Hannah Gal

Social Justice Fallacies by the great Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell. Image courtesy of Basic Books.

With Social Justice fallacies, Sowell has delivered yet another classic title – brave, deeply thought out and singularly frank. The smartest man in the room has struck again. 

Economist Thomas Sowell is a rare breed. His remarkable intellect and awe striking knowledge have duly earned him the title of ‘the smartest man in the room’. Always lucid and articulate, the maverick commentator became known as an impossible to beat debater. “Television and print media wised up,” said the late Professor Walter Williams, “you can’t win an argument with Thomas Sowell, so they just ignore what he’s written.” Uncomfortable with the brilliant African American not fitting the victimhood mould, the Left controlled intellectual circles tried to cancel him.

But Thomas Sowell cannot be cancelled. His unprecedented, six decades long and counting scholarship, shines like a beacon, and his 14  books, all considered classics, are too deeply thought out to be dismissed. Admired by leading thinkers, influencers and luminaries, from Dave Rubin, Larry Elder and Candace Owens, to Stephen Pinker, Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, his message is spreading fast. The intellectual circles might try to stifle him but thanks to social media such as YouTube, Sowell’s truth has filtered through to the heart of  mainstream culture. Countless gen Z’ers illuminated by his videos on slavery, poverty and immigration, are posting their reactions to his revelations – the facts that have eluded them thus far. Most striking are video posts by black Americans who are dumbfounded to learn the real history of slavery.

Social Justice Fallacies

The past six decades saw Sowell comment extensively on the catastrophic, often irreversible damage inflicted by the social justice movement, but his new book Social Justice Fallacies is different. Here, the noted social commentator examines the powerful movement’s track record to show that many things that are thought to be true, simply cannot stand up to documented facts. With Social Justice Fallacies Sowell asks the questions: has the century long social justice crusade delivered the promised fulfillment? Has it brought humanity any closer to the promised land? Sowell’s conclusion is a resounding no. It has in fact dragged Western civilization in the opposite direction, wreaking havoc and destruction in its path. 

Sowell demonstrates how social justice warriors are following a fundamentally flawed set of assumptions, their entire narrative resting on false assumptions about disparities within society. Unfounded assertions about race, the welfare state, under representation, the legacy of slavery, discrimination, taxation and many more. Here he examines in detail the equal chances fallacies, knowledge fallacies, chess pieces fallacies, and the ever present racial fallacy, where false assertions “have ranged from the genetic determinism of early twentieth-century America – which proclaimed that “race is everything” as an explanation of group differences in economic and social outcomes, to the opposite view at the end of that century, that racism was the primary explanation of such group differences.”

One by one he refutes the fallacies using solid facts, evidence and telling statistics. But he does more than that. Sowell clarifies the meaning of terms often used by crusaders such as merit, affirmative action, the poor, the rich and racism, in a bid to better understand what it is that we agree and disagree on. He considers not just the movement’s actual achievements but its essence, mechanism and even psychology. Sowell considers the secret of the social justice movement’s astounding success. A movement that has shifted from the fringe of society and culture, to occupying every sphere of life, its narrative adopted by government, schools, academia, the police and even the church. If you ever wondered why your local church has a sign that reads “this church is inclusive”, why your child’s school spends more time on fighting global warming than math, or why HR departments call for ‘minorities only’ applicants, read on. 

What is the secret of the social justice movement’s unwavering appeal? This is something Sowell has commented on in his Social Justice YouTube video “the idea cannot be refuted because it has no specific  meaning” he explains “fighting it would be like trying to punch  the fog, no wonder ‘social justice’ has been such a political success for more than a century, and  counting. While the term has no defined meaning, it has emotionally powerful connotations. There  is a strong sense that it is simply not right—that it is unjust—that some people are  so much better off than others.”

