Thomas Sowell’s Anointed

I’ve dog-eared a number of pages in Thomas Sowell’s, The Vision of the Anointed.  Here he writes about the awkward way the anointed view some situations in order to avoid directly discussing an issues (p. 198):

Many of the words and phrases used in the media and among academics suggest things simply happen to people, rather than being caused by their own choices or behavior.  Thus there is said to be an “epidemic” of teenage pregnancy, or of drug use, as if these things were like the flu that people catch just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

People are often said to lack “access” to various jobs…when in fact they may not have behaved or performed in a way that would enable them to meet the same standards as others meet.  “Access” is just one of a number of ex ante expressions — “opportunity,” “bias,” and “glass ceiling,” for example — used to describe ex post results in such a way as to preempt the whole question as to why those results turned out the way they did.

Sowell calls this a “verbal sleight of hand.”  It’s easy to recognize, yet we let it happen without often calling the bluff.

To be clear, ex ante means before the fact and ex post means after.  I think a way of rewording Sowell’s last sentence above is that the anointed state their conclusions as if they’re a given and inattentive participants may inadvertently accept the conclusion.

Example: This group of people aren’t represented in the job market, they haven’t had access to the same educational opportunities.

If you begin discussing how to get this group more “access” to educational opportunities, you’ve accepted their conclusion as accurate and taken the bait to steer the discussion away from the real issue – that they believe “access” to education is the primary cause to jobs results.

Don’t accept their conclusion outright.

  • Identify their conclusion as a conclusion: “So, you believe that educational access caused the jobs numbers?”
  • Ask for the evidence they used to draw the conclusion.
  • Offer alternative reasons for the results, in this case the personal choices of the individuals involved.  For example, why are other groups, with the same “access” to educational opportunities able to overcome the hindrance of the “access”, but this group is not?