Sunday, November 8, 2020

Review of Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Philosophy, Epistemology

Elaborate Description

Perverse incentives allow many ideas of intellectuals to pervade society even when the ideas have huge negative consequences to society. Intellectuals are here defined as those whose ideas are the input and output of their work. Even though there are occupations with mentally demanding tasks such as doctors or engineers, those occupations are not under the span of intellectuals in the category of this book. Intellectuals are those who do not have external measures of success, but to succeed they need to please their peers.

With an internal verification process, the ideas do not gain external feedback. What matters is what other believe, and a dismissal of other ideas. This creates an environment with no accountability for the intellectuals to the external world which is impacted by the ideas. Without feedback or accountability, intellectuals can use their verbal virtuosity to make claims that are opposite to the real world. By filtering the information that intellectuals give out, they can provide a vastly different picture of what is actually happening. Even when the history of a particular policy has been dismal, intellectuals will continue to expound the idea’s merits as long as peers agree on them.

The biggest problem of intellectuals is the assumption that because they know more about a particular topic, that their wisdom and morality can be generalized. Intellectuals may know more about a specialized topic, but they do not have most of the information that makes the ideas or policies work. Intellectuals lack the tacit, mundane, consequential knowledge. But with the knowledge that intellectuals do have, they impose their ideas on others. This imposition transplants those who bear the consequences of the policy by third parties who know very little of the consequential knowledge. Sowell makes the point that concentrating knowledge if by far more difficult than concentrating power.

Sowell writes in a marvelous prose and using various examples to express his concern of the intelligentsia. Examples provided are extremely important for society which include income distribution, law, race, culture, and war. The information that was filtered out by the intelligentsia, Sowell makes visible. The consequences the intelligentsia already had drastic costs on society. Given the poor record of the intelligentsia, they are obtaining more power than before. Power used to be held by an authoritative figure who could ignore the intelligentsia and/or hold them accountable, to countries who decide on leaders and policies by the filtered information from the intelligentsia.

As third parties that impose their view are a problem under concern in this book, Sowell also has the same problem. Sowell has a conformation bias to the ideas he favors over others. This book makes it seem that third parties have very little to nothing to add to society, with the consequential knowledge being superior. The issue is that those who have consequential knowledge also have an incentive to distort information in their favor. The third party observes can ask questions and provide potential solutions which those that have consequential knowledge use and alter to their needs.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780465025220
Pages to read:   549
Publication:     2012
1st Edition:      2009
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5