Friday, July 08, 2005

Thomas Sowell

Jogo writes:
I notice you plan to read Thomas Sowell's book Black Rednecks and White Liberals. So do I. I think his thesis is fascinating, and I KNOW -- using my experience, my particular kind of semiotics and "reading," and my deepest sociological intuitions -- that it's mostly true. Perhaps completely true.

This little article by Sowell from frontpagemag sums up the book in a very few words. You can easily see why neither of the book's subjects -- Black Redneck or White Liberals -- will read it. You'll also probably get a pretty good idea of ....

* why this book is unlikely to receive a fair review in liberal media.

* why my excellent Powell's Review-a-Day list hasn't send out a review of this book. It is possible that their allies in the project -- CS Monitor, Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, New Republic, Salon and TLS -- have ignored it.

* why I was not surprised to do an archive-search of the NY Times book reviews and NOT find this book.

* why Sowell's book will not be on reading lists in ethnic studies or sociology classes in ANY remotely liberal college.

Well, Bob, you have a big job ahead of you -- i.e., forcing the clenched teeth of the Left apart another centimeter.

Myself, I agree with what Sowell says in the Frontpage piece. But I think it tells only half the story. Those who deny culture's role in the current sorry state of black America are delusional. But those who say it is ALL down to culture are also delusional. For more, see this post.

Jogo replies:
* Thomas Sowell was born and raised in a culture you have never set foot in. He drank it in with his mother's milk, and perceived it in all the stages of perception -- from the most innocent child to the sophisticated adult thinker. How can you set the raw materials of your analysis in the balance, weighing both his and yours, and come out equal to him?

* From I what I can tell, I don't think even someone like Paul Gilroy has anywhere near the internalized experience of Sowell's subject as Sowell has. Kind a babe in the woods, compared to Sowell. AND to Condoleeza Rice.

* Since Sowell, according to you, "leaves out half the story" (not a quarter or a third of it), you more than imply he's delusional. A person has to ask, in a nice way, who the fuck are YOU? Would you say that to his face?

* And if he "leaves out half the story," maybe it's because he is operating not only on free intellect, but on dogma and faith -- the very things I have consistently tried to point out that you are operating on.

And I'm not saying than an over-arching "faith" or "belief" -- or even dogma -- is necessarily a bad thing. You just need to admit that that's what it is. For example -- absolute opposition to the Death Penalty is a religious position, or the functional equivalent of one. Do you agree?
My reply:

I have some sympathy with the kind of standpoint epistemology you are putting forward - the idea that he KNOWS because he has lived it and I don't. But this is also essentially how Sowell's enemies - afrocentrists and the like - also think. He has a knowledge of what he is writing about I couldn't possibly have - but that doesn't mean his analysis is right.

On the idea of faith and dogma: I agree with you. Certain things I take as articles of faith, as a kind of religious position, rather than something I would argue for intellectually. Things like: that the messy multiplication of difference that makes up a modern city like London or Paris is a good thing, that humans are valuable in their individuality and not just as part of the collective of humanity, that eqaulity and justice are meaningless without freedom but that freedom is of little value to the starving.

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