Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

A few weeks ago, Thomas Sowell wrote an article in which he implied that thinking—serious thinking—is an activity whose time has come and gone.

If ever we needed proof of this, the Reverend Elizabeth Mollard supplies us with it in spades.

On May 12th, The Lancaster New Era edition of The Intelligencer Journal published a letter by Mollard that expressed her displeasure with the paper’s columnist, Paul Gottfried.  Interestingly enough, it is Gottfried’s critique of none other than Sowell himself—“Thomas Sowell’s Genetic Fallacies”—that has Mollard and a number of Christian clerics who co-signed her rebuttal up in arms.

According to Mollard, Gottfried defends the position that interracial disparities “in education and income….must be due to…genetic makeup.”

This is simply wrong.

Gottfried is clear that his objection to Sowell is that the latter “seems to be denying entirely the effects of genetic inheritance.” That is, he is not interested in offering an account of inter-group disparities, but in challenging Sowell’s insinuation that genetics play no role in explaining human accomplishment.  Gottfried is modest, for he only asks that Sowell supply some support for the radically counterintuitive proposition all that we are stems solely from our choices.

Indeed, not only is this a reasonable request in its own right, but it is particularly reasonable given that Sowell, a black man who has a history of studying race and IQ going back some 40 years, has himself insisted in the past that genetics do in fact figure to some extent in accounting for group performance.

Next, Mollard likens Gottfried’s views to those of Hitler.

This would be offensive to any person with an IQ above four if it wasn’t so patently absurd.

A person born without legs, regardless of how diligently he tries, will never be as good of a basketball player as is Michael Jordan. An individual with mental retardation will never become an astrophysicist. Obviously, in conceding this we in no way purport to pronounce upon “the worth” or dignity, the “superiority” or “inferiority,” of the individuals involved—irrespective of whether the individuals in question are members of different racial groups.

If it is unfair for us to liken ourselves to segregationists and Hitler for taking stock of the genetic determinism in cases of this sort, it is that much more unfair to draw these comparisons with Gottfried who, after all, only expressed incredulity over the notion that genetics are of zero consequence in accounting for human performance.

Gottfried is a Jew whose family fled Nazi persecution in its native Austria—but not before Hitler murdered some of his relatives.  This makes Mollard’s charge of “Holocaust denial” against him that much more egregious.

While she never explicitly accuses him of such, this is exactly what she is driving at when she writes that Gottfried’s position on Hitler’s motivation is “in clear contradiction to the research of reputable historians who have documented many examples of Hitler’s medical experiments and murder of those, particularly Jews, that he believed were physically inferior.”

In reality, Gottfried never denied—and, given his family history, never could deny—that Hitler did just the sorts of things that Mollard and “reputable historians” claim he did.  What he denies is that Hitler’s slaughter of Jews was motivated by a belief in their intellectual inferiority.  He writes that “the Nazis never advocated the expulsion or destruction of the Jews as ‘racially inferior.’”  Rather, “Hitler and others in his group thought Jews were quite clever but working maliciously against the Aryan race.”

From assault to genocide to war, just a second’s reflection on any number of acts of violence immediately reveals that, not infrequently, a belief in the innate superiority of oneself or one’s group is a non-factor.  Did the Allied Powers believe that they were innately superior to the Axis Powers?  Must the elderly woman believe in the genetic inferiority of the burglar who she shoots and kills?  Must rival gangsters subscribe to some doctrine or other of innate or genetic inferiority before they can shoot each other down?

Finally, Mollard says that her and her colleagues “reject this type of belief”—the belief that genetics might have something to do with accomplishment—because they think that it lends “credence” to “hatred.”

As a Christian, it is hatred that I reject, not some belief that might be used to justify or fuel it.  Presumably, Mollard and company reject hatred also.  It is on hatred, then, that they should focus, for hatred can and does take flight from any number of ideas—including ideas that have achieved the status of facts.

For instance, some members of just those minority groups on whose behalf Mollard advocates hate whites on the basis of the belief that they have suffered historical indignities because of the majority’s belief that they are inferior.  Are Mollard and her colleagues willing to renounce this belief?

Mollard and the co-signers of her letter have argued here in bad faith.  In the spirit of their Master, they should do the Christian thing and ask Paul Gottfried for forgiveness.

 

 

Not so long ago, such conservative movement notables as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and many of their colleagues were singing the praises of Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  The latter, we have been told, is a rock-ribbed conservative and GOP star who could very well be the next president of the United States.

Doubtless, it is courtesy of the pivotal role that he’s played in promoting the amnesty agenda of “the Gang of Eight” that accounts for why the enthusiasm for Rubio among movement celebrities at least appears to have cooled some.  Hopefully, appearance here coincides with reality, for Rubio is not now, nor has he ever been, a conservative.  His position on immigration is just the latest proof of this.

