Have you ever wondered why knowing what someone thinks about abortion gives you a pretty good idea what he thinks about police procedure?
Does it really make sense that someone's views on the military seem connected to his ideas on drug policy?
What does gun control have to do with affirmative action?
In A Conflict of Visions , Thomas Sowell offers his answer to these questions. And that answer goes deep.
Sowell's solution to these dichotomies (and others – I'm sure you've thought of a few) is to look at the "visions" each of us has the "how the world works." These "visions" are necessary simplifications–
Visions are like maps that guide us through a tangle of bewildering complexities … The ever-changing kaleidoscope of raw reality would defeat the human mind by its complexity, except for the mind's ability to abstract, to pick out parts and think of them as the whole.
– but this makes it all the more important to examine the charges behind them. A Conflict of Visions examines two competitive visions that shape much of our social, ethical, and political thought in the modern age.
- Can we solve the problems that confront our society?
- Can humanity's nature be changed, so that men and women no longer (for example) want to kill each other, or to enrich them at their neighbors' expense?
- Do we have the potential to become naturally virtuous, with no need for artificial restraints on our behavior?
Sowell believes that most of the tumult in our present society comes from the confrontation between those who answer "Yes!" to those questions and those who answer "No!". He also believes that much of the confusion and anger that fuels our public debts can be traced back to these different visions – and to what follows from them. In this book he examines both visions, and how they color the thought of those who hold them. To name just two examples:
- Two completely different ways of looking at justice. And what happens when two people have such different definitions of the word – but do not know it.
- Does the end justify the means? It depends on what you think is possible. And this will be the yardstick by which you judge your neighbors' actions. And he yours.
This book is less than 275 pages long, including endnotes and index. The first time I read it, I thought it was more like 600. Thomas Sowell writes the clearest, densest prose I have ever encountered. I'm warning you, it's heavy going. But it's worth it.
You will have no trouble working out which side of this "conflict" he's on. But even if you do not agree with him, you'll find the book enlightening. He'll bring your own vision out and show it to you in high relief. And he'll help you to understand those who disagree with you. And maybe the next argument you get into will not end up with each of you thinking the other is a monster. That in itself would make the reading worthwhile.