Black Rednecks and White Liberals (2005) Thomas Sowell

“Culture Matters”

Argues that the driving factor in a group or individuals ability to economically produce is their culture. Says that the modern African American lower class culture came from the white people who ran the plantations in the days of slavery, who were “white rednecks” from the Scottish highlands. They were easy to offend, loved showing off (“intensity of personal pride”), were violent (dueling was common in the south), and hated hard work. Sowell says this culture persists in lower income black communities, and can also seep into the middle class. There is a disdain for intellectual achievement, and no one wants to “act white” (a study of this from a school in Ohio is cited). Sowell points to strong family structures of many other immigrant groups, a priority on education, living on meager resources, and most of all, hard work. He acknowledges that the World is not fair, but does not think that we can provide justice for those unfair things via government intervention. He thinks that slavery was an awful wrong, but that it permeates World history, as does imperialism. Slavery was in all societies, from Islam to Africa, and imperialism from the Ottoman Empire to Genghis Khan. Slavery ended with an imperative from the British imperialists, whose people could no longer tolerate slavery in an era where people started to ask questions; slavery had persisted so long because no one asked whether it was right or wrong, it just was, an extension of serfdom and feudalism. “It is a chilling example of what can happen when people simply do not think” -Sowell. He writes about the Germans (Nazis) in a brief detour, citing what he believes is proof that any culture is susceptible to the rise of a ruler like Hitler given a variety of circumstances; strong feelings of national pride, many people not caring about politics, a sense of economic resignation, and being responsive to a charismatic leader (Trump?). The German people were very productive, and made monkeys out of their Romanian and Russian neighbors when it came to crop yields. He explains the idea of “middleman minorities” that arise in other cultures because they are different from the main culture; they can often make a living out of being a middleman, working harder, getting up earlier, and doing the work necessary to get what people need to where it needs to be to make a profit on it; they could also have lower costs because they trusted one-another and did not need the law or insurance to do business. “The utter dominance of particular minorities as middlemen amid vastly larger populations suggests that there are few members of the surrounding society who have all of the characteristics needed.” Thus, minorities that achieve are frequently blamed for this or that, but the underlying real reason why they are hated is oftentimes because they are eating the lunch of the existing people (or are at least are perceived as doing so, even though they are often adding net-new things to the economic system). People often want to humiliate those minorities that made them look bad in the first place. Sowell thinks the educational establishment has failed black Americans, but so too have black parents, in not providing the discipline necessary to help teachers help kids learn. Sowell thinks it is the modern agenda to vilify the West and whites for slavery, imperialism, and many other recent wrongs, and to try to make it right via government policies (Shelby Steele, “white guilt”). “The liberal vision of blacks’ fate as being almost wholly in the hands of whites is a debilitating message for those blacks who take it seriously, however convenient it may be for those who are receptive to an alibi.” He thinks the Western systems are superior, as evidenced by how well Chinese and Indian people do outside those countries and in Western systems; as also evidenced by the uptick in growth rates once those countries started to make market-oriented reforms. He does not think it right for people in modern times to assume that they could make different decisions than were made in the past on complicated issues such as slavery, which was started by the British colonists well before the inception of the new Republic; indeed, leaders from Washington to Jefferson wanted to make attempts to get rid of it, and they even discussed a constitutional amendment for it, but then the Southern States would not have joined the Union. Sowell says that things were looking up for black people before the civil rights act of the 1960s, and that after that rates of broken homes skyrocketed. He points to educational successes of black people, from the likes of WEB DuBois who was educated by the Protestants who came to the South after the Civil War in large numbers to educate and inculcate black people with their culture. Also points to Dunbar school in Washington DC, which produced many high striving black students before the civil rights movement. WEB DuBois complained of spendthrift habits of blacks in the 1890s. 90% of all blacks lived in the antebellum South; they were thus very influenced by the Cracker culture. In 1960, 22% of black children were born to unmarried women; it was 70% by 1994; Sowell questions why this happened well over 100 years post-end of slavery (he thinks it has to do with the welfare state). Sowell thinks that the black community celebrates the backward, low-class black culture, and glorifies those ways to get rich and famous quick, like sports or being a celebrity, as opposed to being an engineer or a doctor, which takes a long time. Sowell thinks that it is not so much that black American culture under-achieves vs. The World, but it under-achieves relative to high-achieving Asian minority groups that make it here, and to the high-achieving white Americans — black Americans are more or less analogous to the other non-strivers of the World (Sowell himself is African-American). Cites Eric Hoffer, “There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life” Sowell thinks the liberal message of blacks’ fate as being in the hands of white people is debilitating to them. “Once an external explanation of behavior is available, internal explanations are seldom sought — and weighing the two against one another is rarer still.” Despite all the faults of history, the West established the idea that all people deserved to be treated decently and fairly; herein lies an argument about equality, and distributing sources of productivity, vs. Sharing outcomes (redistribution). Sowell also says the West has brought rule of law, and the US Constitution, which sees the potentially harmful nature of power. He acknowledges that the Western experiment is hard to replicate because the norms are not shared from our society to others who try to copy the same institutions (same idea as Lee Drutman in Breaking the Two Party Doom Loop and other political scientists); “While they can bring the outward forms of Western culture — an independent judiciary, elections, markets, technology — what they cannot export are the centuries of evolution that led up to these things and the resulting ingrained traditions and attitudes which enable Western institutions to function.” Sowell calls for people to understand and seek truth (an Edmund Burke conservative); we can’t silence feedback from reality, kill messengers, or those things we don’t want to hear. “…history shows that initially mistaken beliefs have provided the impetus for study and research which advanced human understanding beyond where it was before the mistaken beliefs arose.”




"For the time being I gave up writing -- there is already too much truth in the world -- an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed!" Otto Rank, 1933

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"For the time being I gave up writing -- there is already too much truth in the world -- an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed!" Otto Rank, 1933

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