Yet it isn’t just that Rubio has been tenaciously advancing amnesty for millions upon millions of illegal immigrants, though this is bad enough.  What’s worse is the dishonesty that he’s shown in his pursuit of this end.

Rubio features in an ad that is played incessantly in Republican-friendly venues in which he tries to convince his party’s base that his amnesty plan is “bold, very conservative, a tough line on immigration.”  But, observes Jon Feere from the Center for Immigration Studies, given “all the exemptions and waivers” contained in his bill, “it is difficult” to buy this.

Rubio also promises that for the 11 million or so amnestied immigrants, there will be “no federal benefits, no food stamps, no welfare, no Obamacare,” and “they [will] have to prove that they’re gainfully employed.”  Feere’s response: “Rubio is simply wrong with these assertions.” He explains: “Illegal immigrants are already receiving federal benefits and this bill would do nothing to stop that.” Moreover, Rubio’s plan “would actually extend greater amounts of benefits to illegal immigrants by giving them legal status.”

Rubio claims that his plan deals with the problem of illegal immigration “once and for all,” but as Feere points out, the 1986 amnesty on which Reagan signed off also promised to deal with this problem “once and for all.”  It failed abysmally to deliver. Why think things will be different now?

According to Rubio, his bill does not incite immigrants to come to America illegally.  Feere remarks that, evidently, Rubio is not paying any mind to “border officials” who have testified to the contrary before Congress.  Feere cites a Washington Times article in which Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher’s testimony before the Senate is relayed.  Fisher is blunt: “We have seen an increase in attempted entries.”  The article continues: “He [Fisher] said part of the reason for an increase is that Congress is talking about legalizing illegal immigrants, which is luring more foreigners to try to be in the U.S. when amnesty takes effect.”

Rubio’s claim that amnesty is not “unfair to the people who have done it the right way” is just as bogus as his other assertions.  Feere writes: “The reality is that illegal aliens get to stay in the country the moment they apply for amnesty.”  As soon as they pass “the simple background check, they receive legal status and nearly all the benefits of citizenship [.]”

Rubio’s ad calls for us to “stand” with him in putting an end to “de facto amnesty” while supporting “Conservative Immigration Reform.”  Feere replies that “Rubio wants to turn the de facto amnesty that we’re currently experiencing as a result of non-enforcement of immigration laws into a de jure amnesty for millions of people who do not belong here.”  At the same time, he “asks you to ‘stand’ with him, but Rubio himself is standing with Obama, Napolitano, La Raza, the ACLU, and many other amnesty supporters who cannot be described as ‘conservative’ in any sense of the word.”

Feere does a thorough job of exposing Rubio’s comprehensive amnesty plan for the sham that it is.  However, just a modicum of common sense is enough to see that Rubio and his accomplices in the Gang of Eight are trying to pull one over on us.

Our government has proven itself to be either incapable of or unwilling to enforce our immigration laws up until this point.  Now, after Rubio and company heap new conditions upon the old law books, we’re expected to believe that the government will finally do what it has neglected doing for decades.

But if you believe this, then you’ll believe that Marco Rubio is a conservative.

Thomas Sowell recently wrote an article in which he suggested that “thinking” is an activity whose time has come and gone.  Yet if he is right—and I believe that he is—then it isn’t only the intellectual virtue of analytical rigor of which we deprive ourselves.

The 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote that “thought” is “the essence of morality.”  Thinking is no different than any other activity inasmuch as it requires both lots of practice as well as the self-discipline that it takes to commit to all of this practicing.  Yet self-discipline, in this context, demands the cultivation of virtues, not just of the mind, but of the thinker’s overall character.

Courage is one virtue that is indispensable to clear thinking.  It takes guts to examine one’s own preconceptions, to follow an argument to its logical term—regardless of whether this means the doom of one’s own cherished beliefs.  It probably takes even more guts to subject the ideology of the mob, the conventional wisdom, to this same withering interrogation.

Courage, though, is a virtue that in any number of activities can and does co-exist with vice.  In war and in sports, say, a man’s courage needn’t prevent him from acting unjustly.  But the courageous thinker has an acute sense of justice, for there is no idea, regardless of how silly, popular, or offensive it may be, to which he will refuse a fair hearing.

There are more character excellences that clear thinking breeds.  However, these two virtues alone are enough to commend it.

Courage and justice are goods worth possessing on their own account, but they are also essential to good citizenship—especially when the citizen is supposed to be a self-governing agent.

Lest the individual citizen have the courage of his convictions, the courage to challenge the consensus of “the majority,” the latter promises to reduce itself to nothing more or less than a mob.  Ditto if individuals lack justice.

How different matters would be if our culture held thinking in as high esteem as it holds, say, Honey Booboo.  Consider the Benghazi case in light of an America obsessed with thinking clearly.

