Pajamas Media: Intellectuals by Thomas Sowell

Today’s post is at Pajamas Media: Intellectuals by Thomas Sowell is reviewed.

Pajamas Media

David Hume said, “A rule, which, in speculation, may seem the most advantageous to society, may yet be found, in practice, totally pernicious and destructive.”

An intellectual is a person who falls so in love with a speculative theory that they are blind to the practical effects of that theory.

It is not the theory that is the problem, for they are legion. But it is love. Love turns butt-ugly into beautiful. Love creates the desire to protect and defend.

There are no known means by which we can talk a somebody out of love. Worse, the more you try, the more blind the victim becomes.

Thus, the most effective manner of dealing with the love-stricken is to ignore him completely. And by “completely”, I mean completely.


  1. Briggs


    Chris Muir from Day by Day Cartoon has a cartoon that echoes today’s post.

    Head on over: you’ll like it.

  2. John Galt

    Mr. Briggs,

    I hope to read Sowell’s new book, he’s very insightful. I’ve thought many times about our ability to fall in love with a theory. It seems that those having high intelligence can delude themselves to a degree that lesser intellects cannot. Both the best and worst ideas come from the gifted. I’m sure that Carl Marx wasn’t dumb.

    I think we see this in the global warming debate. From my perspective, I see very capable people who have created complex computer models, fall in love with the model and believe it over real observations. I’ve worked with modelers many times and I’ve seen it happen.

    I also see a large bias there, we all seem to believe what fits our world view. I’m sure I must suffer from this bias myself, but I hope not too much. As a physicist, I recognize viable alternative energy doesn’t exist. We haven’t discovered a real new energy source iAGWn my lifetime. I don’t want go back to the Stone Age.

    Doomsayers have predicted “the end is near” throughout history. They often have very good arguments, as population increases, it will eventually exceed food production; there’s only a finite amount of oil (coal, whatever), we’re going to run out. It’s hard to argue otherwise, but we always seem to find more.

  3. JH

    It is difficult for me to discern whether you are expressing your opinions or reviewing Sowell’s. I am not referring to your views on love; but the description of an intellectual here seems narrow to me. Sounds like that we should destroy the activities of the intellectuals and hamper their self-respect as Mao had attempted to do during the Proletarian Cultural Revolution. (Yes, I am fascinated by the history of communist China.)

    Mr. Briggs, your views on certain things do scare me sometimes.

  4. j ferguson

    My take on this was “Just because you think something is a great idea doesn’t mean anyone else will, or for that matter, it is.”

    Amazingly, it took me a long time to realize this. It didn’t finally sink in until some of my projects got built.

    Nothing like actually doing the thing to get the message.

  5. Joe Triscari

    Your post and the Day-By-Day puts me in mind of an old joke which summarizes what I’ve long felt about the kind of modern thinker who proudly calls himself an intellectual.

    The dean of the School of Arts and Science is chewing out the Chairmen of the physics, chemistry and biology departments.
    “Why,” he asks, “do your departments require so much money for equipment?
    “Why can’t you be more like the math department? They only need pencils, paper and garbage cans. Or better yet like the philosophy department – they only need pencils and paper.”

  6. Briggs

    Now, JH, you know I had in mind the intellectuals of the 20th century whose efforts produced a body count in the 150 million range (I’ll let you fill in the confidence interval on that estimate). That is an enormous pile of dead bodies.

    I think this would make a great exercise for budding mathematicians. Feel free to use this:

    Grand intellectual schemes were directly responsible for the deaths of at least 150 million, over roughly a 100-year period. If you stacked those bodies end-to-end, you could reach 156,250 miles. Now, the moon is about 240,000 miles away. Assuming the same kill rate, how many more years of intellectual rule would we need to (A) reach the moon, and (B) return safely to Earth?

    This could—I’m sure you see how—easily be turned into a statistical question but putting distributions on all the numbers. It’s perfect for showing how, say, two normals add to another normal.

    In fact, I like this so much, I’m going to use it in my class.

  7. JH

    Please do tell me more about the Grand intellectual schemes and efforts responsible for the deaths of million. Perhaps you can provide me with some data, so I can properly model them.

    I am certain that you are not talking about the modern medicine, internet development, etc. nor the scientific experiments that sacrifice animals. Are you talking about the deadly weapons developed by the few intellectuals?

    The Iraqi War? The Culture Revolution? Yes, there were some intellectuals who indeed supported them, but hence the intellectual, as a group, is directly responsible?

    Surely, we won’t use Beck and Limbaugh to make a blanket statement about the conservatives.

    And also imagine a world without intellectuals. No, I don’t trust Sarah Palin to inform me of the safety of nu-clear energy.

    I cannot say that you and Sowell, anti-intellectual intellectuals, are trying to promote the right-wing populism. I do think that the intellectuals should engage with a wider public. The majority of them hesitate to take up a political position. By engaging oneself with public, an intellectual actually loses a lot of freedom, and it stifles one’s productivity. Look around, the anti-intellectual atmosphere is scary.

  8. JH

    Oh, Mao was charismatic, but whether he was an intellectual man is debatable and his hatred of intellectuals is evident.

  9. Briggs


    I think the trouble, as I say in the review, is with the word “intellectual.” Sowell does not mean “smart person”, or “person who makes intelligible and sound arguments.” He meant “person who makes fanciful arguments without regard to reality.” There is no religious connotation meant in that definition either. Thus, Mao and his lackies, apologists, and academic worshipers fall into the category of “intellectuals.”

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