Assertions VS evidence

Social Justice Fallacies is a game changing book. Brave, brutally honest and deeply thought out, it brings to light the danger in the movement’s dominance of every sphere of life. Through real life examples and telling statistics, readers get a sense of the movement’s astonishing power accumulated over the decades. How it went from a fringe movement with views considered by a tiny minority, to taking over the mainstream, its fallacies and assertions impacting decision makers, leading to damaging, ill conceived policies. It is not the existence of these false assertions or even their high prevalence that Sowell is concerned about – it is how the movement is allowed to dominate every sphere of life, and influence government policy “without being subjected to tests of either facts or logic.” Furthermore, Sowell raises grave concerns over “the extent to which people who present empirical evidence counter to prevailing [social justice] beliefs, are met with ad hominem denunciations and with efforts to suppress their evidence.” 

A free society cannot function without putting viewpoints and beliefs to some test, argues Sowell, “otherwise, a free society can either destroy freedom or destroy itself in internal conflict. Both have happened all too often, in all too many places, over the centuries.”

Throughout the book, Sowell draws heavily on our past experience. “The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance” he argues, quoting historian Paul Johnson, “it is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been “tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.” Today it is especially important to get facts, rather than catchwords. These include not only current facts, but also the vast array of facts about what others have done in the past— both the successes and the failures”

Thomas Sowell. Image courtesy of Basic Books

The fallacies

Crusaders repeatedly attribute a multitude of societal ailments affecting blacks in America, to the legacy of slavery. This includes the higher incidence of children being born to unmarried women, but history contradicts this claim. “For more than a hundred years after the end of slavery” explains Sowell, “most black children were born to women who were married, and the children were raised in two-parent homes.” It is social justice crusaders’ belief that it was the legacy of slavery that tore the black family down, a belief he vehemently rejects asserting that 1960’s welfare policies are to blame.

Policies that created father absenteeism, which negatively affected society at large. Here Sowell points to considerable progress made by black Americans in the decades before the 1960s, and the harm suffered by these communities after the social justice policies were introduced. 

“Studies of boys raised without a father, have found them very much over-represented among people with pathologies” added Sowell, “these pathologies were more highly correlated with fatherlessness than with any other factor, surpassing even race and poverty – clearly, there were no ‘equal chances’ for these boys, whether they were treated fairly or unfairly by people they encountered in institutions ranging from schools to police departments.” 

Sowell addresses the assertion attributing disparities among human beings to discrimination of subordinate minorities by dominant majorities. Here Sowell lists subordinate minorities that have throughout history, economically outperformed dominant majorities. These include the Ottoman Empire where none of the 40 private bankers or 34 stockbrokers in Istanbul in 1912, was a Turk, even though Turks ruled the empire. “The Ottoman Empire was by no means unique” added Sowell, “racial or ethnic minorities who have owned or operated more than half of whole industries in particular nations have included the Chinese in Malaysia, Germans in Brazil, Lebanese in West Africa, Jews in Poland, Italians in Argentina, Indians in East Africa, Scots in Britain, Ibos in Nigeria, and Marwaris in India.”

One of the movement’s most often aired fallacy is that of underrepresentation. Its premise is that that under representation within certain fields is due to racially motivated exclusion.“Comparing different ethnic groups in a given endeavor is like comparing apples and oranges in terms of specialized education or other specialized preparations”, argues Sowell. Here he asks: “Are Asians “kept out” of professional basketball or Californians “kept out” of the National Hockey League? Is equal demographic representation so widespread or so automatic in other endeavors that its absence in a particular endeavor can only be due to someone keeping particular people out?”

Sowell gives the example of Asian Americans who “have more college degrees in engineering than either blacks or Hispanics, each of whom outnumbers Asian Americans in the U.S. population. At the Ph.D. level, Asian Americans’ engineering degrees outnumber the engineering Ph.D.s of blacks and Hispanics put together.”

The fallacy of under representation is most often made in relation to women. “When women are statistically “under-represented” in Silicon Valley” writes Sowell, “some people automatically assume that to be due to sex discrimination by Silicon Valley employers. It so happens that the work done in Silicon Valley is based on an application of engineering skills, including computer software engineering— and American women receive less than 30 percent of the degrees in engineering, whether at the college level or the postgraduate level.” Furthermore, “when American men receive less than 20 percent of the undergraduate degrees in education, and only 22 percent and 32 percent of master’s degrees and doctoral degrees, respectively, in the same subject, is it surprising that men are under-represented among school teachers and women are under-represented in engineering occupations?”

The genius of Thomas Sowell

With Social Justice Fallacies Thomas Sowell has delivered a typically profound, brave and brutally frank book. Meticulously researched, and deeply thought out it goes beyond refuting fallacies to explore the crusaders’ very mindset and twisted view of reality. Through real life examples and illuminating statistics, Sowell demonstrates the advocates’ inability to accept that we operate within a set of option handed to us by a multitude of factors, and that “the world has never been a level playing field”. More importantly, he exposes crusaders’ dangerous willingness to implement policies that serve their vision but do little to advance the needy. Crucially, they often stop individuals from advancing. Take for example an experience related by president Barak Obama of a conversation he had with a black young man who wanted to become a pilot. A young man who thought of joining the U.S. Air Force in order to get trained to be a pilot, but then realised that the Air Force “would never let a black man fly a plane.”

But as Sowell points out, “this was said decades after there was a whole squadron of black American fighter pilots during World War II— and, in later years, two black pilots went on to become generals in the U.S. Air Force. Whoever indoctrinated this young man did him more harm than a racist could have, by keeping him from even trying to become a pilot.”

Like all Sowell books Social Justice Fallacies is an eye opener. Reading Sowell means learning to rely on facts, not rhetoric. It means refusing to accept crusaders’ automatic attribution of disparities to a single culprit, such as genetics or discrimination. It means understanding the pivotal role that people’s traditions, cultures, skills, level of education and work ethics, have in determining their fate. Reading Sowell means recognizing the elite intelligentsia’s interest in perpetuating the victimhood narrative. 

Social Justice Fallacies is an important book – a wake up call to society. First, to recognize the immense power that the social justice movement has amassed and its influence on policy makers. Second, to see the danger in allowing the social justice crusaders to continue their destructive march unchallenged. It is time to put their beliefs to some test.

The legend that is Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell’s personal life story is of great significance – an extraordinary tale of resilience against the odds, that has shaped his outlook on life. 

Born to an uneducated widow in the segregated South, Sowell grew up in a home with no running water, electricity, or indoor toilets. Following his mother’s death during childbirth, he was raised by his great-aunt and her adult daughters. As a teen, he left home and stayed at a homeless shelter, where he kept a knife under his pillow for protection. It was in the U.S. Army that he learned discipline, the value of real knowledge and skills. The orphan who grew up under Jim Crow laws, went on to earn advanced degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Chicago.

Through his turbulent times Sowell developed a deep respect for the common sense of ordinary people – a factor sorely missing within intellectual circles. It made blatant intelligentsia’s condescension of ‘the poor, and ‘uneducated’, and, crusaders’ arrogant willingness to impose their vision on others. Sowell has famously refused to adopt the in vogue victimhood narrative, choosing to courageously  swim against the tide instead. In Congress, he famously stood before then-Senator Joe Biden to argue that though unequal treatment against blacks was wrong under Jim Crow, so was the unequal policy of affirmative action designed to favor blacks.

Thomas Sowell’s is an extraordinary mind. A man of rare integrity, wisdom and intellect. His genius was recognized by too many to mention including Hayek and Fiedman who wrote: “the word ‘genius’ is thrown around so much that it’s becoming meaningless, but I think Tom Sowell is close to being one.” It is time for the Nobel Prize Committee to right a historic wrong and officially recognize Thomas Sowell’s unparalleled scholarship.

About the Author
Hannah’s credits include Quillette, The Critic, The SpectatorUS, UnHerd, Creative Review, The Guardian (Art&Design) and The Jerusalem Post among others. Hannah’s posts have been kindly retweeted and shared by Jordan Peterson, Douglas Murray, Warren Farrell, Sebastian Gorka, Will Knowland and Christina Hoff Sommers among others. Gal is a multi award winning documentary filmmaker.
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