Democrats are laboring inexhaustibly to convince the public that this whole thing is an issue only because Republicans insist upon “politicizing” it.  In a culture in which clear thinking is endemic, no Democratic politician would even conceive of peddling this line, much less attempt to do so.

To the clear thinker, it is a no-brainer that a murderous attack against the American government, an attack about which the latter conveyed what we now know was gross misinformation, is nothing if it isn’t a political event.  In other words, it is self-politicizing: it became “politicized” long before anyone could have deliberately set out to make it so.

The clear thinker also knows that even if it is true that Republicans are interested in Benghazi only for the sake of punishing Democrats, this is neither here nor there.  Knowledge of a person’s intentions is indispensable to determining his character—not the rightness or wrongness of his actions.  For the wrong reasons, one may do the right thing, and for the right reasons, one may act wrongly.

Whether or not the Obama administration is guilty of a cover up of epic proportions is a question worth asking in its own right—regardless of who is asking it, or why.

White House spokesperson Jay Carney suggests that the events that unfolded in Benghazi are immaterial because they “happened a long time ago.”  The clear thinker realizes that regardless of when Benghazi occurred, time is no more relevant to moral value than is size or color.  Unless this was true, it would be pointless for us to discuss anything or anyone from the past.

Like anything else worthwhile, clear thinking is hard work.  Yet its benefits—both for the individual and the citizenry—more than compensate for its costs.

 

In one of his more recent columns—“Is Thinking Obsolete?”—Thomas Sowell takes note of the intellectual laziness that appears to have consumed our culture.

“It is always amazing,” he writes, “how many serious issues are not discussed seriously, but instead simply generate assertions and counter-assertions.”  Sowell identifies “television talk shows,” where “people on opposite sides often just try to shout each other down” as a particularly salient illustration of this troubling phenomenon.

“There is a remarkable range of ways of seeming to argue without actually producing any coherent argument,” he notes.

In part, the inability to think critically and honestly is the legacy of “decades of dumbed-down education.”  Yet there is more to it than this.  Sowell states: “Education is not merely neglected in many of our schools today, but is replaced to a great extent by ideological indoctrination.” He laments that “a student can go all the way from elementary school to a Ph.D. without encountering any fundamentally different vision of the world from that of the prevailing political correctness.”

What’s even worse is that “the moral perspective” that accompanies “this prevailing ideological view is all too often that of people who see themselves as being on the side of the angels against the forces of evil”—irrespective of the issue in question.

Of course, Sowell is correct about all of this. Yet matters are actually worse than what he says, for with the death of thinking goes the death of virtue.

The good thinker must possess the virtue of analytical rigor, it is true.  But this isn’t the only virtue that comes with good thinking.

For millennia, the story of Socrates’ fate has served as a constant reminder that the enterprise of thinking, real thinking, is an inherently subversive activity.  It is radical, for there is no idea that is immunized against it, no idea that the committed thinker will not interrogate.  Obviously, then, thinking is a threatening engagement—for both the thinker as well as those to whom he turns his attention.

Thus, thinking both requires and cultivates the excellence of courage.  It is a manly art that fortifies its practitioners even as they risk being alienated from “the respectable crowd”—i.e. the self-appointed guardians of the prevailing orthodoxy.

However, it isn’t just ostracism that is the cost of good thinking. The good thinker also risks his own self-image, for clear thinking demands self-denial, the denial of those of the thinker’s own emotions, passions, and desires that conflict with his pursuit of truth.  Self-denial is self-discipline, or moderation—traditionally, a cardinal virtue.  Yet this, in turn, also gives rise to honesty or veracity.

Yet there are still other crowning achievements that come with good thinking.

Whatever else may be said of them, while trying “to shout each other down,” those television talk show personalities to whom Sowell alludes most definitely cannot be said to possess humility.  But humility is necessary for clear thinking, for it enables us to recognize the very real possibility that our preconceptions, and even our convictions, just might be wrong.  Without this acknowledgment, the thinker reduces himself to nothing more or less than a mere apologist for his own prejudices.

Humility, in turn, is indispensable if wisdom is to be had.  When the Oracle informed Socrates that he was the wisest of human beings, he was incredulous.  On the one hand, he knew that the gods cannot lie.  On the other, he was also painfully aware of his own ignorance.  After a time, he discovered that the gods were right: he was the wisest of men, but precisely because he knew that he knew nothing.

Finally, good, sober thinking breeds a sense of justice or good will.  The good thinker grants a fair hearing to all ideas—including, especially, those of his opponents.

Courage, honesty, moderation, wisdom, humility, justice—for thousands of years, Western civilization has prized these character traits.  Our ancestors also realized that these excellences are inseparable from that of good thinking.

If, as Sowell suggests, thinking is obsolete, then virtue is imperiled as well.  

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