Dalrymple reviews Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

Hat tip to Dominic B. for notifying us of this Dalrymple piece in The Salisbury Review. Sowell’s book tries to answer a question we’ve all asked: Why do intellectuals believe so many dumb things? Sowell’s answer, with which Dalrymple obviously agrees:

Perhaps the most important is that intellectuals live in a costless world in which there is every incentive to devise other theories that defy common sense. A doctor who believed that the best treatment of appendicitis was green cheese would soon lose his licence to practice; but an intellectual suffers nothing, however absurd his theories. This is for several reasons: the connection between what he propounds and its practical effects is usually arguable, and in any case delayed. A man treated for appendicitis with green cheese is likely to die; the abandonment of punishment as a means of suppressing crime occurs in the context of many other changes.

Intellectuals, like everyone else, live and work in a marketplace. In order to get noticed they must say things which have not been said before, or at least say them in a different manner. No one is likely to obtain many plaudits for the rather obvious, indeed self-evident, thought that a street robber cannot commit street robberies while he is in prison; but an intellectual who first demonstrates that the cause of an increase in street robbery is the increase in the amount of property that law-abiding pedestrians have on them as they walk in the streets is likely to be hailed, at least until the next idea comes along. Thus, while there are no penalties for being foolish, there are severe penalties (at least in career terms) for being obvious. This automatically increases the propensity of intellectuals to espouse extreme or preposterous ideas that would never occur to anyone obliged by circumstances to keep their feet on the ground.

Read the whole piece here

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