the farmer and the revenuer. The revenuer tells the farmer he’s going to search the entire farm, and the farmer says, sure, look wherever you want, just stay out of that field over there. The revenuer whips out his badge. “See this badge? This badge is the ultimate authority. I go where I please and you can’t do anything about it.” The farmer nods, and goes on with his chores. As he’s coming back to the house, he sees the revenuer in the forbidden field, being chased by a very angry bull.

The farmer yells out, “your badge! Show him your badge!”

A sense of entitlement only goes so far.

What we reward, we get more of. What we tax, we get less of. That’s the gravity of the situation. But “…the very commonness of common sense makes it unlikely to have any appeal to the anointed.” The anointed aren’t just about good intentions over good logic. They must be different, so that they can call their differences better than average. They must disagree, in art, in politics, and intentions, so that their art, politics, and intentions can be elevated above the masses.

A Bob Filner or a Ted Kennedy can be tolerated because he is part of the anointed—their intentions are good, so their actions are interpreted in that light. Someone who is not part of the anointed—who does not share their policies or who persists in doing what works rather than what is well-intentioned—must have bad intentions, and their actions will be judged in light of their bad intentions.

This is a fascinating book. It was published in 1996, and if you were to take from it a prediction that a Democratic savior who fosters violence in the Middle East, who extends a recession over at least six years, and who extends the police state, would be given a pass, you would have been right on.

Its only real flaw is that it offers no solutions. By their very nature, politicians and journalists will wish to be among the anointed. How can we offer math, logic, the scientific method, as more compelling arguments when crafting public policy?

The Vision of the Anointed

Thomas Sowell

Recommendation: Read now

If you enjoyed The Vision of the Anointed…

If you enjoy The Dream of Poor Bazin, you might also be interested in Intellectuals and Society, Scoop, The First Casualty, Advise & Consent, For the Love of Mike: More of the Best of Mike Royko, Call Northside 777, The Best of Mike Royko: One More Time, The Tyranny of Clichés, All the President’s Men, World Chancelleries, Liberal Fascism, The Elements of Journalism, Letters to a Young Journalist, Inside the Beltway: A Guide to Washington Reporting, The Vintage Mencken, Deadlines & Monkeyshines: The Fabled World of Chicago Journalism, A Matter of Opinion, Kolchak: The Night Stalker (TV Series), Front Row at the White House, The Prince of Darkness, The Powers That Be, and The Dream of Poor Bazin (Official Site).

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If you enjoy Thomas Sowell, you might also be interested in Intellectuals and Society and Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy.