Most notable achievements involve multiple factors… What this suggests is that an individual, a people, or a nation may have some, many, or most of the prerequisites for a given achievement without having any real success in producing that achievement. And yet that individual, that people or that nation may suddenly burst upon the scene with spectacular success when whatever the missing factor or factors are finally get added to the mix.
Poor and backward nations that suddenly moved to the forefront of human achievements include Scotland…
Scotland was for centuries one of the poorest, most economically and educationally lagging nations on the outer fringes of European civilization. There was said to be no fourteenth-century Scottish baron who could write his name. And yet, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a disproportionate number of the leading intellectual figures in Britain were of Scottish ancestry — including James Watt in engineering, Adam Smith in economics, Dave Hume in philosophy, Joseph Black in chemistry, Sir Walter Scott in literature and John Stuart Mill in economics and philosophy.
Among the changes that had occurred among the Scots was their Protestant churches’ crusade promoting the idea that everyone should learn to read, so as to be able to read the Bible personally, rather than have priests tell them what it says and means. Another change was a more secular, but still fervent, crusade to learn the English language, which replaced their native Gaelic among the Scottish lowlanders, and thereby opened up far more fields of written knowledge to the Scots.Thomas Sowell, Discrimination and Disparities, pp. 9 – 10
And now for two of the best clans …
(Someone sent me this link because the article’s reference to migrations reminded them of my book The Long Guest. I’m flattered.)
If you think about this question for two seconds, the obvious answer is “no.” If people dispersed from wherever they arose (or were created), then we are all “immigrants” in the sense that our ancestors have moved from place to place. A lot.
Two thoughts about this.
- I have never thought of the term “immigrant” as derogatory. The title of this article seems to imply that it is usually used derogatorily, and that the article is going to subvert that. And I have heard others speak as though “immigrant” is a slur. For the record, I have never thought of it as a slur and that is not how I use the word. In fourth grade, a school I attended did a whole unit on “immigrants.” It was a historical unit about the 19th- and 20th-century waves of immigration to America, first from Ireland and Italy, and then from Eastern Europe. I did a report about my Dutch ancestors emigrating to the United States. They are the ones I first think of when I hear the word “immigrant.” It’s a term of pride, encouraging us to think about our distinctive national origins, our families’ stories of assimilation, and how great it is that we can live in the United States and be Americans, while still retaining some of the distinctive traditions from our ancestors of two, three, or four generations back. I am also happy to think that the United States has often been a place for refugees to flee to. The prime example of this is people fleeing Europe during the 30s and 40s, but there are many more recent examples. Of course we cannot take in an infinite number of people, instantly and without limitations, just as no family, no matter how hospitable, can simultaneously host an unlimited number of house guests. But this does not mean I am “anti-immigration.” It is, in general, a positive thing. To new immigrants, my response would be along the lines of “welcome” and “I know assimilation is hard, but eventually I hope you like it here as much as I do.”
- As the article points out, the history of humanity is a history of exploration and people movements. This means that it has also been a history of people assimilating, intermarrying, displacing, and engaging in conquest of other peoples. (I put that on a scale from least to most disruptive.) Obviously, the details of how this worked out in each case depended upon a lot of things, like the numbers involved, the natural resources possessed by one side or the other, cultural matches and clashes, technology, and other kinds of power. (See Thomas Sowell’s excellent Discrimination and Disparities for more on this.) But the point is, everybody’s ancestors were driven out of somewhere, and everybody’s ancestors at some point conquered or colonized somebody. Therefore, it makes no sense to go to people whose ancestors were recently (say, within the last few centuries) colonizers, and to tell them that they are living on stolen land. Nearly everyone is living on stolen land. Also, where are the former conquerors going to go when they vacate this land? Back to the place their ancestors came from? I think it’s a tad crowded now and they wouldn’t be welcome there either. Also, what about the many, many (probably the majority) of people in whose veins flows the blood of both conqueror and conquered, native and newcomer? It just doesn’t make sense.
Thank you. This has been a public service announcement.
Today I will be doing the Finally Fall Book Tag, which I got from Riddhi. A tag is a series of prompts that the blogger responds to, usually by naming one or more books. At the end, we are supposed to “tag” other bloggers, but we all know that I don’t do that because it just gets too complicated, what with not wanting to leave anyone out, not wanting to hand anyone a task they hate, etc., etc. It’s sort of like planning a wedding that way.
In fall, the air is crisp and clear: Name a book with a vivid setting.
The Lord of the Rings.
