American Elephants

Are We Sheep? Needing to Be Told What to Do? by The Elephant's Child

Flock of sheep, New Zealand, Pacific

Professor Cass Sunstein of Harvard  cites research showing “that people make a lot of mistakes, and that those mistakes can prove extremely damaging.” He needed research to figure that out? Most of us have made mistakes, often big mistakes. Where Professor Sunstein goes awry is the assumption that there is some superior class of people who can override our bad decisions and fix everything for us.  This is the basic theory and agenda of the left.

They, educated at our most prestigious universities, clearly know better than we do what is right and good. As ordinary fallible human beings, we need be told how to manage by our betters. All of the troubles of the world perhaps descend from the unwarranted hubris of people who simply do not understand the human condition and accept the fallible nature of humanity.

Fredrich Hayek, the Austrian-American economist and Nobel Laureate devoted much of his brilliant career to describing how rationalism could never work. How can anything good happen, Hayek asked, if individuals cannot think and act for themselves. Rules preclude initiative. Regimentation precludes evolution. Letting accidents happen, mistakes be made, results in new ideas. Trial and error is the key to all progress. The Soviet system of rules and central planning is doomed to failure, Hayek stated fifty years ago, because it kills the human faculty that makes things work.

Justice Lewis Brandeis (Supreme Court: 1916 to 1939) said “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent…The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

Thomas Sowell reminds us today of the hubris of big government:

Government policies in the 1930s led to crops being plowed under, thousands of little pigs being slaughtered and buried, and milk being poured down sewers at a time when many Americans were suffering from hunger and diseases caused by malnutrition.

The Great Depression of the 1930s, in which millions of people were plunged into poverty in even the most prosperous nations, was needlessly prolonged by government policies now recognized in retrospect as foolish and irresponsible.

One of the key differences between mistakes that we make in our own lives and mistakes made by governments is that bad consequences force us to correct our own mistakes. But government officials cannot admit to making a mistake without jeopardizing their whole careers.

He adds: “Too many of today’s intellectual elite see themselves as our shepherds and us as their sheep. Tragically, too many of us are apparently willing to be sheep, in exchange for being taken care of, being relieved of the burdens of adult responsibility and being supplied with “free” stuff paid for by others.


2 Comments so far
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I read Professor Sowell’s column yesterday, and I have to be honest, it knocked me over. I read Sunstein’s column (which became the source for Professor Sowell’s essay) a few days ago and had a nearly identical reaction to Sowell’s. I wrote my own article for Canada Free Press which was published two days before Professor Sowell’s and said substantially the same things. If you’re a writer that’s akin to having Ernest Hemmingway tell you that your stuff is pretty decent.

For anyone who hasn’t read Thomas Sowell, you are missing something extremely important. The man has a gift for explaining complex subjects in an easily understandable way.


Comment by Jim Yardley

Not only that, Jim, he speaks in aphorisms, and has been doing so for years! I have my own homemade book of quotations. Bartletts gets the old familiar ones, but Dr. Sowell speaks in memorable phrases, and I copy them down and put them in my own quotation book titled “Insight.”

I recommend the process. I find I get great pleasure out of going back and re-reading my selections. Lots of Thomas Sowell, lots of Victor Davis Hanson, Jean Francois Revel, Robert Conquest, Irving Kristol, and lots of Richard Mitchell with a sprinkling of Walter Wriston. Has Bartletts beat all hollow, because it’s based on lines I run across — and think “Oh, I like how they said that.” I’m closing in on my first 100 pages.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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