OK, look, TLOTR could actually be the perfect answer for every one of these prompts, am I right? So I’ll just name it for each of them, and then one other one that is my backup answer.
Beyond Middle Earth, I suggest you check out the setting in Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish cycle. It’s on a planet that, because of its orbit, experiences seasons that last for lengths of time that we on Earth would call years. The people who live there have eyes with no whites to them. After intermarrying with immigrants from Earth, they develop a skin tone that is navy blue in the upper classes and “dusty” blue in the lower classes. It’s fascinating, brutal, and beautifully written.
Nature is beautiful… but also dying: Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.
The Lord of the Rings. They kill off Gandalf.
Also, this book. The Holocaust, survivor’s guilt, lost children, neurological disease. Are those topics heavy enough? See my full review of it here.
Fall is back to school season: Share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.
The Lord of the Rings will teach you terms like weregild (“person-money” – money paid in compensation for someone’s death).
Everybody please go read this and as many other Thomas Sowell books as you can get your hands on.
In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: Name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d like to be part of.
I would like to live with Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter.
Failing that, I would be honored to live and work with Mma Potokwane, the forceful woman who runs the orphanage in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.
The colourful leaves are piling up on the ground: Show us a pile of fall coloured spines!
I didn’t intend it, but every book in this pile except for The Family Mark Twain is indie published.
And Neanderthal Woman is homemade.
Also … the golden-leaved mallorn trees of Lothlorien.
Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: Share a book wherein someone is telling a story.
One of the best things about Lord of the Rings is the way you keep getting hints of yet more ancient places, people, and stories.
And for my backup answer, we have Ursula Le Guin again. In her Earthsea trilogy, there is a very creepy story told about a stone that if you so much as touch it, steals your soul. In her book Left Hand of Darkness, the main story is interspersed with short myths to help us get a feel for the culture of the planet the story is set on, where glaciers cover about half the landmass and people are sexless for most of each month.
The nights are getting darker: Share a dark, creepy read.
The Balrog, and Shelob, and the Ring and the effect it has upon people, are all pretty doggone creepy.
Also, The Dark is Rising and the whole series that follows it deals with pre-Roman paganism still alive in Britain.
The days are getting colder: Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.
The Hobbit. Annndddd …
Allie Brosch’s new book Solutions and Other Problems.
It’s not heartwarming in the sense that it presents the universe as a rational or hopeful place, BUT it did make me laugh so hard it brought tears to my eyes. It’s not short in the sense that it’s a big, thick hardcover, BUT that’s only because it is packed with her funny (and actually very artistic) drawings. It’s a fast read.
Fall returns every year: Name an old favourite that you’d like to return to soon.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
Also, this book, The Everlasting Man, by the ebullient GKC. I recently ordered my own copy so that I could mine it for future quotes on the blog, and I quickly discovered that GKC was the original source of all my suspicions about ancient people having been just like us, but smarter.
Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading nights: Share your favourite cozy reading “accessories”!
Bears and coffee.
Those who seem to be promising an end to existing group disparities, as a result of whatever policies they advocate, may be promising what cannot be delivered, regardless of those policies. Moreover, the clash between numerical goals, fervently pursued, and the repeatedly frustrated attempts to reach those goals is not without social consequences.
Among the dire consequences for society as a whole are widespread resentments, bitterness, disorder and violence on the part of those who have been told incessantly that they are “entitled” to a demographically defined “fair share” of what is produced, and that this “fair share” is being denied to them by others who are guilty of maliciously keeping them and their loved ones down.
Such consequences of a toxic social vision tend to be especially dire for the less fortunate, who suffer most when social order breaks down and violence is unleashed amid heady crusades.
The actual consequences of a social vision cannot be assessed on the basis of its good intentions or even its plausibility. The real test is what has actually happened when that vision has been applied, and what the implications are of those social consequences.Thomas Sowell, Discrimination and Disparities, pp. 165-166
The most sweeping denials of performance superiority [between cultures] have been based on redefining them out of existence as culturally biased “perceptions” and “stereotypes.” Those who take this approach of cultural relativism acknowledge only differences but no superiority. Yet all cultures serve practical purposes, as well as being symbolic and emotional, and they serve these practical purposes more efficiently or less efficiently — not just in the opinions of particular observers but, more importantly, in the practices of the societies themselves, which borrow from other cultures and discard their own ways of doing particular things.
Western civilization, for example, has abandoned Roman numerals for mathematical work, in favor of a very different numbering system originating in India and conveyed to the West by Arabs. The West has also abandoned scrolls in favor of paper, and scribes in favor of printing, in each case choosing things originating in China over things indigenous to Western culture. All over the world, people have abandoned their own bows and arrows for guns, whenever they had a choice. Much of the story of the advancement of the human race has been a story of massive cultural borrowings, which have created modern world technology.Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, pp. 60 – 61
“At age 90 and having broken his promise not to pick up his pen again, [Thomas Sowell] has turned his gaze to the world of education, delivering Charter Schools and Their Enemies at a moment when those schools have come under intense scrutiny …”
Read the rest here.
- It’s short (189 pages, not counting index and endnotes). You can read it in a weekend.
- The author is a black man, educated at Harvard, Columbia and University of Chicago, and was a Marxist in his 20s but is no more. In the video below, you can see him give some of his story.
- Endnotes! There are gobs of endnotes citing books, Supreme Court cases, and other sources. Besides backing up the book’s claims, these are a useful source for further reading. Sowell cites his own works a lot, but we can hardly blame him considering how prolific of a writer he’s been. I now fully intend to read through his entire corpus of work.
- Amazingly quotable. I thought about posting quotes from this book this week, but was afraid I would get to posting long sections and then just the entire book. Below, I will include a quote from each of the book’s four parts … but this is minimal, as each section has many passages that are equally weighty, clever, and succinct.
- Happy Fourth of July! One of the heroes of this book is the American constitutional system: mistrust of all authority; limited government; and the rule of law, not of people. You probably can’t order Quest in time to read it on the 4th, but always remember that you heard about it in time for that holiday.
Quotations from The Quest for Cosmic Justice
From Part I, “The Quest for Cosmic Justice”:
Since “undeserved inequalities” extend beyond prejudicial decisions made by others to encompass biological differences among individuals and groups — the fact that women are usually not as large or physically strong as men, for example — and profound differences in the geographical settings in which whole races and nations have evolved culturally, not to mention individual and group differences in child-rearing practices and moral values, cosmic justice requires — or assumes — vastly more knowledge than is necessary for traditional justice. …
With justice, as with equality, the question is not whether more is better, but whether it is better at all costs. We need to consider what those who believe in the vision of cosmic justice seldom want to consider — the nature of those costs and how they change the very nature of justice itself.Quest, p. 13, 27
From Part II, “The Mirage of Equality”:
The difficulties of satisfying envy … increase exponentially when there is no unambiguous way to say that A is better off than B in whatever dimension each values. Many parents, for example, are familiar with the situation in which each child thinks that a sibling is being treated better by the parents and therefore each has envy and resentment of the other or others. Nor can an objective third party, if one could be found, necessarily be able to declare which person has the net advantage when one is more fortunate according to one array of characteristics and possessions and the other is more fortunate according to another array of characteristics and possessions. Moreover, even in cases in which a third party regards A as clearly better off than B, it does not follow that either A or B will value and weigh the particular advantages and disadvantages the same way as this third party, much less the same as each other.Quest, p. 91
From Part III, “The Tyranny of Visions”:
On issue after issue, the morally self-anointed visionaries have for centuries argued as if no honest disagreement were possible, as if those who opposed them were not merely in error but in sin. This has long been a hallmark of those with a cosmic vision of the world and of themselves as saviors of the world, whether they are saving it from war, overpopulation, capitalism, genetic degradation, environmental destruction, or whatever the crisis du jour might be. Given this exalted vision of their role by the anointed visionaries, those who disagree with them must be correspondingly degraded or demonized.Quest, p. 103
From Part IV, “The Quiet Repeal of the American Revolution”:
There is no way to specify in precise general rules, known beforehand, what might be necessary [for employers] to achieve results that would meet the standards of cosmic justice. In short, there can be no rule of law for such things and courts seeking cosmic justice can no longer strike down such laws as “void for vagueness.” These edicts do not happen to be vague, they are necessarily vague. They could not be otherwise. … For purposes of cosmic justice, discrimination must be defined by retrospective results, whether “disparate impact” or “hostile environments” or failure to provide “reasonable accommodation.” This is only one of many ways in which the quest for cosmic justice is incompatible with the rule of law.Quest, pp. 159 – 160
Happy Birthday, Prof. Sowell!
P.S. Serendipitously, after I had already written and scheduled this post, I found out that this week is Prof. Sowell’s 90th birthday! I am beyond happy that he has had such a long and prolific career. Click here for an econ blog’s birthday post about him which summarizes his thinking and makes some suggestions about how we can apply his principles of “traditional justice” (as opposed to cosmic justice) to reduce bad outcomes for black Americans.